By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 28, 2013
ATLANTA—Whether a speaker has a last-minute problem or a printing issue arises, leaders of the Magnificat women’s ministry find that things work out divinely.
It’s more, after all, than a lovely women’s breakfast, but a morning of spiritual refreshment with the sparkling centerpiece of Jesus and Mary. The prayer-rooted ministry emphasizes growing in relationship with Jesus and empowerment by the Holy Spirit in unity with Mary.
The name comes from Mary’s hymn of praise described in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 1, where she conceives Jesus through the Holy Spirit and rushes to tell her cousin, Elizabeth. Both women have been deeply touched by God and come together to help one another, speak of God’s action in their lives, sing, pray and find strength.
Mary “receives this news and goes out to share this news with Elizabeth. It really is about that for women who come. You want them to receive the Good News of the Lord when they come to a Magnificat meal,” said Beth Gowasack, coordinator of the service team in Atlanta.
“I say to women, think of it as a little retreat in your backyard,” she said. “Mary is our model in Magnificat. It is all about her. It’s done in prayer and rooted in prayer. You can’t deny her presence and intercession in all we do.”
Part of an international Catholic women’s ministry, Magnificat breakfasts in Atlanta are held four Saturday mornings a year at Holy Cross Church. The program includes a hot breakfast in a relaxed, faith-filled environment, praise and worship led by music ministers, intercessory prayer and a personal testimony. The speaker, most often a woman, but sometimes a priest or bishop, shares about their faith journey, about learning to hear the Lord, those who helped them find faith and sometimes about facing challenges and finding victory in Christ in the midst of it. Speakers’ stories have ranged from those of a mother of a severely disabled child, to the founder of a parish ministry, to the conversion of those with grave needs, or the widow looking through the spiritual lens of her lifelong faith.
At the end of each gathering, the sacrament of confession is available with the chapter’s spiritual advisor, Father Joseph Mullakkara, a Missionary of St. Francis de Sales.
The breakfast is for women of all ages and levels of spirituality and typically draws about 125.
“Our parishes are big. This is so much more small and intimate where you can really have that close conversation and you’re always being encouraged and built up. If we don’t come and sit and share together and listen to each other, we are missing a huge part of what it is to be together as a community of faith,” Gowasack said.
A member of St. Pius X Church in Conyers, she had been praying for a way to serve more as her children got older. Then an invitation came to join the service team of the Magnificat chapter in Atlanta and answered her prayers. She has been encouraged by the way others find the ministry an answer to prayer.
“It’s unbelievable how many times when you ask a speaker or somebody to take on a chairwoman’s role, women will say, ‘The timing of this is really perfect. … I was thinking about what the Lord was calling me to do,’” she said.
“There are situations (in the ministry) where we say, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?’ … Consistently, over and over, things work,” she said. “The Holy Spirit comes and it’s a great morning. … I have stayed with this because I’ve seen this consistently happen and I really believe the Lord is present in this effort.”
She recently joined with some 300 others at the biannual international leaders conference. Born out of the Catholic charismatic renewal, the Magnificat ministry was founded in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1991 and now includes 63 U.S. chapters and 12 internationally, from Poland to Uganda. It is a private association of the faithful in the Catholic Church. Chapters must have the approval of the local bishop in order to be established.
Kathy MacInnis was installed at the conference as the new central service team coordinator to oversee the entire ministry. She feels it’s “an amazing responsibility” for which she has been prepared by being mentored by the foundress of Magnificat, Marilyn Quirk, who has served since 1991.
Magnificat “is about the Holy Spirit and the explosion of grace that can happen when women meet each other and come together in the name of the Lord,” MacInnis said. “There’s this encouragement there to grow in holiness through prayer and sacraments and the Mass.”
In addition to the Magnificat meals, celebrated quarterly by each chapter, MacInnis said that “Magnificat Proclaims” airs periodically on EWTN radio’s “Top of the Week,” reaching a far wider audience with the speakers’ testimonies. Magnificat is also compiling a book of compelling testimonies to expand their impact.
MacInnis herself was “very, very shy,” but nevertheless she and a prayer group established a Magnificat chapter on Louisiana’s North Shore 17 years ago.
“We just knew God was calling us. He helped me to get over my shyness because of the desire he put in my heart to do this,” she reflected. “It has brought me to total abandonment to the will of God and a real understanding of church hierarchy and the truth of the faith. … I’m constantly inspired by these women.”
The Atlanta chapter was also born out of prayer in 1992. Olga Myers had prayed for a new direction and at an Ignatius House retreat found herself journaling on a bench amidst the willowy pines and placid Chattahoochee about a new call to evangelization.
At the end of the entry she wrote, “God who is mighty has done great things for me,” which she later learned was from the Magnificat. After retiring as school of religion coordinator at Corpus Christi Church, in Stone Mountain, she visited her sister in Tampa, Fla., and attended her first Magnificat meal.
“The Holy Spirit stirred my heart and gave me the desire to bring Magnificat to Atlanta,” she said.
Before starting a chapter, Magnificat requires a period of discernment with at least two others—not a problem for Myers who with two friends had just formed a prayer group before the Tampa trip.
“God sure had a plan,” Myers said. “I entered very slowly into it. He just takes over and through it really showed me his presence.”
Women are touched in “powerful ways” through the gatherings, she said, including many today facing grave financial burdens. Myers recalled a former nun who reconnected to the church through the ministry and a married woman beset with problems, who almost didn’t come, but left uplifted. Once she nervously accepted an invitation to speak about Magnificat at a federal prison, which turned into an awesome experience.
“There’s a lot of strength to be experienced at the meals. … They might not come back, but it doesn’t matter. God has touched them and leads them where he wants,” she said.
Now 73, Myers reflects on how God uplifted her through 23 years in Magnificat. She is excited to see the ministry grow and younger women take on national leadership.
“It’s been a really exciting time. I can say I really can sing that Magnificat. God who is mighty has done great things for me,” she said.
Amidst the many demands on women’s time, Gowasack believes Magnificat offers special blessings, especially in this Year of Faith. She encourages setting this morning aside for a mini-retreat.
“In this culture, to do that on a Saturday morning, you make a commitment,” she said. “I say, ‘Lord, I’m going to give you this because I want to be closer to you and hear you through the fellowship of women, my friends and sisters in faith.’”
“It’s a really joyful and enjoyable and pleasurable morning to build one’s faith,” she said.
And she left the New Orleans conference renewed in her dedication to the ministry.
“I know women need this because this does bring the Lord’s presence into their lives,’” she said. “He is with us and our Blessed Mother is with us, interceding for us. And it is she who is going to sustain and support us and carry us to her Son to live and overcome and bring about needed healing in our world.”
The next Magnificat breakfast will be held Saturday, May 18, featuring guest speaker Sister Margarita Martin, AJC. To receive an email invitation, contact joyful firstname.lastname@example.org. For information, visit www.magnificat-ministry.net.