After her marriage ended due to domestic violence, Tracey Mahoney says she was even afraid for anyone to take her picture for fear that her abuser would see it and try to contact her again. Now, she is helping women from abusive relationships find the healing that she found, through a ministry called Sisters of Strength. Mahoney began the ministry last fall at her parish, Ascension in Melbourne, with the blessing of her pastor, Father Eamon Tobin.
“It had been on my heart and mind to do this kind of ministry for a long time, but it was during Christ Renews his Parish, that I heard the witness of some survivors of domestic violence and I knew there was definitely a need,” says Mahoney. The women, each at a different level of healing, meet every other Monday to share and grow in faith, and have formed a kind of sisterhood. Everything that the women talk about is strictly confidential and whatever is said in the meeting stays there.
“We are a prayer support group, growing in our relationship with Christ, growing in faith together with others who really understand on a deep level what they have been through,” explains Mahoney. “When you have trust in God, it heals everything else.”
During Lent, the Sisters of Strength spearheaded a drive to collect much needed items for women staying in shelters and escaping domestic violence. “We have lived through it and survived it,” says Mahoney. “This was our way of giving them some hope too.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recognizes that domestic violence can happen in any home, and have provided pastoral guidance to those who may be dealing with individuals affected by domestic violence. It can be physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse, include teen dating relationships, and affects not only the adults, but also their children. The United States bishops emphasized in their 2002 pastoral letter on domestic violence, When I Call For Help, that “no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage” and that the violence and abuse breaks the marriage covenant.
According to Mahoney, the Sisters of Strength ministry is growing, and she is receiving inquiries regularly about the group. “It takes courage for women to come forward, because there is a lot of fear of exposing themselves, of talking about it, because if feels so private,” says Mahoney. “But we listen with love and no judgment, and let them know that we are here for them whenever they are ready.”
“Our hope for the group is that each person can get to a place where they can forgive both themselves and the abuser. You have to,” says Mahoney. “If you hold onto anger, it festers, and it’s not good for you. You have to let it go, so that you can allow God to fill you with blessings.”
Crisis help is available 24/7 at the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or at www.ndvh.org.
For questions about Sisters of Strength, please call or text Tracey Mahoney at 475-298-6121 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquiries are strictly confidential and can be anonymous.
By Jennifer Drow, Florida Catholic correspondent – April 17, 2018