December 6, 2019

Mary’s WAY promotes ‘Women Answering Yes’ to God

Mother and daughter Teresa, left, and Brigette Schutzman, members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, greet each other in the parish’s school gymnasium during a Mary’s WAY event on Oct. 24. (Submitted photo by Victoria Arthur)

Mother and daughter Teresa, left, and Brigette Schutzman, members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, greet each other in the parish’s school gymnasium during a Mary’s WAY event on Oct. 24. (Submitted photo by Victoria Arthur)

By Victoria Arthur (Special to The Criterion)

BROWNSBURG AND ST. LEON—Growing up in their Cincinnati home, Teresa Schutzman and her 10 siblings frequently heard the same message as they were rushing out the door.

“Take the Blessed Mother with you.”

Those words came from their earthly mother, Rose, whose lifelong devotion to Mary grew even deeper when she survived a brain aneurysm while pregnant with her 11th child. Schutzman, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, was a sixth-grader when she nearly lost her mother and baby brother in 1966. She remembers a hundred people—many not even connected to their family—praying the rosary in the hospital waiting room on that agonizing day.

The 36-year-old mother who wasn’t expected to live not only survived but went on to raise all 11 of her and her husband’s children and to welcome 61 grandchildren.

“Our life was far from struggle-free after what happened, but in that struggle and through Mary’s intercession and God’s mercy, we made it through those times,” Schutzman said. “And our faith only grew stronger.”

Today, Schutzman is dedicated to strengthening others’ faith through Mary’s WAY (Women Answering Yes), a Catholic women’s organization launched by her younger sister Ann, who was only a kindergartner when the events of 1966 swirled around her. But Ann Winkle never forgot the Blessed Mother’s role in what she and countless others consider a miracle.

After attending a Marian retreat in Illinois as a busy mother of four, Winkle felt called to start her own program. Her goal was to create beautiful, memorable events for women that would free them from their hectic lives for a few precious hours, inspire them and ultimately encourage them to deepen their love for and faith in Jesus Christ by following the perfect example of his mother, Mary.

Winkle founded Mary’s WAY in her then-home parish in the Chicago suburbs in 2002. Schutzman brought it to Indiana two years later, with the first event at St. Luke.

Now, 19 parishes in Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio offer the program. With 11 of those parishes in Indiana—seven of which have active chapters in the archdiocese—the state has by far the largest number of Mary’s WAY chapters, and a new chapter in South Bend, Ind., is in the works. (Related: Mary’s WAY chapters are present in seven archdiocesan parishes)

“Indiana is the powerhouse of Mary’s WAY,” joked Winkle, who now calls North Carolina home. “We had no idea when we started how it would grow. But when women come to these events, sometimes the Blessed Mother puts it on their heart to start something of their own.”

‘Go to Our Lady’

A tragedy calling for deep faith and prayer struck the lives of Winkle and Schutzman again, this time involving Teresa’s daughter, Brigette Schutzman.

Then a sophomore at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Brigette was traveling to Illinois on Dec. 31, 2007, when her car lost control on an icy road and was struck by another vehicle. She was given a 1 percent chance of survival.

But with the help of many “prayer warriors,” survive she did.

“I’m alive, I can walk, and I am so grateful,” the 31-year-old parishioner of St. Luke told The Criterion in her parish’s school gymnasium on Oct. 24 as she waited for a Mary’s WAY event there to begin.

Her mother was present, too, and both listened as that evening’s speaker, Gayle Bischel of Harrison, Ohio, shared her own story of faith.

Bischel’s daughter was just 20 months old when the toddler was killed in a tragic accident. Although the loss was unbearable, Bischel said, she and her family found that “complete surrender” to “God’s divine providence” was the only way to solace.

“God uses trials to draw us closer to him,” Bischel told the gathering of approximately 160 women. “Accidents do happen, but nothing happens by accident.”

She passed along this message to the women when they encounter such times: “Go to Our Lady.”

While the subject of talks given at Mary’s WAY events might be serious, they are delivered against a backdrop of beauty, in an atmosphere of joy. Table “hostesses” often use their own formal dinnerware to dress the tables. Flowers, statues of Mary and other sacred images are used for decoration.

“When the ladies arrive at the location, I want it to take their breath away,” Winkle said. “I want it to be so special that they think to themselves, ‘They did all of this for me?’ ”

Men of the parish, and often students, serve the guests. Winkle explained that the idea is for the women in attendance, many of whom spend so much time serving their own families, to relax and be fully present in the moment.

‘A sight to behold’

So it was for the more than 350 women who attended a Mary’s WAY dinner on Oct. 15 held by the chapter of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County. The parish life center on the St. Joseph Campus in

St. Leon was bedecked in tones of blue and white for the event.

“It’s always a sight to behold,” said All Saints parishioner Debbie Yeager, who served as emcee for the event and has been involved in Mary’s WAY since it came to her parish five years ago. “The women are just so excited about the evening every time.”

All Saints pastor Father Jonathan Meyer brought Mary’s WAY to the parish upon his arrival in 2014. He had previously been an associate pastor at

St. Luke, where he became familiar with the program and noted its impact.

Father Meyer said he has been amazed to witness the growth in Mary’s WAY attendance at All Saints. As he offered the blessing before the catered buffet, he thanked the hundreds of women present for saying “yes” not only to coming, but to following God’s will in their everyday lives.

That evening’s speaker, St. Luke parishioner Dr. Beth Wehlage, shared her journey of faith and hope in battling a rare form of cancer. Her story was featured in the Oct. 25 issue of The Criterion.

The most recent Mary’s WAY dinner was held on Nov. 7 at St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg—the faith community’s ninth annual event. As in previous years, the dinner was a sellout with a waiting list due to its location in a smaller hall near the church sanctuary.

“We held the event in the [school] cafeteria one year,” said St. Malachy parishioner Nancy Sangl, who has chaired the program for the past nine years. The space did accommodate more women. But the school is not attached to the church, and “the Mary’s WAY committee believes that going into the church with the guests to pray a decade of the rosary before the Blessed Sacrament is a very important part of our evening.”

This underscores a point that Winkle emphasizes to anyone interested in adopting Mary’s WAY at their parish. While leaders should adhere to the core elements and spirit of the program, they also are encouraged to tailor it to what works best for their individual parish.

“Mary’s WAY events are all similar, yet they have a different flavor at every place,” Winkle said.

“But everywhere, the objective is the same: to remind women that they are beloved daughters of God, and that they can look to the Blessed Mother to relate to every aspect of their life.”

(For more information about Mary’s WAY, including locations and guidelines for starting a chapter, go to

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