TRUMBULL – A woman’s journey of love, hope, faith and trust shepherded through her daughter and advocacy for people with special needs and their caregivers, shined a light on living a life of gratitude at the Magnificat Triumphant Heart of Mary Immaculate Chapter breakfast meeting.
“I began to literally walk with Jesus at my First Communion,” said Eileen Benthal, the guest speaker at the Magnificat THMI breakfast in Trumbull.
Benthal, now a worship leader in the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, New York, a leader and speaker for Catholic women’s groups and a worship leader for Magnificat Ministry /Suffolk County Chapter on the East End of Long Island, recalled and reenacted how she literally interpreted a priest’s words by holding out her hand as if walking with Jesus during her preparation for the sacrament.
Benthal said her parents were both instrumental in helping her foster a relationship with God. She said as a young girl she would accompany her father to prayer meetings where she would exercise her God-given gift of song and when she considered religious life, she followed her mother’s advice to, “listen to Jesus with your heart.”
Benthal said her desire to know Jesus continued through prayer and she recounted praying in the basement of her childhood home when she had a vision of standing before the Sacred Heart of Jesus and removing three thorns from his heart.
She said she was moved by the Holy Spirit and in that moment, it helped her see, “God has this plan for me and it had some suffering.”
Years later when she was married and preparing for the arrival of her fourth child, she said she had a recurring nightmare of being stranded out in the middle of the ocean, treading water with her infant daughter in her arms. It would later be revealed her daughter Johanna, was born with a rare neurological disease. Now 27 years old, her daughter Johanna, who was at the breakfast with her mother, has survived more than 100 surgeries.
That journey of challenges has led to many blessings, Benthal said including the creation of Johanna’s Hope, Inc., a non-profit advocacy organization for people with special needs and their caregivers, created to inspire hope by exploring the arts and nature.
The successful endeavor blossomed into Jo’s Farm which has grown from a place to cultivate the land to raising chickens and goats and fostering a sense of community where others with disabilities and their caregivers can go to socialize and spend time in nature.
“The Holy Spirit has been preparing me for this,” Benthal said of raising her daughter with special needs and bringing awareness, education and advocacy for people with special needs to the world.
She said she has learned many lessons along the way including how to let go and trust in God. Benthal is the author of Breathing Underwater: A Journey of Hope and co-author of Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers.
“This life would drive me crazy if I did not pray,” she said, adding, “The thing that gets me through the day is that there is always hope.”
“Johanna brings hope to so many people in her simple life,” Benthal said. “If not healed in this life, she will be healed on the other side of heaven. We share that hope. I pray that today you’ve been able to rediscover the gift of your life in this world.”
A rose, the symbol of the Blessed Mother was presented to one woman at each table as a symbol of gratitude, starting a new tradition for the Magnificat Triumphant Heart of Mary Immaculate Chapter.
A video highlighting special moments in Johanna’s life was played before the conclusion of the breakfast.
Virginia Wawrzyniak, who attended the breakfast with a friend said it was refreshing to participate at a gathering of Magnificat.
“It’s so spiritually uplifting, and it’s so important in everyone’s life to have that.”
During the breakfast meeting prayer intentions submitted by attendees at their table were brought before Father Larry Carew, the spiritual director of THMI Chapter of Magnificat, to pray over. Prayer teams were also available after the breakfast to pray with attendees.
Magnificat Triumphant Heart of Mary Immaculate Chapter celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier in 2023 at a breakfast in Danbury.