Inspired by Kresta to rejoin the Church, woman starts Bible study lasting 20 years

Sue Middlemis stands near a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary outside St. John Neumann Parish in Canton, where she annually leads one of the most popular Bible study groups for women in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The Women's Catholic Bible Study, which began in 2004, has attracted hundreds of Catholic women from more than 50 parishes hungry to learn about the Scriptures. Middlemis, a cradle Catholic who fell away from her Catholic faith, rejoined the Church in 1998 at the urging of fellow revert and late Catholic radio host Al Kresta, who passed away June 15. (Photos by Karla Dorweiler | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Sue Middlemis never thought she'd step foot in a parish again; decades later, she's helped hundreds of women fuel their faith

CANTON — Sometimes God works in small, even undetectable ways. And sometimes, He goes big.

When Sue Middlemis started a Bible study for Catholic women 20 years ago, she prayed that God would work through her to make a small impact by helping women come to know the Scriptures and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Since then, 514 women from 57 parishes have been touched by God’s word through the study.

The Women’s Catholic Bible Study meets weekly at St. John Neumann Parish in Canton, starting each September and ending in March or April. The group studies one or two books of the Bible per year.

Women first gather in the parish hall for prayer and then break into small groups to dive into the week’s assigned Scripture passages and discussion. The study includes a video commentary viewed together in the main hall. After the morning wraps up, many of the ladies can be found in the hallway or parking lot deep in discussion or sharing a laugh.

Unexpected journey

The fact that Middlemis led the effort to create the popular study group strikes her as one of the biggest surprises of her life, second only to her return to the Catholic Church in 1998.

Middlemis had been raised Catholic, but in college, she had questions about the faith that the Catholic group on campus left unanswered. She joined a Bible study hosted by a Protestant group on campus, where she met her husband. In time, she began attending a Presbyterian church.

“After we were married, I savored every minute of the classes at our Presbyterian church, and I had no interest in returning to the Catholic Church,” Middlemis said. “But then I started a job at a bookstore that was managed by Al Kresta, and that changed everything.”

Middlemis said she became aware of Kresta's radio program even before he reverted to his Catholic faith in 1992, when Kresta was a Protestant pastor. After Kresta's reversion, he encouraged Middlemis to investigate the truth of the Catholic faith, which she did, leading to her own reversion in 1998.
Middlemis said she became aware of Kresta's radio program even before he reverted to his Catholic faith in 1992, when Kresta was a Protestant pastor. After Kresta's reversion, he encouraged Middlemis to investigate the truth of the Catholic faith, which she did, leading to her own reversion in 1998.

Kresta, who passed away on June 15 from liver cancer, reverted to Catholicism in 1992. He went from being the host of an evangelical talk show — one Middlemis knew well — to helping shape Ave Maria Communications, a Catholic media company, and then hosting a new, Catholic talk show, “Kresta in the Afternoon.”

Middlemis was shocked to learn of Kresta’s reversion. He invited her family to his home for dinner and shared his search for the one true faith. He also shared with her a set of books ("Faith of the Early Fathers" by William A. Jurgens) about the early Church fathers that helped him in his journey.

“I could not believe what I was reading,” Middlemis said. “I found out that Catholic teachings I had been told (in Protestant studies) had begun in the Middle Ages were actually right there from the beginning. And the more I read, the more it threw my world upside down.”

Middlemas returned to the Catholic Church in 1998.

Starting something new

After her reversion, Middlemis became a member of Christ the King Parish in Ann Arbor, where a fellow parishioner, Steve Ray, a Catholic writer and speaker, had been a member at her Presbyterian church and had also recently converted to Catholicism.

Ray told Middlemis that he noticed many Catholic women were being drawn away from the Catholic Church by a Protestant Bible study fellowship. Catholic women’s Bible studies at the time weren’t prevalent; moreover, they weren’t providing the depth women were seeking or answering many of the same questions Middlemis had posed years earlier in college, Ray noted.

Ray had found a comprehensive Bible study that went deeper than those that were available, and he encouraged Middlemis to launch the study locally.

