Edell Schaefer draws from her own experience when she says divorce is a process, not just an event.
The Single Again support group offered by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee aims to help men and women navigate the process of separation and divorce with the help of those on the same journey.
“When you go through a divorce, you find out quickly that it’s a terrible thing to try to do alone,” said Schaefer, who facilitates the community that meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. every other Thursday in the parish center at St. John Vianney, Brookfield. With no registration required, the free group meets next on Jan. 25, Feb. 8 and Feb. 22.
When Schaefer was divorced in 2014 after 22 ½ years of marriage, she discovered the Single Again group, as well as a New Horizons weekend retreat by and for divorced people offered by the archdiocese.
“For many, a support group like Single Again is the only place where men and women can find hope and encouragement from someone who understands what divorce is really like. Being part of a support group gives people a chance to see how far they have come, how much they have grown. Before long, they realize that they can share what they learned with others and, through that sharing, light the way to hope for others,” Schaefer said.
Single Again is open to people of all faiths or no faith at all. “Jesus ministered to everyone. He didn’t place qualifiers on anyone, and neither do we,” Schaefer said. “In the process of simply ministering to separated and divorced individuals, their participation can plant seeds of evangelization.”
In Schaefer’s case, she returned to the Catholic Church she had left in the 1960s and went on to earn a master’s degree in systemic theology in 2019 in the Cor Unum program at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, Franklin. A member of St. Dominic in Brookfield, Schaefer became facilitator of Single Again in 2022 when the former facilitator moved out of state.
Matthew — name changed to preserve confidentiality — first attended the group in late 2020.
“This ministry has brought countless blessings to many of God’s children,” he said. “It was a source of strength in some of my darkest times, and I was pleased to know that the Catholic Church supported this ministry. There are not a lot of resources beyond books and your own personal therapist to help people cope with divorce.”
Matthew said he still attends Single Again gatherings occasionally. “Now I find myself being the one to offer comfort to others who are more recently divorced.”
Jane, another pseudonym, found the group to be more helpful than she expected when she first arrived in 2014.
“It was and is the only place where I knew and now know, 100 percent, that there are others who understand the ups and downs of divorce. The most helpful aspect of the group is hearing others’ stories and knowing others have made it through,” she said.
Schaefer noted many people end up leaving or distancing themselves from the Catholic Church after divorce.
“Many people erroneously assume that divorce itself is a sin, or that divorced Catholics are not welcome at Mass, or cannot receive the sacraments. Often, divorced Catholics feel they are viewed as ‘sinners’ or have committed a sinful act by divorcing,” Schaefer said.
Divorce itself is a civil process that ends a contractual partnership, she said. “In the eyes of God, however, marriage is a sacramental union — a covenant — that cannot be broken. Catholics who divorce are welcome in the Church and can receive sacraments. It’s actually very beneficial to the healing process to do so. However, Catholics who choose to remarry must first be granted a Declaration of Invalidity (commonly called an annulment). A Declaration of Invalidity is an investigation into the validity of the marriage as a sacrament.”
To find out more about annulment, “the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has a helpful and responsive Tribunal, and resources on their website,” she said.
Registration Open for April 20 Healing Beyond Divorce Retreat
The New Horizons weekend retreat Schaefer experienced back in 2014 was discontinued when the pandemic began in March 2020, but a one-day event sponsored by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will be held April 20.
The second Day of Healing Beyond Divorce will be offered at the Schoenstatt Retreat Center on the west side of Waukesha. People of all faiths still in the process of divorcing or who have been divorced for any amount of time are welcome to attend the retreat.
Presenter Marianne Skrobiak is a licensed psychotherapist with many years of experience in separated and divorced ministry. She will explore divorce in a deeper, gentler way and include presentations that guide those attending in a relationship with themselves, God and others.
Online registration for the retreat can be found at https://archmil.regfox.com/dayofhealingregister.
Schaefer now serves on the New Horizons retreat team, which hopes to bring back the full weekend format next year.
For more information about Single Again, contact Schaefer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-439-8690.