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Catholic Social Teaching hybrid retreat set for March 15-17 in Iowa

The Discipleship Experience Weekend, founded by Fr George Karnik a decade ago, will hold its latest event at a Franciscan retreat center in Hiawatha.


This weekend will bring a hybrid retreat on Catholic Social Teaching (CST) to Iowa, the latest iteration of the Disciple Experience Weekend (DEW). The event will be led by various speakers at the Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha from March 15-17.

The decade-old DEW organization was co-founded by Fr George Karnik, now a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and his collaborators Ted and Dede Pietryga are keeping the flame alive. Karnik previously founded the Christian Experience Weekend in 1974, an evangelistic retreat meant to engage with those looking to know more about God.

The DEW, which helps Christians grow in their spiritual journey by teaching them more about Catholic Social Teachings, was led by Karnik up until the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now that he finds himself at age 92, he was looking for somebody to pick up the torch and carry it and keep the [DEW] retreat going,” said Deanna “Dede” Ollendick Pietryga, who is a retired medical professional.

“Ted and I decided that we were called by the Holy Spirit to do it, and we're in our early 60s.”

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A recent DEW retreat in Peosta, Iowa, was held in collaboration with the Trappist monks of New Melleray Abbey, and another is scheduled to take place at the Shalom Spirituality Center in Dubuque in October.

“The first step in confronting injustice in our homes, communities, and the world is developing a social justice consciousness that involves a greater awareness of social injustice and alternatives to the social, economic, and political choices that create injustice,” reads a description on the DEW website.

The retreats, including this weekend’s just outside of Cedar Rapids, are “designed for adults and young adults who want to learn more about Catholic Social Teaching and how it might shape our understanding and response to various issues in public life.”

“The Discipleship Experience Weekend (DEW) provides an opportunity to reflect on the principles of social justice developed by the Catholic Church over the past century and a half.”

The Pietrygas say they plan to hold retreats every six months, helping to keep the faithful in tune with the Church’s teachings.

“We have to be aggressive,” Dede told BCM, “because we don't know when the Lord's gonna call us home. So we gotta get busy, right? We gotta keep doing stuff for the Lord.”

“We want retreats that are going to be 75 to 300 people, where they’re hearing scripture and what's going on in the Catholic Church,” said Ted Pietryga. “[Our leaders] want us to be the hands and feet of Jesus, you know, all the way at our level, the church level.”

The themes to be covered this weekend include respect for all human life, LGBTQ+ issues, affordable housing, voting, creation care, the dignity of workers, and the hunger crisis. These align with the seven principles of CST, which include human dignity, family, rights and responsibilities, the preferential option for the poor, the dignity of work, solidarity, and creation care.

The Pietrygas say Karnik, even in old age, is continuing to help guide the effort, reviewing speaker proposals and making sure the social justice focus is kept at the center of DEW.

“He's still very active at 92 and just a wonderful person,” said Dede. “We’re giving him the credit due… He’s been at this a long time, so we thought to honor him.”

Those interested in attending this weekend’s retreat can register for in-person or virtual attendance by contacting Dede Pietryga at (319) 321-7683 or

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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