Retreat House Ministry, Part II

In 1945 at the end of the Second World War Passionists, like all Americans, were facing the question: What will our role be in the new world resulting from the war and victory? The success of the lay retreat movement in the Eastern Province and at Sierra Madre suggested that a development of other retreat centers would be an effective response.

If there was any hesitation on the part of our superiors, the request of Bishops, together with the enthusiastic support of the laity, quickly dispatched all doubts. The next ten years witnessed a tremendous expansion of the retreat movement in Holy Cross Province.

Within one month of the end of the War the Provincial Council decided to accept the invitation of Bishop Robert Armstrong of Sacramento. Father Angelo Hamilton arrived in Sacramento on October 4, 1945, to find property for a monastery and retreat house. In January, 1947, the present property on Auburn Boulevard in Citrus Heights was purchased from the Cross Investment Company.

In May, 1946, while Father Angelo was looking for property in Sacramento, Father Malcolm LaVelle took possession of a residence on Teetshorn Street in Houston for a new monastery and retreat house in that city. Father Aloysius Dowling was appointed first Superior. He went to Houston with Mr. Rudolph Stengel (father of Father Michael Joseph Stengel) to begin the Houston Foundation. In October, 1946, the newly elected Consultor, Father James Patrick White, together with Father Boniface Fielding, took out an option on the Royalty and Haude property on Bunker Hill Road. This property was purchased on January 2nd, 1947.

Early in 1947, just as properties were being purchased in Citrus Heights and Houston, the decision was also made to build a separate retreat house in Sierra Madre. Almost at once we found ourselves in a zoning problem. The building could not begin until the fall of 1948.

Back in the midwest, the Provincial Council decided in late 1947 to develop a retreat house movement in our Detroit monastery. Father Declan Egan was sent to Sierra Madre to study the system of our lay retreat movement. In the summer of 1948 the philosophy students were moved to St. Gabriel’s monastery in Des Moines. The Detroit monastery, readied for lay retreatants, opened its doors to the first retreat on October 1st, 1948. Father Declan Egan was Retreat Director and Father Bartholomew Adler Retreat Master. Among those making that first retreat was Mr. Bartley Boyle, the father of our present Father General, Father Paul Boyle.

At the same time it was decided that lay retreats would be given in the Holy Cross Monastery on Mt. Adams in Cincinnati. Father Charles Guilfoyle was appointed Retreat Director and Father Anthony Maher was the first Retreat Master.

Finally, the sixth lay retreat house in the United States was opened in the St. Louis Archdiocese in a large home on 120 acres. In 1951 we purchased this property from the Alexian Brothers. It was located on Conway Road near Ballas Road in St. Louis County. The post office address was Clayton and so we usually referred to it as the Clayton retreat house. Father Valentine Leitsch was the Retreat Director and Father Conell Dowd was the first Retreat Master.

Early in 1953 the first Passionists went to Japan with the intention of founding the Congregation there and engaging in retreat ministry. As a result of this decision the retreat house was opened at Mefu in the Archdiocese of Osaka in 1954.

The new retreat house in Sierra Madre was opened in October, 1949. The first retreat held there was the weekend of October 4-6, 1949. It was attended by the officers of the Retreat League and by retreatants who had made the first retreat in 1931. Father Lambert Hickson was the Rector, Father Isidore O’Reilly was Retreat Director and Father Philip Gibbons was Retreat Master.

Up at Citrus Heights the retreat house was dedicated on May 7th, 1950, and retreats began with Father Damian Cragen as Retreat Director and Father Kenny Lynch as Retreat Master. In 1957 the barracks were erected to serve as the community residence and as an annex to the retreat house.

The retreat house in Houston was begun on December 22, 1952, and finished by October, 1953. The first retreat for laymen was held in the new retreat house on October 18-20, 1953. Father Conleth Overman was the Retreat Director and Father Jerome Stowell was Retreat Master. In 1967 a new addition was added and the entire quadrangle was now enclosed. Another meeting room, offices and the community residence were built in 1980.

