SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
There is a typical reaction Mary Beth Cloweney receives from guests to the St. Vincent Pallotti Retreat Center in Elkhorn.
She said they tell her the retreat center, located in the middle of 150 acres of wooded forest with miles of trails, has an almost enchanting feel.
“I think it must happen coming through those woods,” said Cloweney, who is the director of the retreat center and is in charge of making sure each group has what they need for the duration of their stay. “They feel themselves physically stepping away and pull up here in their groups to a lovely cottage they get all to themselves.”
Cloweney said it doesn’t take guests long to appreciate such a special spot, a place that feels like it’s been carved out specifically to give them a refuge from the busy world and allow them to connect with God, somewhere grand enough to appreciate is majesty but intimate enough to feel like home.
The facility has 50 beds in 14 rooms, private bathrooms, a chapel, a meeting room and unlimited use of the acreage surrounding the center, but Cloweney thinks what makes it most unique is that the St. Vincent Pallotti Retreat Center serves only one group at a time.
“It gives them a chance to make it really theirs,” she said. “You’ll see kids walking around in their stocking feet, sitting by the fire, cozied up and making themselves at home.”
Fr. John Scheer, who has been the directing priest at the St. Vincent Pallotti Retreat Center since 2015 and who has served there in various capacities since the mid-1970s, said the property has gone through many transformations since it was built as a family home in 1928.
In 1957, the Pallottine fathers purchased it to use as a novitiate before the state government decided to flood the valley and the Pallottines were forced to relocate their novitiate further north. When the state changed its mind, the fathers decided to use the property as a retreat center that would give people a chance to see the beauty of God’s handiwork up close, and encourage them to slow down and connect with him. Pius XI High School students were the first group to use the center but soon the well-kept secret spread. The School Sisters of St. Francis helped with the facility’s makeover and in 1968, dorms were added to the property to allow the center to accommodate up to 50 guests.
Fr. Scheer often walks the wooded trails that are so popular with the center’s guests and said that over the years, he’s enjoyed seeing the transformation confirmation students go through in their few days on the property as they experience all the surprises the land has to offer.
“Especially these days,” he said. “Most kids don’t get out and run down to a creek, or look up and talk to God while they’re slowly walking down a trail, but here they do.”
The feeling of total peace is something he believes facilitates the deep connection so longed for on retreats for high school and college students, and adult groups alike.
He said things move slower there, and that God’s voice seems louder because when you drive down that long road and get out of your car and push away all of the daily concerns and step into the stillness, it’s much easier to hear God’s voice talking to you.
Bruce Lanser has visited the St. Vincent Pallotti Retreat Center in Elkhorn nearly 30 times in the 11 years he’s spent volunteering in youth ministry at St. Charles Parish in Hartland leading confirmation retreats. He says the biggest hurdle he’s seen on retreats is that a lot of kids don’t know what to expect. They may be hesitant to go in the first place, or struggling with their faith, but that the St. Vincent Pallotti Retreat Center creates a space that draws them in and lets them feel safe.
Lanser said, “From the moment you step through that front door, you just feel like you’re home. It’s a place I look forward to going all year.”