An invitation to go on retreat beckons to the worn and weary. A renewal can offer a gentle counterbalance to the demands of daily life.
Now and then, it helps to press pause and escape to a religious sanctuary. Whether for a week, a weekend or a day, a spiritual retreat gifts individuals with precious quiet space to encounter God and take stock of life. A retreat can provide intentional spiritual practices, such as prayer, reflection and rest by stepping away from everyday routine.
Located beneath towering trees, just steps from the shores of Crooked Lake, the Redemptorist Retreat Center has offered a spiritual break from the complexities of everyday life for the past 60 years, said Director Fr. Richard Thibodeau, C. Ss. R.
“This is a place to reflect on the goodness, love and mercy of our God, and somewhere to renew their understanding that in the Lord there is the beautiful gift of plentiful redemption offered because of Jesus and shown so beautifully through his mother, Our Mother of Perpetual Help,” he said. “Before we had the retreat center, we had our Immaculate Conception Seminary and School of Theology on Lac La Belle on the other side of Oconomowoc. We had a full faculty of Redemptorists teaching the theological sciences and a high population of seminarians. We began giving weekend retreats there to men, and it got to the point where there was so much interest that we couldn’t continue it there, as we had too many seminarians and there wasn’t the room.”
In the late 1950s, the Redemptorists began searching for another location suitable for retreats. The expansive property on Crooked Lake seemed an idyllic setting for their plans, and in 1961, the Redemptorist Retreat Center opened.
The Redemptorists offered the first retreat to 91 retreatants in the newly constructed building dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help on Oct. 12, 1963.
Located on 20 acres of lush, rolling hills in the Kettle Moraine, the center is fully air-conditioned and handicapped-accessible. There are 58 private rooms, each with its own bathroom facilities, a large conference room, four meeting rooms and a chapel. Individuals desiring more seclusion can spend personal time in the Poustinia, a furnished but modest hermitage designed as an isolated place to live for a short time as a hermit to encounter God in solitude, silence and prayer.
The Poustinia and four other hermitages scattered around the property were in high demand last year during the COVID-19 lockdowns when the pandemic required the cancellation of group retreats. Fr. Thibodeau said individuals needed solace, time alone with God and a connection to the ethereal more than ever despite the lockdowns.
“Last year was difficult. We had to stop the group retreats for a number of months and had nothing going on except the hermitages, which were a great blessing,” he said. “We weren’t able to provide meals like we normally do, but we’re happy to make the hermitages available. Of course, we gave them a more thorough cleaning than under normal circumstances, but it was a godsend for those needing space during a difficult time.”
Each hermitage offers a comfortable sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, and fully equipped kitchen. Linens, towels, and kitchen utensils are provided. Casa Redeemer also provides a washer and dryer. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered in the Retreat Center when a group is present. As this is a year-round retreat center, all facilities are heated and air-conditioned. Wi-Fi is available in St. Joseph and St. Gerard hermitages.
“We encouraged our guests to bring food to prepare, or we gave them the names of places to go to eat,” said Fr. Thibodeau. “Guests could still get spiritual direction, and we made sure we could accommodate them in an area where we could socially distance. It worked out well considering the circumstances.”
This year, the Redemptorist Retreat Center is bustling with personal, specialized, preached and group retreats, as well as days of reflection for men, women, couples and groups. Silent retreats are also available.
While last year was challenging, Fr. Thibodeau explained that the dedicated supporters of the Center carried them by continuing donations to keep them going, which supplementedhelp from the government PPP loans.
“It was truly touching, and the generosity of people was overwhelming,” he said. “Retreat centers operate on a thin margin in the best times, and some retreat centers receive direct help financially from their sponsoring groups. We do not have that. We are self-sufficient. Of course, Redemptorists in Denver, our sponsoring group, are not turning a deaf ear to us, but we want to be self-sustaining and not rely on them. It is a slippery slope, as we have capital improvements and ongoing expenses to cover ourselves. It was the grace of God who got us through this. But we are hoping and praying that this coming year will see a turn for the better.”
While the Redemptorists will offer no grand anniversary celebration to mark their 60 years, they plan a small celebration with retreat captains and ambassadors for a Mass, meal and meeting at the end of the month.
“Our ambassadors are members of different parishes who promote our retreats in their parishes,” said Fr. Thibodeau. “It is amazing to see how God has worked through all of this and important to stay open to however he is calling in the midst of this pandemic. We are living in a time of plentiful redemption — because through him is plentiful redemption. When you look at externals, you may not see that, but for people of faith, it is important to recognize the presence of God and realize that he is our plentiful redemption.”
The Redemptorist Retreat Center needs staff for kitchen and housekeeping. They offer competitive wages, flexible hours and training. Contact Suzanne Ristow at 262-567-6900 if interested in applying.