By JEAN DRISKELL, Special to the Bulletin | Published July 6, 2017
ATLANTA—Olga Myers, Jan Nerone and Elyse O’Kane, co-founders of the Joyful Visitation chapter of Magnificat, spoke May 6 of how God led them to bring this international Catholic women’s ministry to Atlanta and what he has done in their lives. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the chapter and its 100th Magnificat meal.
Speaking to about 140 women in the social hall at Holy Cross Church in Atlanta, the three women said in their talks that they attended a Life in the Spirit seminar in 1989 presented by the Servants of the Lord charismatic prayer community at Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain. Afterward, they attended the prayer group and met once a week for intercessory prayer and the rosary. Myers said they also went on retreats together.
“This shows how important it is to have prayerful, faithful companions on our spiritual journey,” she said.
Myers spent a decade as director of the Corpus Christi school of religion before becoming the first coordinator of the Atlanta Magnificat chapter from 1992 to 2002. She later was Magnificat Southeast regional representative and on the national advisory team. Following Hurricane Katrina, which impacted the ministry’s central leadership near New Orleans, she began a Magnificat intercessory prayer ministry online, which still flourishes.
“An overwhelming joy”
However, she was unaware of the ministry in 1990 when she went to visit her sister in Tampa, where a chapter had been formed, and her sister took her to a Magnificat breakfast.
“I didn’t even know what the word Magnificat meant,” Myers said. “During the meal in Tampa, something came over me. It was an overwhelming joy. I came home and told my prayer partners. They couldn’t believe how excited I was.”
Magnificat is a private association of the faithful within the Catholic Church, under the jurisdiction of the local bishop. Born out of the Catholic charismatic renewal, the purpose is to help Catholic women become more open to the Holy Spirit through a deeper commitment to Jesus as Lord. The ministry is expressed through a meal where women share faith and hear the witness of a guest speaker, most often another woman, about the action of God in her life. It is a reflection of Mary’s song of praise of God.
The threesome prayed to discern if it was God’s plan for a Magnificat chapter to begin in Atlanta. Once they discerned that it was, Myers wrote to the Central Service Team asking how to begin a chapter. Within a year the chapter was formed with the approval of Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM. Father Willie Hickey, first spiritual advisor, helped name the chapter Joyful Visitation.
At a meeting to recruit ministry leaders, 50 women “came to see what this Magnificat was going to be all about,” Myers said. In February 1992 a Presentation Tea was held at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta, “and we introduced Magnificat to the women of the archdiocese.” On May 2, 1992, the first Magnificat meal was held at All Saints Church, Dunwoody.
“The Lord had to lead me step by step and all he was asking me was to take the first step and that’s the hardest,” Myers said.
“God reminds us over and over again, you’re not alone,” she said. “He did that early on when I was stepping out on that first step. Come with me, take my hand.”
Myers said that with all the things happening in today’s world, Magnificat is an invitation to “step out of that world and to step into love, to step into joy. You leave here different than when you arrived.”
She spoke about Mary going to visit Elizabeth, recorded in the rosary mystery of the Visitation, where they shared their love and served each other.
“That’s what Magnificat is all about. The Holy Spirit wants to conceive Jesus in our hearts. We, like Mary, are called to bring Jesus into the world,” Myers said.
“God is calling us to wake up,” she said. “This is the day God has made. Be glad and rejoice. Each day is a new beginning. Each day is a gift from God.”
“God is calling us to be a light in the darkness of this world. God is our light and our love and our joy. In him there is no darkness,” Myers said.
She is now a certified spiritual director and assistant director of the Marian Servants of the Blessed Trinity community in the Atlanta Archdiocese, a public association of the Christian faithful. She and her husband, Roy, have three children and nine grandchildren.
“Little did we know”
Nerone, the first assistant coordinator, served the chapter for 12 years.
“As I look back to the time when Olga, Elyse, and I gathered for prayer once a week,” Nerone said, “little did we know that the Lord had a plan for us that we could not have imagined.”
