This ministry offers hope to Catholic single mothers

12 mins read
Catholic Single Mothers
Prayer team volunteers pray with a retreatant.

The word “Talitha” has significance for Talitha Cere personally, as well as for her role helping to found Momentum, a ministry for Catholic single mothers.

Before she was born, Cere’s parents were unsure of what name to give her. So, they opened the Bible to the account of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

“That’s the reading they saw,” said Cere. “It spoke to them. The passage where Jesus says, ‘Little girl, Talitha koum,’ which means ‘little girl, arise.'”

“They just thought it was a beautiful passage and they chose that name,” continued Cere.

The name speaks to Cere of God opening her “to choose to live rather than die. … I think we can make that choice in life when things are difficult — to close up and go the route of shutting down and just closing in on ourselves,” she said.

Women gather for a programming session at the 2023 Momentum Single Mothers Retreat.

For her part Cere recognizes how, throughout her life, there were times when she was pulled toward darkness, bitterness or closing herself off from others. Her name, however, affirms the need to allow God to direct her otherwise to, instead, contribute and serve.

“For me, it’s God constantly drawing me forth and using difficult things for the good,” she said.

Momentum, too, could be described as an opportunity to bring good from difficulty. In this, the ministry has proven to be an avenue of Jesus’ resurrecting power for both single moms and their children.

How it began

Cere got married in 2018 but, for 14 years before that, she was a single mother to her son.

“I just felt a disconnect with the community,” said Cere regarding her experience as a single mom within the Catholic faith of her youth. “I felt a lot of isolation.”

Cere’s parents ran a retreat center, Dominus Vobiscum, for Catholic families, which was “focused on marriage programming.” Even though Cere and her son had gone to the center over the years, seeing other families and not being able to fully participate accentuated the sense of brokenness Cere felt.

“I approached the Leadership Team there a few times asking if they’d be interested in doing a retreat for single mothers,” said Cere. “It took a few years just for them to discern as well, because it was a bit of a deviation from their core mission. But they were open to it, and so we did a retreat for single mothers in 2016.”

Father Rob Elford receives the offertory gifts presented by several children during a retreat Mass.

Cere calls the retreat the first “foundational building block of Momentum,” which then continued yearly.

Claire Brown, Momentum’s co-founder, attended these annual retreats. “She suggested that we do more throughout the year, so we started doing monthly gatherings,” said Cere of Brown’s proposal. “We’d meet at a parish every month and go to Mass and then have a meal and programming for the women and the children.”

During the pandemic, the group went online for Zoom meetings and retreats. Women from across Canada and within the United States began to participate.

“That’s really when things started expanding,” said Cere. “I really saw there’s a bigger need here than maybe we thought.”

What began as a “Catholic single mothers’ group” became formally incorporated as a Canadian charity known as “Momentum.” Cere fundraised to be able to leave her 20-year career in business to work for Momentum full-time as the executive director.

Chapters of Momentum formed in various Canadian cities including Ottawa, Halifax and Montreal. Momentum also launched its first U.S. chapter in The Woodlands, Texas, and is in the process of exploring expansion to two other American cities.

Cere observes that, to date, Momentum has grown organically, mostly by word of mouth.

“We’ve held back on any marketing because it’s been growing faster than we thought. So, we’ve really been trying to set a proper foundation,” she said. “We think once we open the floodgates, it’ll move fast.”

All single moms welcome

“Momentum is a Catholic faith community for single mothers,” said Cere. “Anybody who’s a single mom is welcome.”

Thus, there are women in the group with young children and those who are mothers of adults.

Cere notes that there’s also a diversity of women involved because there’s a “wide mix of reasons” women become single mothers.

“The women that are part of the group come from all different situations,” she said. Some might never have married. Other women became separated, divorced, annulled or widowed, while others adopted children. Cere sees this breadth of experience as a source of depth.

