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Center offers space for prayer, reflection just outside urban reach

Sat., Sept. 17, 2011

Deer prance past the brown chapel on the grounds of the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center on Sept. 9. Though development has moved closer, the center retains its natural splendor.
Deer prance past the brown chapel on the grounds of the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center on Sept. 9. Though development has moved closer, the center retains its natural splendor.

Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, which opened in 1959, remains frozen in time for some Catholics who did high school retreats there decades ago and haven’t returned since.

For some non-Catholics, it’s frozen in the perception that the center is for Catholics only.

Spreading the word about the retreat center’s modern reality is an exciting challenge for its development officer, Ann Price, a Presbyterian, and program coordinator Sister Mary Eucharista, a Catholic nun who wears the traditional habit.

Spend an afternoon with these two women and you’ll discover that Immaculate Heart Retreat Center:

Isn’t just for Catholics anymore.

“Our facility is open to everyone and anyone,” Eucharista says.

The center has hosted retreats for Evangelical churches, Lutherans, Presbyterians and many other Protestant denominations.

One day, Eucharista chatted with a retreatant from the Episcopalian church. The woman said: “I grew up always wanting to be a nun. Instead, I grew up to be a priest!”

They shared a laugh.

Many of the retreats on this year’s schedule are designed to help women, men and young people heal, regardless of their faith tradition. A weekend retreat on suicide bereavement, for instance, is open to anyone grappling with the aftermath of that horror.

Serenity retreats, for people in addiction recovery, are also popular. Addiction also knows no religious boundaries.

“Our concentration has been on healing on a variety of levels,” Eucharista says. “We have to try to be spiritually whole and how else to do that but to get away from the things fracturing us?”

Still has plenty of Catholic stuff, too.

The center’s mission statement says that it is “grounded in the Catholic tradition.” You see this when Catholic high school and college students fill up seven weekends for their traditional SEARCH retreats.

Couples engaged to be married in the Catholic church reserve the center several times a year for “engaged encounter” weekends.

The first Friday of each month, Spokane Diocese Bishop Blase Cupich celebrates 11:15 a.m. Mass, followed by lunch and a talk. There’s also an 8 a.m. Mass in the center’s chapel every day, and on Sundays the retreat center’s Masses are shown on Comcast Channel 14 at noon and 5 p.m.

Is set in stunning scenery.

When built 50 years ago, the retreat center was in the middle of nowhere. Now, busy South Hill arterials, such as Regal Street and 57th Avenue, lead there, but the minute you turn into the entrance on South Ben Burr Road, you see hills, prairie and far-as-the-eye-can-see vistas.

The center’s 13 acres are surrounded by 22 acres of land owned by Queen of Peace Cemetery. Deer graze a stone’s throw away from the front door. The wildlife sanctuary provides humans a sanctuary from frenetic life.

“People feel more uncertain now than they have in a long time,” Price points out. “This is a quiet, prayerful place where people could take a day or two – or a week – and be away from the things that worry them. People can come up anytime they wish to walk our grounds.”

Will custom-build a retreat for you.

Want to spend a few hours, a few days, even a week in an individual retreat, nothing formal? The center offers that.

It has about 85 rooms. Homemade meals, with fresh-baked rolls, breads and cookies, are included in the retreat price, which starts at $35 for a day of prayer. (An overnight stay, three meals included, costs $100.)

Many of the weekends fill up with group retreats, but there’s plenty of space during the week for custom-designed retreats for individuals, small groups and even companies hoping to do long-term planning in a peaceful setting.

“You can bring your own readings, or work with someone here to design a retreat,” Price says. “Who wouldn’t want a day to refresh with whatever spirituality refreshes you?”


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