Loveland is a pretty little town in Southwest Ohio, serving largely as a “bedroom” community for folks who work in the greater Cincinnati area.
It developed in the late 1800s, mostly as a resort area. That earned it the nickname “Little Switzerland of the Miami Valley.”
Loveland’s 12,000 residents enjoy nice schools, parks, bike trails, a library, and a roller rink. It is known more for being peaceful than being party central.
On Summers Pond Drive is a place where the spirit of Mary of Magdala has set down strong roots. It is the home of Regnum Christi member Lisa Cusmano, who feels especially close to one of Christ’s closest collaborators, who more than most people learned the meaning of true love.
You never can tell when and where a saint may appear. Here in Loveland, Magdala House dwells in the Cusmano home.
Inspired by the life of Saint Mary Magdalene, Magdala House offers a place of inspiration for women seeking God to come away and rest awhile to discover anew the unique and particular love God has for each person.(Mark 6:3)
Retreats are based upon the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius and are designed to provide a personal experience of Jesus in a small group setting of peace and beauty with reflective prayer, music, art and all things beautiful. Through the experience, participants can discover the personal, holy and passionate relationship that Jesus desires to share with every woman.
It’s not a bible study…It’s not a prayer group…It’s an experience designed for a personal encounter with Jesus.
Lisa can’t point to a single inspiration for Magdala, but as she grew in her knowledge of the faith through Regnum Christi – including various courses and retreats – she realized most women she encountered didn’t have the opportunities that her vocation to Regnum Christi had given her. Determined to find a way for those women to encounter Christ as she had, Mary Magdalene became her inspiration.
Upon the elevation of her liturgy to that of a feast (June 2016 by Pope Francis), Lisa began a search for the importance of such an honor for the saint who loved much. However, it didn’t take long to exhaust the resource of good, solid exegesis and commentary about Mary Magdalene.
Inspired to tell the story of Mary Magdalene, the story of a redeemed woman so passionately in love with Christ, she observed that the great saint “had lived the Ignatian exercises every day of her life after encountering Christ.” How could Lisa bring that experience to women in 2018?
Her answer was Magdala House. Following a year of intense study, she developed the Mary of Magdala. At His Feet materials to offer a “retreat” that meets for half a day, one day a week for five weeks. And there also are single sessions for people who just want to get started on the journey. During Lent of this year, Lisa ran a pilot retreat with a team of experienced Regnum Christi women. Since then an additional 18 women have “retreated” at Magdala House, and two Mary of Magdala At His Feet retreats begin in August and September.
“But my target group for this isn’t necessarily members of Regnum Christ,” Lisa explained. “I’m more interested in reaching women who do not have the opportunities for small groups and retreats to encounter Christ that we Regnum Christi members do. God has blessed that desire, and I have participants who have fallen away from their Catholic faith – and some who are not even Catholic to begin with.”
Lisa has an extensive academic background, none of it in areas that suggest she would be qualified to develop spiritual retreats. But having been blessed to experience a rich formation in the Catholic faith, she takes seriously the call to apostleship. She is also grateful for the prayerful support and encouragement from her spiritual family who prays intentionally for the apostolate and the intentions of the women who attend (Janet Lees, Jill Swallow, a consecrated woman of Regnum Christi and Fr Kevin McKenzie, LC).
What sort of person launches an apostolate such as Magdala House? Lisa took time to respond to a few questions that go far toward the answer…
How was the faith live in your family as you grew up?
I grew up in Jamestown, Kentucky, in the southern part of the state that’s still considered “mission” territory of the Church. Our parish, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, had just 43 families back then. I was baptized Catholic and entered Church just before 13th birthday. My earliest memory of grownup faith was Fr Dave Stoltz talking to me once and I remember his voice so clearly still… “You know, Lisa you can choose” he said in relation to my church going at the time. So, choose I did, nothing remarkable really, just where I’d always felt most “at home”.
Today, I’ve been married to my husband, Cory, for 24 years. We have three sons: Evan, 20, and twins Adam and Brandon, 18. Though I’ve lived in Cincinnati now more years than not, I still consider Kentucky “home sweet home”.
