America has an abundance of excellent retreats for lay people, priests and religious,
says Tim Drake mid the hustle and bustle of Alife it’s difficult to slow down and take some reflective time for yourself and God. Why not combine your next holiday to the United States with an opportunity to rest your body and your soul?
There is an abundance of spiritual retreat opportunities for lay men and women, as well as religious, across America. Whether you’re seeking the solitary atmosphere of the desert or the solace of a lakeside retreat, you’re sure to find something to fit your needs.
The state of Minnesota has more than 10,000 lakes and these provide an especially pastoral setting for retreats.
One of the state’s most successful, and long-lasting retreat houses, is the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House northeast of St Paul. Located on the banks of Lake Demontreville, the Wisconsin Province of Jesuits has been offering retreats at the site since November 1948. More than 20 Jesuit priests from the province provide the retreats on a rotating basis.
Every year more than 3,000 men participate in silent weekend retreats at the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Each retreat features four or five general conferences of approximately 30 minutes, daily celebration of the Eucharist, the rosary and Benediction, and opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and private consultation. The retreat house attracts both Catholics and non-Catholics.
Demontreville accommodates 65 men at each of the 47 retreats the Jesuits offer each year. Demontreville is also unique in that there is no fee. Retreatants are asked for a free-will donation at the end of their stay. Each retreat lasts from Thursday evening to Sunday evening.
The silent retreats are so popular that many men continue to attend annually, some for as many 30 years or more.
Lee Gohmann, an estimator for a construction company, made his first silent retreat last June. He says that he valued being able to go somewhere where he didn’t know anyone.
“You were given a lot of time for personal reflection,” he explains. “You’re free to go off to your room or walk in the grounds. It was a very restful time.” He hopes to make the retreat a twice yearly occurrence. Meanwhile, Andy Hilger, a retired radio station owner, has just celebrated his 50th birthday. He first went on retreat as a college student and has been going ever since. Over the past eight or nine years he’s attended retreats twice a year – in January and July.
He also recruits others. “In a hectic, busy world it is a great way to get away and try to get closer to Our Lord in an atmosphere that stresses silence,” he says.
Both men feel that the silence is a large part of the retreat’s success.
“It is a very unusual feeling the first couple of times that you sit down together at meal times,” says Mr Gohmann. “If you want someone to pass the bread, you have to make a hand gesture or hold up your plate.” Andy Hilger agrees: “The Jesuits say that the silence is essential,” he says. “It makes audible the voice of God and disposes man to pray. The silence allows the Holy Spirit to lead you.” But he also recognises that silence isn’t appropriate for everyone.
“It has to fit the person,” he explains, adding that he didn’t think his 18-year-old son, for example, would enjoy a silent retreat.
One of Minnesota’s newest retreat houses, Schoenstatt on the Lake, started offering male and female retreats last year. To date, it has run three adult retreats and a number of retreats for young people.
“I find that in our society people are very daring to take the time for a retreat,” says Deanne Niehaus, a consecrated laywoman with the Schoenstatt Marian lay movement in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.
“People are so very busy. I admire those who take the time for God, for reflection and for prayer. Schoenstatt can offer a place for that, especially with our Marian chapel.” Schoenstatt on the Lake, in common with the 186 other Schoenstatt shrines worldwide, features a small chapel on the grounds where retreat-goers are able to pray and participate in the Mass. The retreat facility overlooks fields and Lake Sleepy Eye.
“There’s nothing like the sound of 26 men’s voices singing in a small space,” says Tom Strang, a retired music teacher. Mr Strang attended a retreat at the facility earlier this year entitled “From the Arena to the Altar”, led by German-born priest Fr Gerald Langsch. The retreat examined how men balance their role between work, God and family. In addition to the men’s retreat, the retreat house also offers two women’s retreats and a variety of summer retreats for boys and girls. They hope to offer more adult retreat opportunities this autumn and next spring.
Clergy and religious seeking opportunities for spiritual renewal and retreat might want to examine retreat houses that serve primarily those affiliated with religious orders. Again, a variety of options is available.
