Friday, June 29, 2018 - Updated: 10:34 am
What began as a way for a few women to further their study of Catholic faith and spirituality recently reached a significant milestone. After 23 years, the group read its 100th book. (See story below.)
A few of the current members of the St. Elizabeth Women’s Book Club were originals in 1995 who were brought together by Dolores “Dee” Durica. She started the club with some friends after attending a Cursillo weekend.
Cursillo encourages attendees to follow concepts to further the faith — piety, study and action — and the book club seemed like a good way to put those concepts into action.
Jean Marshall, one of those first members who was put in charge after Durica was unable to continue because of health, explained that, even though the club began at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Pleasant Hills, the group now consists of parishioners from many local faith communities. Among the 13 women who attended the May meeting are members of St. Elizabeth, Holy Apostles, St. Joan of Arc, St. Thomas A Becket and Corpus Christi parishes.
An important part of the monthly club meetings is nurturing the friendships that have kept the group active for such a long time.
“We’ve been together 23 years, a lot of us, and over that time we’ve shared in so many family ups and downs. We watched our kids grow up. We’ve attended everyone’s anniversaries and parties, the deaths they’ve had in their families,” Marshall said. “There’s a strong bond that you get when you have a deep friendship, and it’s all rooted in our Christian faith.”
Irene Reid said she knew many of the club members in Cursillo. “Things happen in your life unexpectedly. My husband passed away and a lot of the women here really helped me through their faith. That’s a biggie for me,” she said.
Marshall said there are 18 women on the membership list now, and through the years four have died. About 40 have been members in the past 23 years.
“There’s just that core group that’s continued to stay,” she said.
Durica and then Marshall used to host the meetings in their homes, but the group moved to the Panera Bread in the Southland Shopping Center in Pleasant Hills about seven years ago.
Each meeting is moderated by the woman who picked the book for that month, rotating alphabetically by last name, she said. That person can either pick a book or pass, and let the next person pick the book.
The meetings typically begin with a prayer, meditation or psalm at about 9:30 a.m., followed by about an hour and a half of book discussion interspersed with time for socializing, Marshall said. The last part is a business meeting, ending at noon.
“I think we have some really interesting and deep discussions where some of the ladies feel free to talk about things if maybe they don’t have other people to discuss their feelings and their emotions with as much,” she said. “And the book brings that out in people because it brings up situations that maybe people have experienced before.”
The list of 100 books runs the gamut of inspirational topics, from “Wisdom of Sophia: The Star in My Heart” by Joyce Rupp — the group’s first book — to “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” by Pope John Paul II, “Rome Sweet Home” by Dr. Scott Hahn, “Let’s Roll” by Lisa Beamer, “Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics” by Daniel Ali and “Tuesdays With Morrie” by Mitch Albom.
Obviously not all of the books they discuss are Catholic, but the members can usually find a redeeming quality in all of them, Marshall said. Some club members seem to find God everywhere they go, she said.
“The thing that I like about the book club is not all the books are spiritual, but yet we’re able to find a spirituality and something that will really give you a motivation in life with even secular books,” said club member Mary Ann Major.
In addition to the monthly meetings, the club has a Christmas party and Seder meal during Holy Week. They also plan special outings to tea rooms and theater performances.
Many of the books read by the club have been made into movies — such as “Heaven is for Real,” “The Shack” and “The Staircase” — and the members get together to watch the films.
Occasionally the group has had the opportunity to meet the authors or subject of the books read by the club, including Father Richard Infante (“Last Priest Standing”), Hahn (“The Lamb’s Supper,” “Hail, Holy Queen”) and John Michael Talbot (“Signatures: The Story of John Michael Talbot”).
A new club member, Eleanor Faccenda, said, “the socializing that’s outside of this room is fantastic. It supports you knowing that other women feel the same way you do and search for that faith-filled moment. You don’t always find it.”
Marshall said that many years ago the book club members decided to sponsor a needy person overseas through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, which is now called Unbound. They helped a man named Manuel in Chile for 15 years by sending money and corresponding with him, until he died. Now the group supports a woman in India.
“I think we have a good mix of reading and our social activities and parties,” Marshall said.
Another club member, Theresa Kapadia, summed up why she keeps coming back to the club.
“One of the things that struck me when I first started was just a total welcoming and the warmth that you could feel amongst everyone. You were a stranger, but you were never treated as a stranger.
“The second thing is no one is ever judgmental. They take you for who you are,” Kapadia said. “They listen to your opinions. They’re never critical. And so, therefore, you feel this freedom to share because of that.
“You really do feel God’s presence in this group,” she said.
Any woman interested in joining the book club or starting a similar club of their own can call Marshall at 412-881-2351.