Posted on February 06, 2018 19:32

The Guild of St. Benedict Joseph Labre actively promotes family support of mental illness.

Recently, Timothy was contacted by Irma Silva-Barbeau, Ph.D., OCDS  who shared her personal experience of supporting the families of those with mental illness. He asked her to write an article. 

Together with Irma, our Apostolate continues to bring about our Treatment of Love

“One of the most serious problems in the treatment and care of the mentally ill lies in their presence in families, which on their own are not able to help their afflicted relatives without risk and in an adequate fashion. Even the modern facilities end up being like infamous lunatic asylums when the human heart is lacking.” (Cardinal Angelini, A New Attitude Towards the Mentally Ill) The article follows.


St. Mary’s Mental Health Prayer & Support Group-           Irma Silva-Barbeau, Ph.D., OCDS

One in four people will experience some form and degree of mental illness in their lifetime. [O1] That is a staggering figure, yet, not so unbelievable. How many people do you know who have dealt with depression, have struggled with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or have an addictive disease? It is the unspoken epidemic of our time.  It is “unspoken” because the stigma of mental illness still exists to a certain degree.  The need for a place of understanding, relief from the isolation that sometimes accompanies mental illness, a sense of community, and the comfort of spiritual healing is profound for those affected, friends and family members.

On February 17, 2009, parishioners Irma Silva-Barbeau, Ph.D., OCDS and Charlene Flick, RN, Parish Health Nurse, began the Mental Health Prayer and Support Group to help meet the need for prayer and support for those in our Catholic community struggling with mental health issues. The group is not a therapy or counseling group and does not replace the benefits of individual therapies. The group is based on prayer, friendships, peer-to-peer experiences, confidentiality, safety and trust, acceptance, and support for each participant’s spiritual practice and connection to God. Presently, The Group meets on Thursdays 5-7pm at St. Mary’s Catholic Church’s library in Blacksburg.

There have been many members come into and through the group, and the core expression of the group is prayer. Intercessory prayer for the members is on-going. Many different forms of Catholic prayer are practiced and encouraged. Spirituality and faith can represent sources of strength for the mentally ill, as for anyone, in any state or circumstance.

Many members of the group are highly educated and talented, and the group is very diverse. Irma said, in her interview with the Catholic Virginian, February 7, 2011, “Mostly they are very close to our Lord, very Catholic, and very in tune with church writings.” The group has incorporated many works of psychology, theology, and spirituality. Example works include: "Dark Night of the Soul" by St. John of the Cross, "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl, the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux.

In addition to a stronger prayer life and dependence on God, the supportive aspect of the group provides an opportunity to share thoughts, ideas, struggles, and experiences, and benefit from personal stories of successful management in dealing with typical problems. Members receive validation and support, the realization that there is strength in numbers. Sometimes strength is found with camaraderie-friendships that develop through participation in the group.

St. Mary's Mental Health Prayer & Support Group (STMMHP&S GROUP) also serves the parishes of Holy Spirit and St. Jude’s in Christiansburg, Virginia. STMMHP&S GROUP believes that everyone, irrespective of their health status, can do something to assist individuals and communities who are suffering and need some help. To this end, with the support of our churches’ communities, we have two fundraiser events during the year: (1) Used Book & Bake Sale and (2) Fish Fry dinner during Lent. Individuals from the group visit area group homes and psychiatric units in area hospitals and deliver goods, good cheer, and our prayers.

STMMHP&S GROUP has a web page ( as part of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Blacksburg’s Website ( Many people, throughout the United States, searching for information on models of how to establish similar groups in their parishes, have approached us through this website. We extend welcome to all individuals who contact us.

The Mental Health Prayer and Support Group has a peer-defined set of guidelines (approved by the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia) that each new participant is asked to read and follow. The overriding concern is that the group can maintain their sincere desire and effort to support one another. There is always a facilitator present so that the sharing flows smoothly, confidentiality is maintained, and adjustments to the changes in the group’s membership and dynamics follow a prayerful and supportive model.

St. Thérèse de Lisieux is the patron saint of The Group.  As a woman who exemplified redemptive suffering, we believe she is uniquely equipped to intercede for the members of our group who seek to bring glory to God amidst their mental illness.

"We gather together to give each other our helping hand of support; to elevate our thoughts to Almighty God, our Father, and our Creator, who knows us through and through. We ask for His blessings as we take small steps toward the process of healing our minds and our lives. We know that His love for us is infinite and beyond our comprehension.  He created us to be perfect beings, but we fell into sin that separated us from Him.  He sent His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to become one with us. He came to heal us and to serve as a bridge through which we can get home again to our Father. Our efforts here are small, but that is all God, our loving Father, asks of us.  We do the little that we can and He, through our Lord Jesus Christ, transforms our little into great things.  We ask for guidance, for healing, for wisdom, and for love through the pleading of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and through the intercession of our patroness, St. Thérèse de Lisieux.  May Jesus be with us as we gather here in your church. (Prayer elaborated for the first meeting on 2/17/2009)."

A group’s participant shared an experience recently:

 "The St. Mary's Mental Health Prayer & Support Group has helped me immensely. The group is not unlike a mental health group with psychology, but it is prayer-based. I am a bit of a poet so here is a poem:

“Friends we are, as we go

So far helping one another,

and turning to our Mother,

Mother Mary. Let alone our Father

be it so as we struggle below

and find there's love

sent from above.

So, let's all see what friendly

love can be,

as the answers are near

so hold them dear."


 [O1] "One in family in four" is a World Health Organization statistic:

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