One of the most popular is Trinity Retreat in Larchmont, New York. Trinity was started by the Servant of God, Terrence Cardinal Cooke. Its mission is to help priests, brothers, deacons and small groups of laity encounter the Risen Lord Jesus.
Under the direction of priest, author, and television host Fr Benedict Groeschel CFR, Trinity Retreat attracts priests and monks from around the world. It offers approximately 25 week-long priest retreats per year, and another 20 weekend retreats.
Fr Groeschel acknowledges that it can be difficult for priests to get away.
“The number of priests is half what it was 25 years ago, yet the Catholic population is going up,” he says.
“Priests work harder now than they ever did, yet many haven’t been able to go on a retreat in years.” In response, the retreat house has started offering what it calls “on-the-spot” retreats.
“I go to the immediate vicariate where the priests are located,” Fr Groeschel explains. “We run a retreat from 10 am to 4.30 pm, four days in a row. That allows priests to say Mass and take care of their parish duties.” Fr Groeschel recommends two retreat houses specifically for women religious: the Sacred Heart Retreat House, run by the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart, located in Alhambra, California; and the Retreat Ministry of the Marian Servants of Divine Providence in Clearwater, Florida.
The Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart have been running retreats since their house was founded by Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament in 1941.
The order offers a variety of programmes for both laywomen and women religious at two different retreat houses, one with lodgings tucked amid beautiful gardens in residential Alhambra, California; the other, a day facility located amid the arid beauty of the desert in the Antelope Valley of Palmdale, California.
In addition to its 26 weekend retreats for laywomen the order also offers three eight-day silent retreats for women religious during the summer. The retreat house can accommodate 86 women per weekend.
“We have many women who come annually,” says Sister Marisa. “It gives them a sense of stability. When they come here they experience the Lord in a powerful way and that draws them back. They call this their second home.” The sacraments are a highlight of the retreats and Mass is celebrated daily. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is offered throughtout Saturday, and the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation is also popular.
“No matter how hard their lives have been. no matter the challenges they have faced women have a real longing for God in their life,” says Sister Marisa. “They come longing for a deeper sense of peace, and to accept God’s will in their life.” She also believes that the retreats help to strengthen the vocation of women.
“Through the retreats they are strengthened in their role as women,” she says.
“There is so much confusion. Women can come here and have a renewed sense of their dignity, whether their vocation is to the religious life or to married life.” The retreat house also has separate cottages where priests can come for retreats, vacation or on sabbatical.
Sister Marisa explains: “We have a special charism of praying for priests. We recently had a priest here from Korea for a month. Another comes from England every year.” The retreat facility can accommodate approximately six priests.
The other retreat house for nuns recommended by Fr Groeschel is the retreat ministry of the Marian Servants of Divine Providence, situated on 15 acres between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico in Clearwater, Florida. It’s a popular centre for religious.
Sister Monica Spates, a nun based with the Ohio Francisan Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, said they had sent all their professed nuns on the 30-day retreats offered by the Marian Servants.
“They provide both spirituality retreats in addition to Ignatian retreats,” she says.
Priests and religious seeking a sabbatical in America are advised to contact the Chicago-based National Organisation for Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy (NOCERCC) which offers a catalogue featuring 50 sabbatical opportunities designed specifically for priests in America, Mexico, Europe, Israel, and Australia.
NOCERCC is the only national organisation in the United States solely focused on continuing education and ongoing formation for priests. Atypical diocesan sabbatical is three months in length.
Fr Todd Schneider, a secular priest in the Diocese of Saint Cloud, Minnesota, has been contemplating a sabbatical for the past few years.
“Many of our diocesan priests go to the North American College in Rome,” he says. “I’m considering a possible sabbatical at Marytown in Libertyville, Illinois.” He acknowledges the difficulty in finding time but believes the break is essential.
Andy Hilger would agree: “As one of my buddies said, ‘It’s a great time to clear the cobwebs.’”