The pain of divorce is isolating for all who experience it, and of all the ministries in the Church, a young Dan Meola discovered a crucial one was missing: a healing space for children of divorce, especially those navigating adulthood while carrying serious wounds to their faith and their family.
Only eleven when his parents separated, Dan spent his teenage years and his young adulthood bouncing between ministries after experiencing healing on a retreat when he was in high school. His search throughout high school and college showed him that this one space didn’t exist yet—and through his doctoral degree cooperative research study about adult children of divorce and their relationship with the Church, the glaring need for that space became increasingly obvious.
And, over time, it also became clear to Dan that the Holy Spirit was prompting him to develop it.
Life-Giving Wounds came to life in 2015 from a series of healing retreats that Dan offered in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., as part of his studies at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. At the urging of spiritual director Father Dan Leary, who has been involved with Life-Giving Wounds from its beginning, Dan and his wife Bethany established Life-Giving Wounds as a non-profit in 2020 so the ministry could serve a larger part of the United States.
Life-Giving Wounds’ retreats, offered online and in-person, provide a unique opportunity for young adults and adult children of divorce or separation to explore how their life-draining wounds can become a life-giving mission of love for their relationships, themselves, and others along the way. Given a supportive group, thoughtful leaders, and an experience centered on the Eucharist, participants can uncover the layers of their wounds with the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as a framework and a guide. These weekends offer wounded Catholics in all stages of healing—especially those struggling to feel like they belong in the Church—time and space with someone who will never leave them: Jesus.
“We find that almost always, Eucharistic Adoration is at the heart of participants’ healing,” Dan reflected. “I hear it again and again. There’s truly a Eucharistic pattern to our lives.”
As of 2023, the healing ministry has twelve chapters in twelve cities addressing the needs of adult children of divorce—one of which is at Kennrick Theological Seminary in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri. It is the first seminary chapter of Life-Giving Wounds and was spearheaded by Deacon Ryan Martire this past February. Approaching the Eucharist may seem daunting at first, but Ryan is confident that the benefits of doing so are worth it.
Ryan was in middle school when his parents divorced. He found himself torn between distracting himself with sports and friends or answering his call to the priesthood. When he entered Kennrick Theological Seminary in 2014, he came face-to-face with the wounds he had been avoiding for the better part of seven years.
A friend he had made through the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family invited Ryan to an online Life-Giving Wounds retreat in the spring of 2020. He and Zach Stehr, a seminarian with a similar story, attended together.
“The whole emphasis is not that we just reflect on dark parts from our past life, but that we see the light of Jesus shining into those moments,” Ryan reflected. “He most concretely does that in the Eucharist. When we receive him, he goes to the areas where we’re most vulnerable, where we need to welcome him in and let his light shine.”
Zach was both surprised and relieved to acknowledge the effects of his parents’ divorce. Years of trying not to appear “weak” to his friends had him convinced he was alone until he heard countless, profound stories of other participants. “In Life-Giving Wounds, I learned that we’re suffering together, and we’re also being healed together and experiencing the Resurrection together.”
This communal aspect of suffering, healing, and rising together is at the core of Life-Giving Wounds; in fact, the name was inspired by 1 Peter 2:24, “By his wounds you have been healed.”
“When you are very wounded, you feel like you have to earn people’s love because you’re not enough.” Dan noted that participants, whether practicing Catholics or still discerning their relationship with the Church, have a deep attraction to the stillness of Eucharistic Adoration. “Before the Eucharist in Adoration, there’s this experience of being loved just because. You don’t have to do anything. You just sit there; you receive Jesus’ love. He loves you. For so many people, this is so radically healing.”
After seeing the impact Life-Giving Wounds had on Ryan Martire, his formators encouraged him to create a chapter on campus. With Dan’s help, he did just that, and the chapter includes eighteen seminarians and two chaplains; what was normally a week-long program of presentations and discussions was expanded to seven weeks of reflection, meditation, and community discussion for the seminarians.
Fr. Scott Scheiderer serves as one of the chaplains in addition to pastoring his parish in North City. A child of divorced parents himself, he remembered not so long ago confronting his own wounds: “Going through seminary, you deal with a lot of these wounds and how they’ve affected your relationship with the Lord. It’s something we need to continually revisit with the Holy Spirit. We are a mystery to our own selves, and unless we open up to the Lord in prayer and in Eucharistic adoration, we won’t truly know ourselves or Jesus and his mercy.”
Opening up to the Lord can be frightening, Zach Stehr recognized: “At first, when you realize you have all this pain and want to do something about it, when you first want to let the Lord in, it can be scary because you must be vulnerable. You must be weak and vulnerable in front of the Lord—in front of others, too.”
“The surest way to virtue is through friendship,” Dan Meola elaborated. “There’s something unique in a friendship with someone who’s suffered the same thing you have. There is something so powerful about being accompanied by someone further along in their healing journey who knows the path you’re walking. When we are healed and given over to Christ, he makes our wounds fruitful in a way that those who have not suffered what we have suffered cannot really understand.”
Dan stresses that adult children of divorced and separated parents “are not just another group in need of pastoral ministry. Those who are healed have unique gifts to give in the Church.” They intimately understand the healing journey’s ups and downs and know from experience how essential the Eucharist, prayer, and community support are to finding solace and assurance in the love of the one who will never leave us: Jesus.
Life-Giving Wounds’ addition to a seminary is only the beginning of the healing the team hopes to provide. Mike Day, Director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Saint Augustine, Florida, worked with Dan to bring the ministry to his diocese. After the powerful experience, he had this to say: “Decades of divorce have left millions of wounded children in its wake, struggling to find their own identity and sustain meaningful relationships. This wound is both profound and hidden, as the pain is often invalidated or suppressed. Life-Giving Wounds is a remarkable effort to not only give a voice to the unspoken pain of adults who come from a broken family but to transform these wounds into an opportunity for deeper intimacy with God for healing and the recovery of our true origin: children loved and cherished by our Heavenly Father.”
To learn more about Life-giving Wounds’ resources and retreats, visit their website.
Colleen Schena is a writer at Relevant Radio with a passion for the stories of disciples moved to action by the Eucharist.