“The diversity of the group is, I think, the greatest strength. There’s just so many different experiences and ages. It’s just beautiful to see that come together,” she said.

Cere recounts how some of the women with adult children have shared that “they’ve never really processed what happened and that they just were in survival mode all those years” when they were raising their families.

“Now that their children are adults, they realize that they still need to heal from different things. But they also offer wonderful mentorship to the younger women,” she said.

“Now that their children are adults, they realize that they still need to heal from different things. But they also offer wonderful mentorship to the younger women.”

Talitha Cere

Cere has witnessed that, regardless of circumstance, there’s both a “common experience” and a “strong bond” amongst single mothers.

“I think a lot of it is knowing that you’re not alone,” she said. “To be able to talk to others that have been through that and can understand. There’s such a comfort in that, and you can start to process what you’ve been through and accept it and see where God wants you to go from there.”

The experience of being understood is “very healing” for the single mothers. Cere shares how this healing involves “starting to understand how God wants to use what’s happened for good.”

For the children too, it is important to see and gather with “other families that they can identify with and know that they’re still part of the Church and the community,” said Cere.

Children enjoy separate programming sessions on retreat.

Staying focused

“Our mission statement is to build a vibrant faith community for Catholic, single mothers,” said Cere, such that the focus is “spiritual and helping women in their relationship with God.”

“That’s something we really had to discern because there’s a lot of needs sometimes that come with being a single mother,” said Cere. These needs can be financial, related to childcare or ones that require professional expertise.

The mother of three notes that, where possible, Momentum may refer a woman to other services. However, Momentum, for its part, remains focused on women’s spiritual lives. It does this through gatherings and retreats, offered both in person and online.

Cere describes how local chapters typically hold a luncheon, perhaps once a month on the weekend. In addition to sharing a meal, the women will have a time of prayer, sharing and programming. Because childcare is provided, mothers also have the option to bring their children.

Besides this, Momentum hosts online events including annual retreats and weekly gatherings. “Twice a week we have an online session for an hour where women can drop in,” said Cere.

There is also an annual in-person retreat which, thus far, has been in Montreal, though one is planned in Vancouver in the spring of 2024.

Angela Crawley, the Ottawa chapter leader, appreciates the fellowship that Momentum offers. “I think Momentum really does create that safe, prayerful place for single women to be, and to be built up, in the Faith,” said Crawley. “We’re building each other up in our faith and in our circumstance.”

Crawley recounts how she became aware of Momentum in the summer of 2021 when looking for a cottage for her daughter and herself. Crawley and her husband had separated the previous year, and her neighbor mentioned Dominus Vobiscum as well as the possibility of some type of ministry for single moms related to the retreat center.

Within two weeks, Crawley started to attend Momentum’s online prayer sessions on Sunday nights. “I have never stopped since,” she said.

‘Not mutually exclusive’

Cere acknowledges that there can be a struggle to “know how to integrate single moms” both within society and the Church.

Crawley agrees. “It’s not readily obvious,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of history there.”

An example Cere cites is how, in the past, women who had children out of wedlock were sent away. “There’s just a lot of stigma around it,” she said.

Even so, Cere is adamant that a ministry to single mothers is “not mutually exclusive” from the Church’s role upholding and guarding the sanctity of marriage and family life.

“We all value intact families and we know what the ideal is. But there’s still the reality that there’s broken families and single mothers and children, and single fathers.”

Talitha Cere

She asserts that the position of Momentum, and most of the women within it, is that “an intact marriage is the ideal. … That’s what they would have wanted in their life.”

However, Cere notes that for different reasons, that “didn’t happen or there was a breakdown of something. … That’s just humanity, and that happens.”

“We all value intact families and we know what the ideal is. But there’s still the reality that there’s broken families and single mothers and children, and single fathers,” she said.

Cere proposes that the larger community can identify people experiencing isolation and those who are “on the outskirts” to reach out to, and “make more space” for, them.

