DELRAY BEACH | In another sign of relief from the COVID-19 pandemic, the first weekend retreat in four years of the AIM ministry of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Boca Raton was held June 9-11, 2023, at the Duncan Conference Center in Delray Beach. Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito celebrated Mass with the retreat participants June 11. The theme of the retreat for adults with physical disabilities was “We are the Body of Christ and We Do Not Stand Alone.”
It was the 68th retreat presented by AIM, which stands for Achieve, Inspire and Motivate. The ministry was started in 1979 at St. Joan of Arc by Harriet and Bernie Molinski. Their daughter, Kathy, who was suffering from Huntington’s disease at the time, was unable to participate in an extended retreat, and they wanted to bring a ministry to their parish that focused on overnight gatherings for people with disabilities.
Harriet Molinski, the last of the AIM founders still alive, who now has disabilities and lives in Boynton Beach, attended the latest retreat with her daughter, Karen. Harriet said it is gratifying to see that the ministry has endured for 44 years. “It feels really good. They’ve done a wonderful job,” she said.
The retreat’s spiritual director was Carmelite Father Michael Driscoll, who works at St. Joan, St. Jude and St. John the Evangelist parishes in Boca Raton. He said this was his third time directing an AIM retreat.
Father Driscoll gave four talks: “Sharing God’s love without reservation” (Jn 15:9-17); “The saints bless us with their intercessions,” reflecting on St. Titus Brandsma, a Dutch Carmelite priest who was killed by the Nazis in 1942; “The Eucharist and Scripture nourish us” (Lk 24:13-35); and “The Holy Spirit’s gifts empower us” (1 Cor 12:3-7 and Acts 2:1-11).
St. Titus is near and dear to Father Driscoll because the Catholic Church attributed prayers to the Dutch martyr for the subsequent healing of Father Driscoll from melanoma. Father Driscoll said that, in his second talk, he “gave a couple of examples of people who were healed, and I told them my story.”
His Saturday afternoon presentation explored the origins and history of Scripture and liturgy. The early Christians, Father Driscoll said, came together to share “how they felt, encouraged one another, admonished one another, prayed for one another and prayed that they be gifted by the Holy Spirit with the powers that Jesus Christ had given them.”
“Since they could no longer put their hands into his wounded side or touch his tortured hands, they needed something to express his presence and this was the church,” he said. “They came to understand that the church was Christ and that they could meet him just as well in the church as they could when he walked the face of the earth. They came to understand that the church was a means of salvation now that Christ had come into his glory.”
Larry Barszewski, who has been involved with AIM since 2015, served as rector of the retreat. He was pleased that more than 50 people were in attendance, including 22 with disabilities, their assigned buddies and other helpers, a nurse and two aides.
“This is probably, as far as numbers, the largest group we’ve had since I’ve been involved,” he said, crediting the Notre Dame Club of Boca Raton and St. Joan of Arc Knights of Columbus Council 13051 for generous donations that covered the retreat costs for all participants.
Barszewski said he was happy they were able to have a Eucharistic procession Saturday morning to celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ that featured three Knights of Columbus members and a canopy borrowed from Emmanuel Parish. Also, it was a special treat to have Mercy Sister Josephine Sullivan, who had served St. Joan of Arc Parish and School for many years, attend part of the retreat virtually on Zoom from Ireland, where she is living in retirement.
Retreatant Peter Russillo, who is sight-impaired and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Stuart, said he was hoping to learn more about the faith through the weekend of presentations and experiences. “And also to rebuild the friendships made in the previous AIM retreats, which we couldn’t go to because of COVID, and we had to do it online,” he said.
For the buddies, who help the disabled people with their normal, day-to-day tasks at the retreat, there are unique benefits. John Moore, who served as a buddy along with his wife, Regina, said they enjoyed a Koinonia spiritual retreat earlier this year at St. Joan and were encouraged by friends to get involved with AIM.
“They pointed out then, and it’s definitely true, there’s some serving of others, but we’re served ourselves for sure. It’s a blessing to be surrounded by everybody who’s here,” he said.
AIM ministry leader Margarita Castellon agreed. “These weekends are always major blessings for the folks we serve and for us,” she said. “Every one is different. This one has its own character, and it’s wonderful. We have the largest attendance in a long time. Everybody is so excited to get together again after COVID.”