My undergraduate degree is from Eastern Kentucky University, in mathematics; my masters from the University of North Carolina, in biostatistics. I worked for Procter & Gamble as a statistician in pharmaceutical research – but left in 2005 to spend more time with my family and Regnum Christi. Most recently, I’ve worked as a parish pastoral associate.
How did you get involved in Regnum Christi?
I was introduced through the Familia apostolate… my team was the first “graduating” team from Cincinnati, 2000-2004. I’d never even heard of papal documents, let alone read them, and was curious about “who” had developed such a study. That’s when I met Melanie Wieck, Fr Matthew van Smoorenburg, LC, and Fr Eamon Kelly, LC.
Who were the people most influential for you in Regnum Christi?
There were many, but the one who stands out is Melanie Wieck. When I first joined RC, there were no teams that met during the evenings and I was still working at P&G. She was the group leader at the time, the first one in Cincinnati; she’s a founding member. Since there was no team life available to me, she met with me often… talk about personal one-on-one formation! It was given to me, and boy did I ever need it, I didn’t know the difference between a Holy Hour and a Happy Hour! I “hit the books” during Familia when I realized the wealth of what was available to study. I’d given 80 hours a week to statistics for the better part of a decade, so it was time to study my faith with the same zeal.
Melanie was everything the “woman of the Kingdom” means to me… she was in love with Jesus, her husband, her family… She was charming, delightful, joyful, calm, serene, bold, courageous. She was smart, loved learning and no matter what, she always had time for others. She loved me no matter what, and what grace she had to hand over RC leadership to me. I was so different than her, and she had to watch me change things, mess things up… But she always supported my choices. She’d say, Jesus was counting on me and she knew I could do it. Yes, we were best of friends, but she was a spiritual mother too.
Her death from colon cancer in March 2014 was hard. She was only 50! I turn 50 next year… The suffering was fast and she was gone quickly. Her death brought together so many women who had left after the scandal and subsequent difficult years. Relationships began to reestablish and the laity renewal began that year as well. I found myself not just thinking of her, but being her, trying my best to give what I had received.
Why did you start Magdala House?
To give back what I’ve received basically…The thought and inspiration for a real place where women could come away and rest awhile has been on my heart for a long while. Women simply don’t have the opportunity to do that… Women don’t even give themselves permission to do that. We don’t even know we need it!
Who am I to do something like this? To think that I have enough knowledge and know-how to put together a retreat and preach it? Well… I asked God and He in turn asked me “who else is gonna do it, Lis?” And then after the usual procrastinations, God finally just asked me “what are you waiting on? An invitation… You don’t need one, Lis… You have a home, you have women who come to you for guidance, you have this desire to love through preaching. What are you waiting on?” When God is that direct, it’s time to do something!
Why Mary Magdala?
In the years of the Regnum Christi renewal, I’d been asked to do much waiting. Saints in similar situations to ours are the best go-tos, right? And no one waited better than Mary Magdalene, by the tomb, she waited for the promise of the Resurrection. Both the scandal and the experience of a priest friend dying of cancer felt much like death sometimes, and I was waiting on resurrection that I knew God promised, just like she waited. During those years she waited with me, and I learned from her.
How is your apostolate influence by Regnum Christi?
I guess the question that would be easier to answer how is it NOT influenced by Regnum Christi… the charism finds it’s expression in me personally through how all this has even come about; attention to personal formation, knowing Jesus personally, the desire to “do something”, intentional efforts open to inspiration, recognizing a need and trying to meet it with talents God gifted to me, the spiritual family in support. Don’t all those things sound familiar?
And lay people are called to be Jesus’ beloveds, but we often associate that with religious. It is not true! As much as I equally have reception of our charism, I hold equal reception of Our Lord’s desire that I be His beloved. It isn’t reserved for religious. Jesus desires it for everyone! My life in Regnum Christi has taught me this truth and provided an opportunity to live this reality in everyday secular life. Like the spiritual family supporting me and this apostolate, it’s really the whole family’s faithfulness to our charism that supports my efforts toward this piece of mission God has given me. So one might say it has Regnum Christi written all over it.