New Siena Retreat Center director reaches out to youth

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Open a heart.

Inspire a mind.
Transform a soul.
Change a life…

RACINE — These words capture the desire of Claire Anderson, the new director of retreat programs at Siena Retreat Center, to affect the hearts and minds of individuals, so that they, in turn, can be a positive influence in their families, communities, organizations and the world.
SnowWalkThis is a view from the woods at the Siena Retreat Center in Racine, a center run by the Racine Dominicans that has served individuals and groups for more than 40 years. (Submitted photo courtesy Siena Retreat Center)Whether it is the waves crashing upon the shoreline of Lake Michigan, acres of sun-kissed lawn, the tranquil chapel, or the mammoth labyrinth, all offer a setting in which God can reach the busiest hearts. For the first time in the center’s 40-year history, a layperson is director of retreat programs, a ministry of the Racine Dominicans. Anderson replaces Racine Dominican Sr. Rita Lui who retired after 20 years as the center’s director.
Before assuming this role, Anderson, 41, served as pastoral associate at St. Robert Parish, Shorewood. There she oversaw the congregation’s social justice and outreach ministries, including senior ministry, a partnership with a school in Uganda, referrals to emergency services, and assisted with the coordination of liturgies and Christian formation. In addition, she served as director of youth and young adult ministry at St. Robert and looks forward to incorporating this population into programs at the retreat center.
“I have spent a lot of time considering how to integrate youth and young adults into the program,” said Anderson, who is working on the 2012-13 retreat year, which runs from September through August. “I am working with our board and staff to offer retreats that aim to address the spiritual needs and hungers of younger generations, in addition to the generations who might be more familiar with retreats. In my view, so much in the world is shifting very quickly – technology, the environment, the economy and so much is interconnected, that it takes time to sort all that out and to find meaning. I want young people to know that they are especially welcome here.”
In addition to attracting younger retreatants through providing younger speakers and age-appropriate topics, to boosting the center’s online presence, Anderson plans to research and find the means necessary to satisfy the spiritual hunger among those in a wide variety of demographics.
Anderson holds master’s degrees in divinity studies and European history, and a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education. She is completing the ecumenical doctorate of ministry program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Her expertise and sensitivity to Sr. Lui and desire to grow the program are encouraging to Sr. Kathy Slesar, Racine Dominican vice president.
“I was impressed with how she expressed her desires and hopes for this ministry, along with the respect she has for Rita and the foundation that Rita built,” said Sr. Slesar. “Claire brings a wide range of skills and lots of educational experiences. She also has a great ability to work with a wide range of personalities.”
While modern technology was intended to make life easier, it has rebounded to create a faster, more frenetic paced, stress-filled society leaving people to believe that setting aside time for a retreat is a frivolous and unproductive use of their lives. This is a misnomer, according to Anderson.
“Many people view a retreat as a luxury, thinking, ‘I couldn’t possibly afford the time.’ Those who come here for some time away, however, change the paradigm to ‘I cannot afford not to come – to contemplate life, to pray, to prioritize or reprioritize my life,’” she explained. “Publicizing this paradigm is a priority for me. An online video and a new website address, http://www.sienaretreatcenter.org  , are steps toward this goal.”
To reach the needs of those seeking more meaning and the desire to grow closer to God, the center offers 37 retreats through August, ranging from an evening to a week. Approximately, 6,000 people visit it each year.
“We offer private retreats, with or without meeting with a spiritual director, and group retreats on a wide range of topics, including the spirituality of certain saints, prophetic justice, discernment, artistic expression and many others,” said Anderson. “In any given year, there are retreats especially for men, for women and for couples.”
While the Siena Center is Catholic facility, the retreats are available to anyone of any faith tradition, including those who have no affiliation to a faith tradition, as long as they are open to spiritual ideas.
“Those with no faith tradition also get a lot out of the retreats we offer,” said Anderson. “This is an incredibly active place. From the justice and rights commission to daily community prayer to the senior companioning, and ESL (English as a Second Language) programs that are also housed at the Siena Center, this is a very vibrant place.”
The Siena Retreat Center offers spiritual direction and training, directed retreats, and an extensive contemporary bookstore. The center also hosts the gathering and retreats of other organizations and groups focused on spiritual wholeness.
“We also offer a nationally-known Spiritual Guidance Training Program, which is currently inviting applications,” said Anderson, adding, “We are always quick to remind people that everyone who comes through our doors is held in prayer.”

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