Sharing, caring and exploring their Catholicism, Mondays with Molly is a faith-sharing group that enriches the lives of its members, according to those who gather twice a month with their leader, “Molly.”

Molly O’Connell, center top, leads a recent gathering of Mondays with Molly at St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield. O’Connell started the group in 2005 with three members and since its inception, membership has grown to 19. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)Molly O’Connell started Mondays with Molly in November 2005 with three women, including herself, as an unstructured women’s group at St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield. The group has grown to 19 women, ages 65 to older than 80. Most of the women are from St. John Vianney Parish, but a few are from other parishes.

Six are widows. They meet the first and third Monday of every month for two hours, year round, in a gathering area of the church. There is no homework and no one must commit to attending every meeting.

O’Connell enjoys exploring her Catholicism in the group setting and the members hold her in high regard for her leadership qualities. Josie Hammell, a member for seven years, called O’Connell “a wonderful facilitator and a wise lady.” She described the group as a good, close-knit Christian ladies group.

Hammell said the direction of the discussion “depends on how the angels want us to flow that day. We let God in there.” Hammell lost her husband four years ago and she was grateful for Mondays with Molly.

“They supported me through my grief,” she said.

Although the meetings are unstructured, they cover a few recurring themes, including the personal lives of their members, church happenings and church doctrine.

They begin with a prayer by O’Connell or by whomever may have brought a prayer along that day. They Members of Mondays with Molly pose for a group photo at a gathering of the group on April 7, at St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)conclude the gathering with a prayer of special intentions or thanksgiving.

An educator at heart, O’Connell holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education from Mount Mary University and Cardinal Stritch University, respectively. At times in the meetings, O’Connell presents a question or topic to get the discussion going. She utilizes group dynamic skills to get everyone to contribute to the conversation.

At one meeting, she asked, “What decision did you make early in your life that has impacted the rest of your life?” Another time the question was, “When did you find your voice and when did you use it the first time?”

They have talked about the pope, and have asked what he is calling Catholics to do. Sometimes, they discuss the liturgy from Sunday’s Mass. They have delved into weightier issues such as the sex abuse scandal, abortion and how money was spent for outreach programs over the years. They have talked about the process of death, written their own obituaries and talked about funerals. Recently, O’Connell challenged members to write a personal testimony as to why they are Catholic and how the faith impacts them.

Pat Peters joined in November 2008, just after her husband died. Describing Mondays with Molly as “a tremendous spiritual and life support group,” she said she was blessed to be a part of the group as it helped her through her healing.

She continued that it is a place where you can ask questions about the church and discuss it in a non-judgmental way.

“You feel safe in sharing. We have sadness, laughter, tears and joy,” she added.

O’Connell gathers questions that the group has about the church and then gives the questions to the pastor, Fr. Kenneth Knippel, who joined them at a meeting last year to answer their inquiries.

Every woman in the group is at a different point in her faith life, but they grow together as a group.

Kathleen Maag, one of the three original members, said the group explores their lives, families, church and how church issues affect their faith lives.

“My faith life has grown tremendously,” she said. “The friendships that have been established through the group are a great part of it.”

At Christmas and Easter, the meeting is hosted in a member’s home with food and drinks creating a festive atmosphere for their faith sharing. Between meetings, O’Connell said they spread the good tidings of the meeting with others and that the members are always “very present to me as I walk through life.”

O’Connell attributes the success of the group, in part to her ability as a good listener as well as the members’ gift of sharing from the heart and being honest with each other.