RACINE — After their first child, Rebecca Elizabeth, was stillborn at full-term, Cheryl and Tom Brouillard looked for a means to cope with their loss.
The two attended a couple’s retreat at the Siena Retreat Center in Racine and found the healing their souls needed.
“The first retreat was most memorable,” said Cheryl. Since the initial retreat, she has attended two other weekend retreats and approximately 20 one-on-one meetings with her spiritual director.
“I really enjoy the reverence and peacefulness. You can get lost in the quiet stillness whether you are in your room, sitting in one of the many cozy nooks or walking the beautiful grounds on Lake Michigan. Weather permitting, I also try to get up and watch the sunrise, it’s magical,” she said.
Recently retired, Cheryl hopes to attend at least one retreat a year. She and Tom contributed to the center’s newly constructed memorial patio.
“It is comforting to see our daughter’s name on the commemorative wall in the dining room,” she said.
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, the new Siena Retreat Center opened in August 2013. Situated on 26 acres, the center hosts between 6,000-7,000 retreatants from diverse faith traditions annually through sponsored retreats, spiritual direction, private and group retreats. A bookstore offers resources for the spiritual journey.
Among the many upcoming opportunities are, Lenten days of reflection, a weekend women’s retreat, called “Circle of Giftedness,” an annual Holy Week retreat, a men’s spirituality day, a weekend retreat titled “Contemplation and Peacemaking,” a weekend on dreams, a series on mindful meditation and several daylong art retreats. Additionally, a weekend retreat in May explores Pope Francis’ concept of “Integral Ecology.”
According to Claire Anderson, executive director of the Siena Retreat Center, the center, in its 40th year, will also offer six weeklong retreats this summer.
5637 Erie St., Racine, WI 53402
For private retreats, to reserve space for a group, or to schedule spiritual direction Sr. Dolores Catanach
“The weeklong retreats include spiritual direction, but we also offer private one day or several day personal retreats for anyone interested,” she said. “We find that people are hungering to be accompanied on their spiritual journeys. They are hungering to be listened to, to be accepted and affirmed, and also to be challenged. Oftentimes, people come on retreat not knowing what to expect but leave feeling refreshed and inspired and closer to the deepest sense of who they are. Many people who have never been on a retreat before, leave with a renewed purpose to their lives,” she said.
In addition to the artistic retreats, the adult coloring phenomenon draws those looking for a relaxing creative outlet and many include coloring to complement their retreat experience.
“Adult coloring resources are very popular items in our bookstore, and we carry a number of coloring resources, such as cards, calendars and books, with spiritual and religious themes to augment those that might be available in commercial settings,” said Anderson.
Due to busy schedules and competing priorities, not everyone is able to invest an entire weekend for a retreat, so the Siena Retreat Center offers several popular “Days of Reflection,” throughout the year.
“Retreats with well-known authors such as Paula D’Arcy and Joyce Rupp always fill up very quickly,” explained Anderson. “Among the popular topics are: Native American spirituality, art retreats, prayer and meditation, environmental and social justice, Advent and Lenten opportunities, and retreats for those grieving a loss.”
Recently, Siena Retreat Center hosted the International Forgiveness Project, a 20-panel exhibit with real stories of forgiveness from around the world.
“A religiously and racially diverse group of speakers and retreat leaders led programs related to the theme of forgiveness,” said Anderson.
Another popular retreat is “Coming Home,” a weekend retreat for returning veterans, co-sponsored by Mayslake Ministries of Illinois.
“The free retreat helps military men and women come to spiritual healing and reconciliation with God, themselves and others,” explained Anderson. “The retreat is led by two combat veterans, one of whom is a licensed professional counselor and therapist, and the other is an experienced retreat leader.”
Renate Reichs volunteers with Ignatian Spirituality Project, an organization that works with men and women in recovery. Jesuit Fr. Bill Creed began the organization 15 years ago after he noticed the high rate of relapse among men living in homeless shelters and recovery homes.
“He began doing these retreats with the men and in 2006, invited me and four other women to help him extend these retreats to women,” said Reichs.
Last July 4 weekend, Reichs assisted in a retreat for 14 women from city shelters at Siena Retreat Center.
“Had Siena, as part of their ministry, not given us an affordable price, we could never have come,” said Reichs. “You might imagine what a different environment this was for the women – they could walk in safety by the lake and enjoy the woods, and paths around the center – being out in nature was a novel experience. Their bedrooms were spacious and private, shortly after we arrived, one of the ladies came down to the meeting room and said, ‘Oh Renate, I just took a picture of my bathroom!’ Private bathrooms are also a novelty.”
Because of the safety and security of the Siena Retreat Center, the woman relaxed and explored their spirituality and relationship with themselves, their God and each other, explained Reichs.
“The staff at Siena was also warm and welcoming, and the women were nourished in body and spirit,” she said. “When it was time to leave, almost all of them went to take one more look at the lake, and wondered if they could return again. The remark I heard the most often was, ‘This place is so peaceful,’ I am deeply appreciative of the retreat center making it possible for us to come, and for their warm hospitality. The ladies still speak of their ‘weekend by the water.’”
While most visitors to the Siena Retreat Center are from Southeastern Wisconsin, the center attracts retreatants from the Midwestern states and beyond. Many who come are “empty nesters,” because they are in a position to reflect on their lives, explained Anderson.
“However, we also serve others looking for some quiet days away from the ordinary pace and space of their lives,” she said. “Generally, Siena Retreat Center serves adults only and not children or teens.”
Visitors appreciate the warm welcome when they arrive, and their treatment as a human being with spiritual questions and experiences in an environment of trust, explained Anderson. The beauty of the lakeshore, woods and surrounding prairie are also sources of inspiration.
“The setting, which is the home of the Racine Dominican sisters, is also appreciated as a place of contemplation,” she said. “Many retreatants also gravitate to the sisters’ chapel as a quiet place of prayer. The challenging and affirming content of the retreats is something people come back for.”