NE OF the great gifts that
have given to people of
faith is retreat centers. In the United
States alone, nearly 400 Catholic
retreat centers exist, the great ma-
jority of them founded and run by
religious institutes. Some are guest
houses located on the grounds of a
monastery; others are tucked away
in the suburbs or countryside, most
of these with ample natural areas
for contemplative walks and hikes.
A handful are even in the heart ofcities, giving urbanites easy accessto the prayer, spiritual development,and refreshment that a retreat canprovide.
It is natural that communities ofsisters, brothers, and priests woulddevelop retreat centers for laitybecause the tradition of retreats is inthe DNA of religious life. Religiousinstitutes trace their beginnings tothe Desert Fathers and Mothers,small groupings of third-centuryChristians who fled cities to livesimple lives of prayer in the Egyptian desert. The Desert Fathers andMothers were themselves followingJesus’ example of withdrawing to thewilderness to pray alone.
As religious life grew and
evolved over the centuries, the
concept of taking an annual retreat
arose and took hold, sometimes right
from the beginning, as with Francis-
cans. “Saint Francis would take time
away from the larger community, but
sometimes with one or two friars to
spend time in reflective prayer, often
in remote places,” says Brother Rob-
ert Roddy, O.F.M.Conv., director of
the Franciscan Retreat and Spiritual-
ity Center in Prior Lake, Minnesota.
Today most men and women reli-
gious take an annual retreat, usually
for a week.
Modern retreat centers serve anumber of purposes. They providea prayerful, contemplative setting—and often access to a spiritual director—for individual prayer and reflection. Many offer structured groupretreats that combine presentationswith discussion, liturgy, ritual, andquiet time. It is also common forretreat facilities to invite groups suchas parishes, Newman centers, orconfirmation classes to rent space toput on their own programs.
During the COVID- 19 pandemic, retreat centers around theworld adjusted. Depending on localconditions and health regulations,some have been able to offer on-siteretreats with social distancing rulesin place, giving sanctuary to thoseseeking solace during a stressfultime. Many retreat centers movedonline, providing the faithful withdozens of options for virtual retreats,prayer times, and presentations,some of them specifically addressing the search for God during thedisruption of the virus.
From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Catholic retreat centers spanthe globe, quietly offering time andspace for rest, refreshment, andrenewal. On these pages is a sampling of how religious institutes arecontinuing this long tradition. =
RELATED ARTICLE: VocationNetwork.org,“Divine design: The holiness of place.”
FIND THE DIVINE
IN THE DESERT
SOME RETREAT centers are located on properties withsuch distinctive natural beautythat the setting itself is a bigpart of what makes retreatsspecial. This is true for theRedemptorist Renewal Centerin the Sonoran Desert ofArizona, just outside of Tucson(pictured on the openingspread). Its sprawling 120acres are next to the SaguaroNational Park, in the foothillsof the Tucson Mountains.
The area was a sacred spacesome 1,500 years ago for theHohokam people whose holyimages (petroglyphs) remainon boulders on the property.The Redemptorist priestsfounded the center in 1964 atthe request of the local bishopand continue to guide it as partof their evangelization andhospitality ministry. In additionto offering private retreats andan array of themed retreats,this center also offers a four-week program for becoming aspiritual director and a 10-week sabbatical program thatdraws priests and religiousfrom around the world. Thecenter’s assistant director,Father Peter Tran, C.Ss.R.,reports that many retreatantssay this verse, written on thechurch wall, describes theirexperience: “The desert willlead you to your heart where Iwill speak” (Hosea 2: 14).