In grappling with this as a community, Cere recommends looking to the Holy Family. “Yes, it’s an intact family, but there’s echoes of single motherhood as well,” said Cere of Mary’s pregnancy occurring before she lived with Joseph.

St. Joseph had divine intervention to take on his role, continued Cere. “He was, in a sense, a stepfather.”

Cere praises the “beautiful, symbolic imagery” in the birth of Christ which has “all these dimensions to it” that are relatable.

Disposition Toward Men

Angela Crawley identifies the “myth” that “single, divorced women get together and just complain about their exes” and think very unfavorably of men in general.

“That’s a myth, and I hope that no one ever thinks that Momentum is such a place. It certainly is not.”

Crawley recounts how a respectful disposition is maintained in Momentum’s gatherings including through conversation guidelines. Women are given “space to talk and share” how they feel. However, Crawley stresses that “the atmosphere is not one to cultivate any men-bashing, at all.”

“That is definitely not something we would tolerate,” she said. Accordingly, even if difficult, raw things are being shared, such as a request for prayer for “very painful court proceedings,” it is done with this tone in mind.

“The regard for men is really important,” said Crawley.

The Ottawa woman notes this is particularly the case for the children “who don’t necessarily have a daily” father figure, or for whom the “father figure is inherently flawed. … We do talk a lot about the importance of men in our lives,” she said.

Additionally, Crawley perceives that the work of Momentum is “really the healing of the spiritual heart.” This healing is something that is pursued for its own sake.

“We’re not trying to rehabilitate the heart so that we can then find another man,” said Crawley. “That’s not the goal at all.”

‘All you have is God’

“I think single mothers are something that’s close to God’s heart,” said Cere. “God sees all of us and the unique pain we carry. I feel he has a heart for single mothers.”

“He wants something for them, to support them,” she continued.

Cere notes that often a single mother must radically rely on God. She referenced the image of a family in a storm with “the mother holding her child” and the husband in front shielding and protecting them both.

“But then when you take that away, it’s just a woman and her child,” said Cere regarding the absence of the father. “So, we need to put God in front of us.”

Mothers, children and volunteers who participated in the 2023 Momentum Single Mothers Retreat.

“As a single mother all you have is God and just bringing him in to fill that space,” she said.

Cere shares another example, that of the Woman at the Well, which was reflected on during a Momentum retreat for chapter leaders. “It was the first time I really understood what had happened with my story, but also with Momentum and single mothers in general,” said Cere of this meditation on Jesus’ encounter with the woman.

She recounts how in this passage of Scripture, Jesus saw and respected the woman who “felt isolated and maybe on the fringe.” Jesus engaged the woman in conversation.

“He had this mission for her, and not only did he transform her, but a community was transformed because of it, from her going back,” Cere said.

In her own way, Cere has also “gone back” in that, since getting married, she has been even more motivated to minister to single mothers.

“I saw just how difficult it is and just a burden that they carry,” said Cere. “You can compare what it is to be married with a loving husband and see how it should be, how God intended it to be, and then you reference that against being alone raising a child.”

Rebuilding the family structure

Cere regards single mothers as aligned with the Faith and the Church. “We believe that our ministry is only there to help and to enrich, and to add, not to take away,” said Cere. “We’re working toward the same goal.”

Cere cites the pro-life values of the Church. She believes the faith community does a “good job of supporting women who might have had children under difficult circumstances” and who faced the decision to choose life during pregnancy. Often this choice involves becoming a single mother.

“Where Momentum comes in is supporting them after that decision and being there for them as they raise their child,” said Cere. She suggested this is being “pro-life on both ends.”

“By supporting single mothers, we actually help rebuild families.”

— Talitha Cere

Cere perceives that “by bringing single mothers more into the community, that can only lead to healing for the woman” as well as for the children and the community which will, “in turn, create more chance of rebuilding that family structure.”

