Archdiocese sees retreat house as vital to its mission


    Fresh ministry ideas, fresh enthusiasm and even fresh paint are evident inside the iconic, white retreat house on Lake Pontchartrain, now called the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat House dedicated to Our Lady of the Cenacle.
    Wishing to maintain a retreat ministry targeted mainly to women, the archdiocese purchased the 19-acre site of the former Cenacle Retreat House from the Sisters of the Cenacle in June 2013 for $6 million. The religious community sold the retreat house, which they established in 1958, because of a declining number of sisters available to staff the center.
    The archdiocese’s investment is an indication of the importance of having a first-class retreat center for women and families within the archdiocese, said Dr. Paul (Buddy) Ceasar, the new executive director of the retreat house.
    “For the archdiocese to focus on ministering to women and their families is an essential commitment,” Ceasar said. “From here, we can think about how to expand it in a way to utilize the facilities more.”
Side parcel will be sold
    Of the 19-acre tract, 11 acres, including the main retreat house and the property nearest the house that extends to Lake Pontchartrain, will remain intact. An 8-acre parcel on the east end of the site – separated by a tree line from the main part of the property – will be sold for possible residential development.
    The proceeds of that sale will go toward defraying the cost of buying the retreat center from the Cenacle Sisters and to sustaining the retreat ministry, said archdiocesan spokeswoman Sarah McDonald. Ceasar said the 11-acre tract that remains intact is the property that has been used by retreatants to walk outside and prayerfully reflect on retreat topics.
    Ceasar said the center has retreats booked for most weekends through August, and many of the retreat leaders are those who have given retreats in previous years. New to the center’s ministry team will be three women, former members of the Intercessors of the Lamb religious community, who are discerning with Archbishop Gregory Aymond the possibility of forming a new, local religious community.
    “As part of the ministry team they will be living here, and they will be present during the retreats and for the different activities that we have,” Ceasar said. “Their physical presence will be very important.”
Three women discerning
    The three women – Noel Delery, Jenny Mansingh and Agnes Bitature – are working with the Archdiocesan Spirituality Center to gain certification as spiritual directors. Delery, who has directed retreats in the past, is a Baton Rouge native who lived for 18 years in New Orleans.
    “During the retreats, we will be greeting the retreatants as they arrive, and we’ll be very present to them throughout the weekend,” Delery said. “We’ll also be available for prayer ministry. We’ll be helping set up for prayer services, and we’ll certainly be interceding for them throughout the retreat that they will receive the graces that the Lord has for them at that time.”
    Mansingh also taught religion for several years at Pope John Paul II High School in Slidell and has a master’s degree in theology.  
    Delery said making a retreat or having a spiritual director can help a person “connect with the Lord and be more open to experiencing his word in your heart, to experiencing his love and growing in relationship with him.”
Serene setting helps
    She said the quiet setting of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat House nurtures a prayerful atmosphere. “Retreatants so often experience God through his creation, so getting outside can be very conducive to a deeper connection with the Lord,” Delery said.
    Since taking over on Nov. 1, Ceasar has concentrated on forming the ministry team, arranging the retreat schedule and sprucing up the public areas, meeting rooms and dining room with fresh paint and new furnishings.
    “The long-range plan would be freshen up the entire facility,” Ceasar said.
    The center also is available during the week for parish or school retreats, faculty in-service days or other programs that need a quiet, comfortable setting, Ceasar said.
    Many of the weekend retreat presenters will be returning this year. Former Archbishop Alfred Hughes is scheduled to give three retreats over the coming months. Other scheduled presenters include Jesuit Father Matthew Linn, Marianite Sister Judy Gomila, Jesuit Father Philip Chircop, Father Keith Hosey, Father Joseph Palermo, Father Joe Krafft, Jesuit Father Richard Buhler and Father Simeon Gallagher.
    Archbishop Gregory Aymond will celebrate a welcome Mass for the center Feb. 22 at 11 a.m. For more information on scheduled retreats, call Susan Halligan at 887-1420. Hospitality coordinator Dianne Cenac is available at the same number for booking parish or school meetings during the week.
    The full retreat schedule is available at www.arch-no.org.
    In the near future, the Catholic Counseling Service of the archdiocesan Family Life Apostolate will begin seeing its East Bank clients at the retreat center.
    Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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