The retreats continued at Clayton until January, 1957. On January 25-27, 1957 the first retreat was held at the new retreat house on the seminary properties at Warrenton, Missouri. Father Conleth Overman was the first Retreat Director at Warrenton and Father John Devany was the first Retreat Master. The next month, in February, 1957, the first clergy retreats were given at Warrenton by Father Herman Stier. Retreats continued in Warrenton until January, 1976, when the property was sold and the retreat center was transferred to leased properties in Bel-Nor near Normandy in St. Louis County.

In 1960 a new retreat house was built in Detroit. The corner stone was laid on May 22, 1960, and the dedication took place on December 11, 1960. Father Campion Clifford was appointed Retreat Director at the new St. Paul’s Retreat House, succeeding Father William Westhoven. Provision was also made for conducting clergy retreats at St. Paul’s.

Through the 50’s and 60’s the Cincinnati Retreat Movement flourished. In the late 60’s and early 70’s a decline had set in. Finally, it was decided in June, 1977 to terminate the retreat movement at the monastery and the building itself was sold in 1979.

In Japan a second retreat house was opened in Fukuoka in 1964. A retreat house was built in Kwangju, Korea, in 1969 and at Seoul, Korea, in 1977. At the date of writing Holy Cross Province has five flourishing retreat houses in the United States, two in Japan and two in Korea.

The story of the retreat movement is more than a listing of bricks and stones, investments and personnel. We must also see the development of the retreat house activities and ministries.

In each retreat house the priority has been and continues to be the weekend retreats for laymen . Each retreat house has had and still has its organization or League of Laymen, usually structured along parish lines, with vice presidents or captains or coordinators.

In the 50s and 60s mid-week retreats began to be offered for the clergy, religious and high school students. This was now possible, because the retreats were no longer conducted in the monasteries. Later other specialized groups began to use the retreat houses in the midweeks. For example, there have been Sister Institutes in the summer months, directed retreats, days of recollection for confirmation classes, clergy study programs, workshops, Genesis II, etc. Since the late 60s weekend retreats have also been held for women, couples, religious, Cursillos, Alcoholics Anonymous, Charismatics, etc.

As a result of this diversity of offerings we usually refer to our retreat houses today as retreat centers. It is interesting to note that now we seldom use the word “laymen’s” when speaking of our retreat houses.

If there have been diversity and developments of the programs, there have also been diversity and development of personnel. From the very beginning the conducting of the weekend retreat was a Passionist community activity embracing both Passionist priests and Passionist brothers. The local Superior, priests and brothers from the monastery, students, as well as the assigned retreat house staff – all contributed to give the lay retreatant the experience of Passionist community. To be sure, some religious felt that their privacy and quiet were violated by the weekend retreat. Nevertheless, for a long time it was the whole Passionist community which contributed to the spiritual effectiveness of the weekend retreat.

In the late 60s our retreat houses became physically separate from the monasteries. There was a larger number of religious assigned to each retreat house staff. The retreat houses were engaged in retreat activities all week. At the same time, there was in the late 60s a strong emphasis upon personalism and small homogeneous communities. All of this suggested that our retreat house staffs should more or less be directed towards small community living or even a sub-community of the larger unit. Another factor leading in this direction was the expansion of the retreat house staff to include lay persons, Sisters and deacons.

In order to develop the retreat house ministries in the 70s and 80s the Provincial Council in 1973 set up the Province Retreat Center Board. It has become an effective instrument for the wellbeing of the Passionist Retreat Movement of Holy Cross Province in the United States.

As we celebrate our 75th anniversary as a Province, certainly every Passionist, whether he has been or is engaged in the retreat house ministry should be proud of this very special apostolate that our Province has worked to offer the people of God in the western half of the United States and in Japan and Korea.

Very Rev. Roger Mercurio, C. P.
Provincial Superior
July 23, 1981

Please contact Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P. at [email protected] if you have any comments. Permission of Archives needed for publication.