10/19/11 | 1389 views
Retreat Centers Offer Range of Programs to Meet Needs
When Mount Manresa Jesuit Retreat House on Staten Island first began offering retreats for lay persons a century ago, it was charting completely new territory.
A lot has changed in the 100 years since then, but one thing remains the same, said Fred Herron, who serves as interim executive director and director of ministry at Mount Manresa. “We’re trying to do what we can to meet the most pressing needs of the Church,” he said.
In addition to preached weekend retreats once a month, Mount Manresa offers various other retreat programs from singles retreats to HIV-AIDS weekends of comfort to a weekly Rosary group and monthly Taize prayer. And in January, the retreat house plans to increase its outreach to the divorced and separated, Herron said.
Those offerings and many more have enabled Mount Manresa to increase the number of people its serves to some 15,000 per year—about 8,000 adults and 7,000 youths. The best part is that the numbers have gone up by 10 percent in each of the last two years, Herron said.
The news about Catholic retreat houses and programs has not been all good recently, however.
The Passionist Spiritual Center/Cardinal Spellman Retreat House in the Riverdale section of the Bronx was closed at the end of 2010. At the time, the Passionists said the center was struggling financially and that the congregation was “unable to subsidize any of our institutions and ministries.” The overall economic downfall had also led to a drop in the number of group bookings for conferences and workshops.
Earlier this year, the Redemptorist order announced that its Mount St. Alphonsus Retreat Center in Esopus would close on Jan. 1, after 26 years of retreat ministry and more than 75 years as a major seminary. The Redemptorists, in a statement announcing the decision, said that they were “reexamining their pastoral commitments in light of the increasing age of their members and the need to continue their primary ministry to the poor and most abandoned.”
Michael Sweeney, executive director of retreats and events at Mount St. Alphonsus, told CNY this week that 2011 has been “a very busy year, one of the busiest on record” at the 106-room retreat house. Still, he said he understood the order’s decision to close the retreat ministry because its priests were more needed in parish ministry.
Mount St. Alphonsus, like many retreat houses, catered to a Catholic audience found primarily in area parish churches. The decline in Mass attendance over the past few decades meant that Mount St. Alphonsus had to extend its marketing outreach beyond the Hudson Valley to the entire Northeast, Sweeney said. The focus also shifted from retreats solely geared toward Catholic groups to more of a wider audience.
“It’s very possible to operate a retreat center these days but it’s becoming more difficult without expanding to nonreligious programs,” he said.
Larger retreat houses such as Mount St. Alphonsus face a particularly tough road because of increasing operating costs, especially those associated with maintaining facilities and property, Sweeney said.
The Catholic Telephone Guide, in its recently published 2011-2012 edition, lists more than two dozen retreat houses and houses of prayer operating in the archdiocese. A listing of the names and contact numbers will appear with this article on CNY’s Web site, www.cny.org.
Many such as the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement’s Graymoor Spiritual Life Center in Garrison, the Salesians’ Don Bosco Retreat Center-Marian Shrine in Stony Point or the Dominican Sisters of Hope’s Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center in Ossining are directly sponsored by religious congregations. Each offers a broad range of retreat programs.
Others such as Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries Center in Garrison and Grace House CYO Youth Ministry Center in Manhattan focus their programs on young people, while St. Joseph’s Cursillo Center in the Bronx gears retreats toward members of the Cursillo Movement.
Not all the programs of Mount Manresa are conducted on the retreat house’s 10.5-acre property, located just a stone’s throw from the Verrazano Bridge. In fact, staff members regularly travel to local parishes to lead programs of Ignatian prayer.
It’s part of the Jesuits’ commitment to outreach and has been well received both in term of the numbers of those who attend as well as by pastors, Herron said.
“Parishes are more strapped for support staff to do these things,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is to go to pastors and let them know, ‘We have things available for your people.’…We’re doing it so that we can be supportive of local parishes.”
Browse our archive of photos