Sister Ann McGrew’s mother was beloved in the Grayson County, Ky., community where she lived, and noted for always making people feel comfortable.
Now it is Sister Ann’s mission to make others feel comfortable, as they seek a respite from their everyday lives to be still and find their way closer to God.
Sister Ann is the executive director of the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center, a ministry she began in the summer of 2010 after completing her six-year term on the Ursuline leadership Council.
“Being a retreat center director has always been a dream of mine,” she said. “I want to help people deepen their relationship with God. Being in a retreat center seemed like a good way to do that.”
Sister Ann has been a teacher, a formation director, and a parish minister, but other than a year working part-time as program facilitator at the Center, she had no experience in a retreat center.
“I think it’s a great fit,” she said. “The first year, I’ve been trying to find my balance. The staff is really good, very helpful, they know how to meet the needs of our regular groups. The most challenging part of the ministry is that the staff is very small. When we have a group stay a week or 10 days, it’s a challenge to meet all their needs.”
Being at the Retreat Center fulfills her wish to walk with people on their spiritual journey. “I think people have a real desire for a deeper relationship with God,” Sister Ann said. “They want to take time away from the hustle and bustle. Some people come here just to sit and read, just to have time to be with God.”
Her favorite part of the first year is the reflection days she leads on the first Friday of each month. The days have brought a small, but devoted group of participants. “The challenge is to choose the right topic to grab people’s attention, let them know they will find something there,” she said. “Getting them here is the biggest challenge.” One participant in the reflection days drove 90 minutes to come to the first one because she wanted a day away, but after the first reflection day, she decided to come back again.
“It was a great move for the Retreat Center,” said Sister Elaine Burke, who ministers with Sister Ann in the Spiritual Direction Training Program. “The Center should have a strong spiritual sense to it. She has brought that to the Center. Nothing is too hard for Ann, everything is possible.”
Those who know Sister Ann the best mention her great sense of humor. “Anyone who has ever gotten Ann to laughing knows how hard it is to turn that laughter off,” said Sister Mary Matthias Ward, her longtime friend. “It comes from the deepest part of her being.”
Being the Center director also means she is head of the Spiritual Life Office for the Diocese of Owensboro. “I’m still growing into that,” she said. “It’s more parish-centered. I gave a confirmation retreat in Hickman, Ky. We have catechist days and confirmation and school prayer days at the Center. When I go to staff meetings at the Catholic Pastoral Center, I listen to what’s going on in the diocese, and see if we can offer something.”
Sister Ann can look back and see that her previous ministries were stepping stones to her role at the Center.
“My years as a parish minister prepared me for this ministry. I worked with all age groups, did a lot of listening,” she said. “It’s probably the teacher in me that makes those reflection days valuable. I’m not afraid of questions. My time as novice director allowed me to develop a desire to work with adults. Walking on their spiritual journey toward a vocation was an awesome experience. I sensed a deep desire. I experience that desire in other people also.”