“We all had the desire to do something together for the Lord,” she said, “and as we gathered each week for prayer we would sing together, we would praise the Lord, we would read Scripture, pray our rosary, intercede for one another and for all those who asked us to pray for them.”
“We loved Mary, our Mother, and asked for her intercession as we desired to draw closer to the Lord and to seek the power of the Holy Spirit to come and to work through us,” Nerone said.
She said that when Myers came back from her experience of Magnificat in Florida, she and the other two women believed this was what they had been praying for.
“We all had different gifts to bring to the ministry,” Nerone said, “and as we continued to pray, the Lord revealed to us where and how we would serve the ministry. Everything we did, every decision that was made, was done through prayer.”
She said that after serving in the Magnificat ministry she wondered what the Lord had in mind for her life and that it was not long before she committed to him by becoming a Secular member of the Discalced Carmelite order.
She is a member of the St. Therese, the Little Flower community in Lawrenceville, where she is the formation director. She is also active at St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville. She and her husband, Rick, have three children and four grandchildren.
“This Carmelite order has taught me a more disciplined prayer life and the joy of embracing a contemplative spirit,” she said. “Just as this chapter is named the Joyful Visitation, so in my silence I find a joyful visitation with our Lord.”
“Mary was with me in the Magnificat ministry, and she is with me as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in my vocation to Carmel,” she said.
Nerone said that the Lord has called each person by name to be present at this Magnificat meal “to be nourished with a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our soul.”
“Together we are the body of Christ, supporting one another, encouraging one another, and going out from here to carry the light of Christ into the world,” she said.
“The God of surprises”
O’Kane, the first music minister of the Joyful Visitation chapter, led the praise and worship segment. A wife, mother, grandmother, former teacher and musician, she is currently working on her second music CD, scheduled for release in October.
“We believed Magnificat would be something so spiritually wonderful for the women of Atlanta,” O’Kane said.
“I never had an inkling of how Magnificat would change my life,” she said. “Never would I have dreamed of what God had planned for me through this ministry.”
O’Kane composed a Middle Eastern melody to the scriptural words of Mary’s Magnificat. Initially sung at the meals of the Atlanta chapter, it has spread now throughout the Magnificat ministry.
“This song has become the theme song of the worldwide ministry,” she said.
She said that she had never composed or written music before. She was driving home from Mass while on vacation and the melody came into her mind.
“It dawned on me that this was something new, something I had never heard before,” O’Kane said. “But why was it so joyful? I had never heard a joyful Marian song before. They were all beautiful but so solemn. But this one was different.”
“That’s when I began to think about how our Blessed Mother must have felt when her cousin, Elizabeth, rejoiced when she heard her voice and then confirmed for her what had happened when the angel appeared. And images came to me of two women embracing one another with great joy at what God had miraculously done for both of them,” she said.
O’Kane said that the Magnificat song was the beginning of her songwriting.
“More and more music was coming to me, many during Eucharistic adoration. I would write the lyrics down in my journal and the melodies remained in my head. After awhile it became clear that I was to record them,” she said.
She said that she did not know how to record music and that she was not a professional singer or songwriter. She said that she had prayerful support from her husband, John, her family, and friends, and that strengthened her.
“I didn’t know if anyone would ever listen to my music,” O’Kane said. “I had to let go and let God. My only prayer was that the Holy Spirit would place his healing within each song so that whoever would listen to it would experience his touch, his peace, his joy. He answered that prayer many times over.”
“I’ve learned the God of surprises loves to do the extraordinary with the ordinary. All he needs is our permission, our yes,” she said. “Each day presents us with an opportunity to say yes to God, another opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our day.”
“Prayer works wonders,” O’Kane said. “Open your heart and know that God has equipped you by his Spirit to serve the kingdom of God on earth. Everyone’s gift is unique and worthwhile and sorely needed.”