The founder of a new Catholic women’s ministry knows what it’s like to experience regret, bitterness, and a paralyzing mid-life crisis – and come out stronger.
Monique van Berkel was 50 years old when she accomplished all her goals. She was married and had a grown, married son and a decades-long professional career in finance, but still felt something was missing.
“I felt like I had no purpose in life,” van Berkel told The B.C. Catholic. “My son was grown. My husband was very competent to take care of himself and never needed me to do anything.”
With no children at home and caught in a cycle of going to work, running errands, and paying bills, van Berkel felt bitter and filled with regret. This was all there was to life, she thought.
She wasn’t alone. “Often as older women, we live in a rut. We get used to what life has dealt us, and we accept that’s the life we get. We live in a place of resignation and think life can’t get any better.”
That all changed in one unexpected moment.
Van Berkel decided to travel to Pennsylvania for a week-long course at the Theology of the Body Institute. She went at the prompting of a trusted friend, though she had never studied theology before and had no idea what to expect.
She found herself intellectually inspired by St. John Paul II’s teaching on the dignity of men and women and, previously a “cultural Catholic,” she was moved to participate in daily Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Then, she woke up Oct. 13 in Pennsylvania in the middle of the night with a sudden and inexplicable sense of God’s love.
“I had this incredible experience of knowing love – deep, deep, love. I knew that it was God. It was almost like there was this healing that was happening in my heart and in my mind.”
That single moment transformed her previously resigned and bitter heart. “So often women give up on life and say, ‘this is as good as it gets.’ But God has a much more beautiful plan for each one of us than we could ever imagine! I had no idea I could experience love in that way.”
She finished her courses feeling filled with grace, inspired by love, and motivated to do something.
“I knew this message of God’s profound love, for every woman he has created, needs to be told. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know when, I didn’t know if I would do it as a ministry with other people or if I would do it on my own, but I knew women needed to know this.”
Van Berkel started by giving Theology of the Body presentations at her parish, St. James Parish in Abbotsford, and other communities. Then, she founded Catholic Woman CEO, a ministry aiming to help women find fulfillment through pursuing the deepest desires of their hearts.
“As women, we have a desire for romance, we have a desire for adventure, and we have a desire to achieve something great,” she said. But while many seek the fulfillment of those desires in their husbands, children, friends, or careers, van Berkel said this will leave them unsatisfied.
“Where we need to turn our focus is back to Christ,” she said. Citing a quote often attributed to St. Augustine, she added: “to fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him, the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”
Her relationship with God has given her a new perspective, a sense of purpose, and fulfillment she couldn’t find anywhere else. “The desire for intimacy and to be loved unconditionally, I was trying to seek out in my husband and in my relationships with people,” she said.
“I was placing a burden on my husband to satisfy my everything. Now I know my desire is meant to direct me to God. How could my husband fulfill it?”
Van Berkel offers presentations on “Being Bold – Godly Feminine Strength” as well as day-long women’s retreats or conferences. Her next presentations are in the Diocese of Savannah, Ga., March 29, and at St. James Parish in Abbotsford, B.C., April 29.
She is also publishing an e-book, available soon on her
The e-book has already been highly acclaimed, including by well-known U.S.
Sister Helena Burns, FSP. “Through her own hard-won experience, Monique has crafted a wonderful tool to help other women take inventory, get out of their life-ruts, and experience their unique God-given ‘feminine genius’,”
Sister Burns said.