Middlemis liked the idea, but wasn’t sure she could pull it off. She brought it to prayer, telling God she would need three things: a church with breakout rooms for small groups, faithful and willing discussion leaders, and a children’s program so mothers with small children could attend.

Sue Middlemis, left, leads a small group discussion during the Women's Catholic Bible Study group at St. John Neumann Parish this spring. Middlemis admitted she was skeptical at first that she could pull it off, but adds it's been one of the best decisions of her life.
Sue Middlemis, left, leads a small group discussion during the Women's Catholic Bible Study group at St. John Neumann Parish this spring. Middlemis admitted she was skeptical at first that she could pull it off, but adds it's been one of the best decisions of her life.

“I also said, ‘Lord, we really need to have at least 10 people per discussion group for this to thrive and have good conversation,’” Middlemis said. “So I told him, ‘That would be 50 people, Lord.’”

God brought 100 women to the study that first year. And so began the Women’s Catholic Bible Study in 2004.

Since then, the study has averaged 120 women per year, with the exception of the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on the year, the study breaks out into as many as eight discussion groups that enjoy food and fellowship together twice per year. Middlemis finds the fellowships allow women to feel more comfortable sharing during the weekly meetings.

In addition to the in-person meetings, a Zoom group that formed during the pandemic continues to meet regularly, attended by people who were once part of the group but moved out of the area or who cannot attend in person. Women from Mexico and England enroll in the Zoom small group as well.

'Vitamin B' for one’s faith

Theresa Gross has been involved in the Women’s Catholic Bible Study from the beginning. When she registered 20 years ago, she had recently completed a two-year study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and was seeking to learn more.

“I tell everybody that it’s been my 'vitamin B' shot for the week because it re-energizes me," Gross said. "When I go to the group and hear other women and their stories, it’s inspiring in my own faith.”

Spending eight months together immersed in God’s word brings the women in each small group together in faith and friendship.

The Women's Catholic Bible Study group meets each year starting in September and running through the spring, usually ending in March or April. Next year's study begins Sept. 19.
The Women's Catholic Bible Study group meets each year starting in September and running through the spring, usually ending in March or April. Next year's study begins Sept. 19.

“We stick to the study overall, but we also touch on how what we’re learning applies in our lives,” Gross said. “It’s like a prism; when I do the study, I might see something one way, and then I go to class and someone else sees it another way. It might be something that didn’t even occur to me before, and it gives me a deeper understanding and appreciation than I had on my own.”

Adelaide Przebienda signed up for the study after she saw it advertised in her church bulletin in 2004.

“I was drawn to it because it said it would be true to the magisterium of the Church. I knew it wouldn’t be a Bible study about my feelings on what we’re reading, but it would be true,” Przebienda said. “I also liked that it would be with women from many different parishes.”

Each week, in addition to reading the assigned Scripture, the study points women to the Catechism, as well as reference writings of popes, saints and Church fathers.

“When I read Scripture, the word of God is much more alive,” Przebienda said. “The word of God is living and true. God is always speaking to you. The Bible is a love letter to you, and every time you study it, you experience the love of Jesus, of God the Father and of the Holy Spirit pouring out on you.”

The group, which attracts upwards of 100 women each year, studies one or two books of the Bible each year, assisted by videos and study aids.
The group, which attracts upwards of 100 women each year, studies one or two books of the Bible each year, assisted by videos and study aids.

Middlemis plans to continue offering the study for as long as she can. She is overwhelmed by the number of women who sign up year after year, and by the commitment and generosity of the discussion leaders who meet an extra day each week to prepare to lead their small group.

In the end, Middlemis can’t get enough of God’s word, and she’s thrilled so many other women feel the same. Each year, new ladies join the group, often because they’ve heard about it from friends or through the grapevine.

“You can’t be obedient to Jesus if you don’t know what he is teaching. You can’t be obedient to the Church if you don’t know Church teachings. And you can find all those answers in the Scripture,” Middlemis said. “If you want to have an intimate relationship with Jesus, you have to be in His word.”

Join the Women's Catholic Bible Study

To inquire about the Women’s Catholic Bible Study at St. John Neumann Parish in Canton, email Sue Middlemis at [email protected]. This year’s study will begin on Sept. 19.



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