Ever feel frazzled and pulled in many directions? Looking for a place to be still and reflect on God’s purpose for your life? For a half century, the Redemptorist Retreat Center has offered that to those needing respite from daily routines, stress and frustration.
The Redemptorist retreat movement began in 1927 when emerging technology began distracting people from God’s purpose in their lives. Whether it was Charles Lindbergh flying over the Atlantic or Admiral Byrd soaring over the North Pole, talking movies or overseas telephone calls, people began focusing on the world’s progress, rather than spiritual growth.
Seeing a need to focus on inner healing, the Redemptorists began their retreat movement at their Immaculate Conception Seminary on Lac LaBelle in Oconomowoc.
The Beaver Dam Knights of Columbus initiated the first retreat at the seminary with 41 men in attendance, led by a missionary, Redemptorist Fr. Walter L. Polk. The retreat was so successful that the movement grew with the support of the Redemptorists and Catholic laity throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
By 1960, interest in religious life grew, enrollment was up and 116 seminarians were due in the fall, leaving no room for the retreat program in the seminary. To accommodate the thriving retreats, the Redemptorists purchased a portion of the Gen. Otto H. Falk estate on Crooked Lake. Retreats resumed in 1961 after the estate was remodeled and later, a 58-room building was erected to house retreatants.
On Oct. 12, 1963, the first retreat in the newly constructed building was offered to 91 retreatants. The center was dedicated in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
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 chapel. Individuals desiring more seclusion can spend private 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.
To commemorate the 87 years of preaching lay retreats in Oconomowoc and the 50-year anniversary of the founding of the retreat center, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki presided at an afternoon Mass to a standing room only crowd on Sunday, July 17.
According to business manager, Susan Ristow, the overflow crowd followed the eucharistic celebration on a monitor from the library, dining room and hallway.
“The archbishop praised the good work of the Redemptorists in reaching out to the most abandoned, helping them be closer to God, and offering solid spiritual nourishment as St. Alphonsus Ligouri had done,” she explained. “He spoke of the message of Alphonsus, who preached of a God ‘crazy with love’ for all persons.”
According to Ristow, the retreat center is a popular destination for church groups and individuals.
If you want to go:
Redemptorist Retreat Center
Directed retreat: 7 nights,
Retreat fees include room, board, and materials
“We have lay men and women, men and women religious, high school Kairos groups, religious groups and organizations of all denominations who come here,” she said. “We offer a variety of themes to meet the many needs of the individuals’ spirituality. It is a time to be renewed and celebrate the beauty and wonder of God’s love and the gift of peace God desires us to possess. Many retreatants tell us of the peace, renewal and powerful healing that takes place within. They return home and tell others of their great experience.”
In residence at the center are three retired priests, two priests who frequently preach at the retreats and Redemptorist Br. Gerry Patin, director of the retreat center.
Some of the retreats offered include weekend men’s silent retreats, women’s weekend silent retreats, weekend retreats for married couples, and recent offerings for fathers and sons, and another for mothers and daughters.
Four retreats in the summer are designated for women religious. Additionally, retreats are available for active priests and retired priests. Other offerings are contemplative retreats, Holy Week retreats, days of prayer throughout the year, private retreats for men and women, Celtic spirituality, directed retreats, Kairos retreats, as well as retreats for post-abortive healing, and members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon.
Upon completion of the retreats, a usual response is, “’I wish I had known about this retreat center before in my life and how wonderful it is to have a retreat in this busy and hectic world,’” explained Br. Gerry who leads the retreat team with Fr. Jim White, Fr. Ed Vella and Franciscan Sr. Susan Fischer.
“Once people attend one of our retreats, they are hooked and return year after year,” said Br. Gerry. “I always say that miracles always happen on a retreat. When someone gives themselves time away to renew their love for God, then change will take place in their souls and lives. A person really deserves a retreat. Some of the people coming on retreat have been attending from the beginning of our center, 50 years ago. It is a shame that we sometimes feel that the retreat center is the best kept secret in the Oconomowoc area and the archdiocese area.”