Retreat house and conference center looks to attract more visitors

This breakout room is a good place for a meeting at Christ the King Retreat House and Conference Center at 500 Brookford Road in Syracuse. (Photo for Christ the King Retreat House and Conference Center | by Chuck Wainwright)

By Tom Maguire, Associate editor

At Christ the King Retreat House and Conference Center in Syracuse, sunlight scratches a bubble of fountain water as if trying to get inside.

There are no barriers for the public, however. The center invites not only religious gatherings and parish retreats, but also management seminars, business and professional meetings, professional continuing education, executive retreats, and training workshops.

The center is aiming to attract new visitors of all kinds, particularly Monday through Friday, with improvements made over the last year.

The retreat house was built in 1934 as a private residence. The property covers 3½ acres at 500 Brookford Road. In 1944, Father Robert Grewen purchased the house on behalf of the Jesuits, who opened Christ the King Retreat House in 1944. In 1994, the Diocese of Syracuse assumed responsibility of the retreat house from the Jesuits.

The grounds include an outdoor pool, landscaped gardens, open lawns, walking trails, and two Stations of the Cross, one inside and one outdoors.                   

Visitors can wander among the many kinds of trees and flowers and hear the unfamiliar calls of brightly colored birds. Depending on the season, one will see deer, wild turkeys, chipmunks, and squirrels.

All the rooms feature elegant furniture, modern windows, and a general air of comfort and cheerfulness. Even the radiators have been covered up. “Trying to make it a little more homey,” Marketing Director Barbara Shepard said.

There are nine double-bed rooms and 40 single-bed rooms. Most of the double-bed rooms have private baths. The house now offers first-floor accommodations for people who have disabilities.

Many writers are known to visit a small reading room where the leather easy chairs beckon and a large-print book is open to Psalm 55, where it says, “Entrust your cares to the Lord / and he will support you.”

The center is Wi-Fi accessible, and some rooms are set up for PowerPoint. “We just created a new conference room too,” retreat house Director Father John F. Rose said, “because of the demand; sometimes on the weekends, it got pretty strong.”

He said the center has repainted probably about 90 percent of the interior. The main dining hall has been updated, with a four-color pastel painting, like wallpaper. Also, the windows in the main dining hall are new, “and 40 new windows in our dormitory are all greening us,” Father Rose said. He explained that the windows have a glaze on the outside that prevents the hot rays of the sun from coming in.

“And we’ve put in all LED lighting, which has saved us thousands of dollars,” Father Rose said.

“I think we’re kind of an out-of-the-box conference facility,” Shepard said, “just because we’re not the usual venue. We’re not the usual conference site.”

“This is a unique setting for a conference,” Father Rose said. “People have set up a big tent in the back. It’s just a nice place to be able to invite people to.”

The retreat center is also proud of its buffet meals and its chef, David Forrest.         

“Christ the King Retreat House is quite proud of the changes we have made to our menu,” Shepard said. “We are serving healthier meals in order to be good stewards of the health of others. We accommodate most dietary restrictions.”

“We try to be very reactive to the groups that we have coming in,” Forrest said.

“I can do anything,” he said. “I’ve done just about everything at some point or other in the past. So it’s really not, I just cook Moroccan food, or Italian food, or French food. We really are in tune to our guests coming in and really try to do things seasonal and cater to them.”

Visitors can also lay aside their concerns about cost. “Our clientele, whether they’re religious sisters or priests or laity, we try to make it very affordable and very attractive,” Shepard said.

If an individual, group, or organization calls with a budget, the conference center will accommodate that budget, she said.

“And all of our rates are all-inclusive,” Shepard added. The rates include three meals, and the snacks, coffee, and juice are available at all times.

“There is a lot new here, in terms of physical improvements, but also programming,” Father Rose said.

An example of new programming is the Anthony DeMello Retreat Day with Sister Ellie Martinez. It is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6. The theme for the retreat is “A peace-filled life is possible regardless of what comes our way!” The offering of $35 includes lunch. Also new are weeklong silent directed retreats.

As much as the center caters to religious and business groups, it also welcomes individuals. People can just come for the day and walk the grounds, and they can make a donation if they want to.

“This offers a wonderful venue, in a quiet, peaceful setting,” Father Rose said. “It’s all windows surrounded by the beauty of creation and beauty of nature. Just a very relaxing place to get unplugged, disconnected from the workplace, and to be renewed and refocused and recharged.”

For rates, reservations, and a listing of events, call (315) 446-2680 or email ctkretreat@syrdio.org. Interested parties can also visit www.CTKretreat.com.

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