By Alice Huth-Derrah
This April marks the 18th anniversary of the inception of The Solo Group at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish. The brainchild of John Battoe, that the purpose of the Solo Group is to give people who are single or recently widowed an opportunity to come together for fun and good fellowship. In the April issue of the Solo Newsletter, John notes, “We started with the help of the Holy Spirit, and He has led the way, for me and many others.”
In January 2005, just a month before her birthday, John’s wife died and John remembers “I just wanted to go away and feel sorry for myself.” A member of the Knights of Columbus, he was also in the midst of helping to organize the Knights’ annual Valentine’s Day Dinner and, because of his recent loss, decided to make available a table for single people. During the dinner, John “heard stories of how lonely people were” and, after praying about how he might help, the Holy Spirit answered. John describes sitting down and writing what he refers to as a “manifesto,” an idea for a group that could extend support to those who were alone. He brought his proposal to Father Frank Bartel, the pastor of St. Elizabeth at the time. Father Frank agreed immediately to the need for establishing such a community and asked John to oversee the creation of the group. By the end of March, an “introductory” meeting of the Solo Group was held and, by April, regular monthly meetings were scheduled. “Many people came…and shared ideas,” John remembers, and he knew he was on to something important.
The Solo Group meets the first Tuesday and the third Sunday of every month. All members and anyone interested are welcome to attend, and are encouraged to provide input and ideas about possible activities. Members receive regular newsletters and are provided with a calendar of upcoming events, and individuals choose which activities they wish to participate in or not. These events range from eating out at different restaurants, attending comedy venues like the Stir Crazy Comedy Club, enjoying live performances at the Arizona Broadway Theater, playing card games, and engaging in book discussions. Management of the events are headed up by Solo Group Coordinators, members themselves, who are interested in particular activities and entertainment. The coordinators are responsible for finding entertainment, securing places for the group’s functions, making reservations, and collecting money from members who have expressed interest in attending specific events, although some activities are free.
Over time, other Catholic parishes within the Sun City area implemented Solo Groups including Our Lady of Lourdes; however, membership dropped with the Covid pandemic. With approximately 60 members strong, John continually works to seek out those that are alone and make them aware that there is a place for them to go. He says in his April newsletter, “I hope…we can discuss finding ways and means to bring more of you to participate in the coming months ahead.” He emphasizes that “everyone is welcome,” those from different faiths, winter visitors who are able to attend only intermittently, and caregivers in need of some time away from the full-time responsibilities of caring for a beloved, very ill spouse.
John’s absolute conviction that the Holy Spirit is working through him continues to move him forward. We all have an obligation to one another, the act of extending a hand, giving comfort, and providing companionship to those in need. Perhaps it’s expressed best in Matthew 13:23, “But what was sown on good soil is the man who hears the message and takes it in,” words that will inspire all of us to step forward and let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, as John was 18 years ago.