The Closing of Our Lady of Sorrows Retreat Center in West Springfield
by Fr. Donald Ware, C.P.
My experience as the last retreat director of Our Lady of Sorrows Retreat Center in West Springfield, Massachusetts was difficult.
When I arrived there in July of 1991, I was faced with a retreat center with falling numbers of retreatants and a budget deficit in six figures. While I was experienced in directing a retreat center from my years as Retreat Director at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1985 – 1991), I immediately realized I had to cut the deficit and try to increase the number of weekend retreatants.
My main challenge was to try to grow our current retreat groups and also establish new retreat groups. I was not too successful in this because one half of the Catholics in the Diocese of Springfield live in outlying cities and don’t come down as far as Springfield. I also attempted to get more “hosted” groups to use our retreat center during the week, but Mt. Marie Conference Center (operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph) had that sewn up. In the end, I was unable to cut the deficit much below $65,000. Still, our 100 room retreat center was too big for the market in Springfield.
The closing process for Our Lady of Sorrows Retreat Center took place in the Spring of 1994. We had three days of ritualized remembrance services which many retreatants attended. We remembered the blessings so many received at the retreat center and gave thanks for them. We ended with an outdoor Mass presided over by the Bishop John Aloysius Marshall and attended by several hundred retreatants. While many retreatants grieved the closing, they were most appreciative of the many experiences of grace they had received. We also helped those associated with the retreat movement in West Springfield who would look to the Passionist directed Calvary Retreat Center in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and Holy Family Retreat House West Hartford, Connecticut to continue their weekend retreat experience.
Especially difficult was losing our excellent youth program. I had been impressed by a wonderful high school retreat program directed by a young woman paid by the diocese, whose office was in the retreat center, and who trained the young adult retreat team. I grieved the loss of this youth ministry.
The closing was difficult on the employees of the retreat center who did not see it coming, even though we had not given raises for a couple of years. One employee in particular felt betrayed. This taught me to always be aware of the consequences of our decisions on employees who are loyal but also have a vested interest in our institutions. Closing our West Springfield Retreat Center was painful. I could see the sufferings of Christ, who had to let go of his will and accept the Father’s plan, reflected in the grieving faces of so many people. I myself felt weary and stressed in dealing with the closing process. I had to rely on God’s grace and prayer for the strength and patience to bear this burden of ministry.