For many men, Demontreville retreats are annual respites

| April 12, 2018 | 0 Comments

Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo is a destination for lay men looking for a silent, Ignatian retreat. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Since 1948, lay men from around the region and beyond have used silent retreat weekends at Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo as a way to respond to God’s will in their lives through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius.

Many of them have made dozens of the three-day Ignatian retreats, returning year after year, or sometimes multiple times in a year. Jesuit Father Patrick McCorkell, Demontreville’s director, said he knows a man who has made the retreat 65 times.

The 47 retreats Demontreville holds each year offer the opportunity “to be by yourself, to find solitude where you can … [and] consciously experience the movement of God’s grace in your mind and heart,” Father McCorkell said.

The center is marking its 70th anniversary. Jesuits came to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1948 to open a retreat house, similar to the one they established in St. Louis, the White House Jesuit Retreat. They purchased Michael Waldorf’s Lake Elmo family estate near Lake Demontreville. Six homes on the Waldorf estate served as retreat facilities. The Jesuits built a main retreat house in 1966.

The retreat center’s first director, Father Don Keegan, is said to have organized the first retreat with just one contact, and the demand expanded from there. The center’s second director, Father Ed Sthokal, led Demontreville for 58 years, and he kept a clear vision for Demontreville during the waves of change in the Church during the 1960s and 1970s, noted Father McCorkell, who assumed the helm in 2004.

“[Father Sthokal] said it as simply as this: ‘We will do one thing; we will do that very well,’ and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.

The Jesuits have a long tradition of offering silent men’s retreats based on the spiritual exercises, written by Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500s. The exercises guide people to develop self-knowledge, know Jesus and become like Jesus.

“It’s one of those deals where it’s really good for reflecting on all aspects of your life, and … where is God in all of that,” said Michael Flood of Holy Spirit in St. Paul, who has made 27 Demontreville retreats.

Retreatants arrive Thursday nights and walk through the exercises via talks and reflections throughout the retreat weekend, which ends Sunday evening. They also participate in Mass, reconciliation, rosary, vespers, benediction and silent prayer.  “Silence is … essential to the kind of retreat that we try to offer because it’s based on personal reflection and, actually, interior self-awareness,” Father McCorkell said.

About 65 men attend each retreat, and, on average, 10 of them are there for the first time. The retreats are also open to non-Catholics; about 10 Protestants also attend each retreat, according to Demontreville’s website. Father McCorkell said the retreat is for anyone who wants to pray.

Flood said its common for men to bring their sons and recruit friends for Demontreville weekends.

Demontreville’s surroundings aid reflection, with paths through its wooded acres, and quiet, rolling land along the lake shore. Repeat retreatants stay in the same room each year. That consistency, along with the rhythms of the retreat, “creates almost a timelessness,” Father McCorkell said.

Flood said that the retreat leaders “try to get you back into the retreat experience as quickly as possible.”

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Category: Travel and Pilgrimages