Oasis in the city

July 20-Aug. 2, 2006
Oasis in the city
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Christ the King Retreat and Conference Center offers respite for the weary

Sister Anne Marie Moran, DC, had visited Christ the King Retreat and Conference Center in Syracuse for a number of years. This July 8-15, she visited the retreat center once again, along with some other members of her order, the Daughters of Charity, of Cohoes, N.Y. “Coming here is like coming to a bit of heaven,” remarked Sister Ann Marie. “It’s just so peaceful.”

That week, the Daughters of Charity attended conferences and filled their days with prayer and contemplation at the retreat center. Christ the King Retreat and Conference Center provides opportunities and an environment for spiritual, personal and professional growth, healing and peace. The center is a few miles away from downtown Syracuse, yet it sits secluded on top of six acres of rolling hills. Visitors to the center often return to experience the unique atmosphere, which is quiet and contemplative. Past visitors have remarked that the peaceful surroundings are conducive to prayer and reflection.

Marianne Carbone, administrative assistant at the center, said the center provides an invaluable service. “Sometimes people just want to get away for the day,” said Carbone. “When they are here, they walk through the gardens and sit in the chapel. If we have lunch available the day they are here, they can eat lunch or they can bring their lunch.”

In addition to personal retreats, the center facilitates business meetings or retreats, workshops and seminars, staff development and trustee and board meetings. Overnight accommodations are available for up to 65 people and a full dining facility is available. Beautifully-landscaped, spacious grounds surrounding the building include 32 memorial gardens. An Olympic-sized swimming pool is also part of the landscape. Opposite the swimming pool sits a pond, and the bricks surrounding the pond were purchased by people in memory of their loved ones. Brightly-colored flowers are interspersed throughout the grounds. There is a wooded area on the property where people can witness a stunning view of the nearby hills. A greenhouse is situated on the grounds and is used to grow the flowers seen throughout the landscape. The All Saints Terrace is surrounded by evergreen trees. Also included on the grounds are the Stations of the Cross. Christ the King Retreat and Conference Center was originally a former private home built in 1934 for the daughter of a wealthy Syracuse businessman. It was designed by architect Webb Moulton and built in the grand style of the 1930’s with high ceilings, a sprawling spiral staircase and stained glass windows. Marble and beautiful wood accents are located throughout the home.

In 1944, following the death of the owners, the home was purchased by the Jesuits. On Nov. 10, 1944, the Jesuits opened Christ the King Retreat House. During the first year of operation there were 48 retreats and the total number of retreatants (all men) reached 1,000. In 1955, the bedroom wing was added along with the sacristy and the downstairs conference room. The chapel was enlarged. The dining room and kitchen were moved from the first floor to the new area downstairs. The swimming pool was also added. In 1994, the Diocese of Syracuse assumed responsibility for the retreat house from the Jesuits, completely renovating the building and the grounds. The diocese opened the retreat house to men and women, youth groups, groups of all religious denominations and business and corporate groups.

Father Michael Carmola has served as director of the center for the past 12 years. He was asked to serve by Bishop Joseph O’ Keefe. “It’s been a great experience to see how the Spirit has worked in the place,” said Father Carmola. “We started out with very few people coming and the attendance just grew and grew.” Today, the center averages 10,000 visitors per year. Father Carmola said that Bishop O’Keefe wanted to have a place for priests to go to on their day off, or if they just wanted to get away for a day to catch up on their work or sleep, or to pray. “He wanted to make sure that the priests were always welcome here, and today we continue to offer that opportunity to them,” said Father Carmola. Carbone said some priests visit the retreat house right before Lent or before Advent in order to prepare their readings for the season.

Father Carmola stressed the importance of taking advantage of the opportunity for respite. “It’s a paradox of today — people probably need places like this more than they ever needed them before,” remarked Father Carmola. “Yet they find it the hardest to carve that time out to experience the church’s gift to its people. I call it a spiritual vacation. The church offers these special places to its people. We have Stella Maris Retreat House and Christ the King Retreat and Conference Center in our diocese. The idea is to offer places where people can get away. Christ said, ‘Come aside and rest awhile.’ There’s a need for silence and reflection. Father Canice Connors, OFM Conv., who is pastor at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Syracuse, starts his retreats by saying, ‘The reason why people like retreats is to remember what they have forgotten.’”

Father Carmola said Bishop O’Keefe’s vision was to lessen the strain on the declining number of priests because it was becoming more difficult for them to maintain all of their responsibilities. He felt that the retreat center could also be a place where programs could be offered, thereby lessening the burden of the parishes. “Each year, we offer the RCIA a retreat a few weeks before the Easter Vigil,” said Father Carmola. “This is just one example of what his vision was. We also offer a parish staff night.” Many other programs are offered at the center. The Pathways to Prayer program is held on the first and third Monday of each month. All are invited to an hour of prayer within a group setting. Also offered are weekend retreats for persons in recovery, marriage encounter weekends, days of renewal for those separated or divorced and men’s retreats, among others.

Father Carmola said the staff at the retreat center is very dedicated. “Their commitment is great,” commented Father Carmola. Past visitors of the center have remarked that the staff is gracious, welcoming and very accommodating. “We encourage people to come and we are happy to give them a tour,” said Father Carmola.

For more information about the Christ the King Retreat and Conference Center, call (315) 446-2680.

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