New Beginnings helps you move on

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • November 2, 2006

TORONTO - John Dubeau still remembers the pain he felt when he and his wife divorced more than 30 years ago.

"I was angry and my parish priest said reconcile, but that wasn't any help when I was in that mindset," said Dubeau, 63.

At the suggestion of a friend, Dubeau hesitantly decided to try a New Beginnings' weekend retreat and 27 years later he's become one of the retreat leaders.

He said it is the compassion and wisdom of Sr. Jean DeLuca, CSJ, who founded New Beginnings 30 years ago, to whom he and thousands of other widowed, separated and divorced people owe a debt of gratitude.

The ministry offers retreat weekends, monthly meetings and parish support groups to reflect on shared experiences and tackle topics such as finances, family law and annulments.

"The whole program is about accepting you where you're at no matter what frame of mind you are in," said Dubeau. "Everybody draws strength from everybody else's story.... Often these people feel isolated and alone."

Originally, it was not the parents, but the children from broken families that DeLuca feared were isolated and alone.

As a math and science teacher for 27 years, DeLuca noticed a trend: when student academic performance suffered, it was often linked to family issues.

"The children would say to me 'we don't know who we belong to,' " said DeLuca.

Family breakdown happens due to a general disregard for marriage as a lifetime commitment and double income families struggle to make family a priority while making ends meet, said DeLuca.

The ministry is rooted in the writings of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who suggests people who experience different forms of loss go through similar stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance.

"What the weekend does is it teaches us to deal with old baggage before we can move on. You cannot give of yourself until you have a self to give," said Dubeau.

Part of the healing process requires dealing with the stigma attached to divorce and separation.

Dubeau said the stigma he faced decades ago has subsided, partly because divorce is more common.

"If you were separated or divorced then you were (labelled) a person who cannot meet your commitment."

DeLuca said some people have come to retreats as widows, but she would later find out that they had been separated from their spouse years before.

"It's accepted to be widowed, but they felt labelled (otherwise)."

DeLuca recognizes people are not completely healed after a single weekend.

"It's up and down. They figure they'd accepted it and they get down about it (again)."

Thirty years later, New Beginnings is still in demand. It has expanded throughout Ontario and parts of Canada. For the past ten years the archdiocese of Toronto has been officially in charge of the program.

DeLuca is slowing down a bit. She still oversees the program, but the leaders she's trained over the years facilitate it.

"I hope it continues because (family breakdown) is not lessening in society," said DeLuca.

For more information on New Beginnings, call (416) 222-1101 ext. 107.

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