After COVID-19 shutdown, local retreat centers adjusting to offer safe retreats

| Susan Klemond | July 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

In this file photo from July 2019, visitors pray in the chapel at Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center in Prior Lake. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

When it seemed likely Gov. Tim Walz would issue the first COVID-19 stay-at-home order in March, social distancing wasn’t a problem at Pacem in Terris retreat center near St. Francis because retreatants are mostly alone while staying in single-occupancy hermitages.

But the center still closed from March 20 to May 18, partly because it couldn’t get needed supplies. The staff took advantage of the time to focus on achieving its mission, said Tim Drake, executive director.

“It’s kind of simplified what we do because it really narrows the focus again on what it was that we did when we first started, which was simply offer a place where people can come and be alone with God,” said Drake, who attends parishes in the Diocese of St. Cloud, where Pacem in Terris is located.

For Pacem in Terris, and four retreat centers in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, shutting down during what is usually a busy spring season involved some soul searching as they found ways to manage expenses, retain staff and stay in contact with past retreatants. Reopening this summer has brought more challenges in scheduling smaller retreats, rethinking practices, and sanitizing facilities for guest and staff safety.

From the time they closed in mid-March until reopening in June, Christ the King Retreat Center (also known as “King’s House”) in Buffalo and Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center in Prior Lake each lost 15 retreats and activities. The Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo closed for nine retreat weekends before late May, while Dunrovin Christian Brothers Retreat Center in Marine on St. Croix has lost 30 programs, but reopened in mid-July.

“Nothing happened here for about three months,” said Father Richard Sudlik, a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate and King’s House director, regarding canceled retreats and spiritual direction.

Throughout the center’s shutdown, King’s House has continued to receive contributions that have helped with fixed expenses, he said. The shutdown “lessened our income, but so far so good, we’re hanging in there.”

Canceling 95 reservations has meant a $50,000 loss for Pacem in Terris, but Drake said response to a May appeal letter has helped. All five retreat centers reported receiving financial assistance from donors and retreatants during the crisis. Some long-time retreatants whose retreats were canceled sent checks anyway to the Jesuit Retreat House and Franciscan Retreats, their leaders said.

Each of the retreat centers also received loans from the U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Program, designed to help employers maintain their workforce during the COVID-19 crisis.

Jerome Meeds, Dunrovin’s executive director, gave staff the option of working on maintenance projects. Jesuit Father Patrick McCorkell, Jesuit Retreat House director, said staff hours were reduced but layoffs weren’t necessary.

However, not being able to offer retreats was still frustrating and discouraging for the Jesuit Retreat House staff. “That’s what we do and all of a sudden we don’t do it,” Father McCorkell said.

Likewise, King’s House wasn’t fulfilling its mission while it was closed, Father Sudlik said. “When the house is empty it’s painful for us,” he said. “It’s good to have folks coming back and we hope that we don’t have another round of this.”

During the shutdown, several centers began offering online content. Franciscan Retreats is posting audio and video talks — something it plans to continue, said Conventual Franciscan Friar Brother Bob Roddy, retreat director.

Jesuit Retreat House livestreamed its first two retreats following its reopening, and Pacem in Terris created orientation videos.

But the biggest job was preparing to reopen while meeting state and archdiocesan requirements for retreatant and staff safety.

All the centers have sanitization procedures and now accept about half the guests they used to, both for social distancing and to provide each retreatant with a private bathroom. The limits haven’t been a problem because some retreatants have canceled, they say. King’s House now allows one retreat at a time instead of two, Father Sudlik said.

Franciscan Retreats now boxes meals for retreatants to eat in their rooms or outside, Brother Roddy said. In the Jesuit Retreat House dining room, retreatants’ meals are brought to them, Father McCorkell said.

“One of the traditions here is guys, year after year, have the same room, and they tend to sit in the same chair in the chapel,” Father McCorkell said. “There’s a lot of sameness that got disrupted.”

Dunrovin’s retreats also will look different due to social distancing, which can be contrary to how youth retreats are usually conducted, said Meeds, a parishioner of St. Mary in Stillwater.

Social distancing was less of a challenge at Franciscan Retreat’s first retreat after the shutdown because it was silent, Brother Roddy said.

It may be a bigger issue for non-silent retreats, he said. “The community aspect is very omnipresent, and for many groups it’s the time of year when they see each other.”

Despite adjustments, those making retreats after the shutdown have appreciated the opportunity, Father Sudlik said. As challenging as the state shutdown was, he believes it was a “grace moment.”

“Everybody has to remind themselves that we’re not in charge of as many things as we think we are,” he said.

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Local News