“The Catholic family, no matter its shape, is loved and supported and healed in community — not in isolation,” said Crawley.

Cere proposes that, if people are marginalized and isolated, the wounds persist and there’s a breakdown in the community. “I think it only helps to bring people back in and help those wounds heal as individuals and a community,” she said. “I think by supporting single mothers, we actually help rebuild families.”

This applies to the “children as well, so that they can form healthy bonds and relationships down the road,” Cere said.

Shame and rejection

“I think every situation in life has its own unique suffering. We all suffer in different ways and so I think single mothers suffer in a unique way,” said Cere.

She recognizes that single mothers often carry the responsibility of parenting on their own while also experiencing that many of the dreams they had for their lives “have taken a turn.” Additionally, Cere explains that single mothers are somewhat “exposed.”

“Everybody can see that something’s happened in your life, whether that’s that your marriage broke up, or you were in a relationship outside of wedlock,” said Cere. “There’s some brokenness and pain in being exposed.”

A retreatant in confession with chaplain Father Rob Elford.

This sense of exposure is often accompanied by embarrassment and shame which further alienates the woman who is already vulnerable. This shame impels the woman to hide.

“Some women started going to different Mass times when they became a single mom because they felt embarrassed,” said Cere.

“Shame is a pretty big piece,” agreed Crawley. “A lot of moving to the back of the church or finding less engaging ways to attend Mass, if they’re still attending Mass.”

Even though single moms might not be perceived negatively by others, as they may think, rejection is often something they are already contending with on account of the circumstances that led to their being on their own.

Accordingly, Crawley hopes that through Momentum women can navigate “out of that mindset” of self-blame and shame.

“None of us wanted this,” said Crawley. “The intact family is so beautiful, it was the wish of all of us [and] when that is taken away, or dissolved or what have you, there’s quite a bit of shame that is felt in that, and shame is a very lonely place. And it’s often, particularly with women, not something that is readily seen.”

“To be seen, or to feel seen and cared for, is huge,” she said, noting that within Momentum she and other women feel seen in their “circumstance as Catholic women.”

The Podcast


Another facet of Momentum’s ministry is their podcast, “Catholic Single Mothers.” With the goal of offering hope and inspiration to single mothers, the podcast shares stories and reflections from single mothers and other guests, including their children.

Find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you stream your podcasts.

Addressing a need

“Momentum has been very healing for me in many, many ways, and still is,” said Cere.

Crawley can relate. “I definitely feel like Momentum helps to lift me up and comfort me through prayer and witness and study,” she said.

In particular, the “sisterhood” of Momentum has aided Crawley in arising from any dark depth that her experience has taken her to. “Lots of people live in bitterness and resentment and woe-is-me kind of thing, which is not productive, and it’s not productive spiritually,” she said. “I think that Momentum can offer help and support through that.”

She stresses that Momentum is not the result of brainstorming “some new idea that no one ever thought of. … It’s really addressing a need.”

Cere too acknowledges the group’s founding as a response to a concrete situation that needed attention, one that is finding resonance and enthusiasm amongst the wider Catholic community. “There’s been a beautiful response from the Church to the work that we’re doing,” she said. “We’re very grateful for that.”

This support has come from various dioceses, individual priests and parishes as well as religious communities.

Cere said she’s in awe of what God is doing.

“All of us on the leadership team and all the chapter leaders, I think we all feel that this is really God’s work. It’s beyond us at this point because we really feel him guiding it, he wants to take this somewhere,” said Cere. “It’s already beyond what any of us thought.”

“It’s very quietly moving forward in big ways,” agreed Crawley.

Nicole Snook

Nicole is an alumna of Ave Maria College in Michigan. She holds bachelor’s degrees in theology and journalism as well as an MA in Theology. Having experienced a "call" to journalism when she was a youth, her work in media has spanned nearly 30 years. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia with her husband and children.