A retreat ministry flourishes

This was not exactly a “second” homily, but Marie Enright was speaking from the heart at the end of a Mass Feb. 22 celebrating the rededication of the former Cenacle Retreat House in Metairie as the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat House.

Enright was among many women involved from the beginning at the Cenacle, which meant going door-to-door in their neighborhoods to sell “bricks” as a fund-raising project that helped get the retreat center for women open in 1958 under the operation of the Religious Sisters of the Cenacle.

A needed spiritual oasis

Before the final blessing from Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Enright told the overflow congregation of 150 people how much the Cenacle had meant to her. She was the mother of five young daughters in the early 1960s when her husband surprised her one day by packing a suitcase for her.

She thought he might be taking her on a vacation to Las Vegas.

“That’s where I felt I needed to go,” Enright said, laughing.

He had other ideas.

“He saw that I needed to come out here and called and made the reservation for me,” Enright said. “He said, ‘Come with me. Your mother’s coming out to help me with the kids, but I’m taking you some place.’”

When she arrived at the Cenacle, Enright recalls checking in and then being assigned to the St. Thomas room.

“They put me in ‘Doubting Thomas’ room,” she said. “I said, ‘Come on, you’re trying to tell me something.’ My husband knew I needed a quiet time with the Lord. It was an awesome experience after I settled in.”

Need to continue ministry

Archbishop Aymond said it was critical for the archdiocese to purchase the Cenacle from the sisters last June in order to continue a vital retreat ministry for women. The sisters had announced they had to withdraw from the retreat ministry due to lack of personnel to staff it.

Citing Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount – the Gospel reading chosen for the  Mass – Archbishop Aymond said many women have come to the retreat center weary or burdened but have left refreshed following a weekend of spiritual nourishment.

“This is God’s dream house,” Archbishop Aymond said. “Some of those who enter this retreat house come poor in spirit, and they leave enriched with God’s love and compassion. Many come here in sorrow, but while here they are touched by God’s comfort.

“Certainly there are those who come here tired and lonely and maybe feeling insulted and broken, and while they are here in prayer and with the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance and  spiritual direction, they are touched by God and given new strength. Yes, this is a sacred place. It is holy ground that shouldn’t be used for anything else except to continue this ministry and the mission that was begun here 55 years ago.”

Women ‘need to feel loved’

Susan Rodriguez, an affiliate of the Cenacle Sisters, said she was thrilled the archdiocese had made a commitment to keep the retreat house open because it is so badly needed. Rodriguez oversees retreats for women who have been homeless and who have suffered with addictions.

“Women need to feel loved,” said Rodriguez, a parishioner of St. Philip Neri Parish. “Women are all about love. Everything women do is motivated by love. They need to feel that they are loved as well. They come here to reconnect with the love of God, to connect with God’s embrace, to listen to the heart of God telling them how much they are loved.”

Dr. Judith Miranti, professor emeritus of education at Our Lady of Holy Cross College, first came to the Cenacle for a silent retreat in her senior year at Holy Angels Academy. She had missed her earlier senior retreat because of illness.

“I think women need their space, too,” Miranti said. “We’ve got to find our inner, sacred space. The aesthetics here are perfect. When you walk on the levee, it’s just so peaceful.”

Dr. Paul Ceasar, the director of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat House, said he hoped the programs of retreat and spiritual enrichment will continue to be a blessing to the archdiocese.

“This is a very holy place,” Ceasar said. “I’ve always said, ‘If these walls could speak.’ There’s been a lot of healing here and a lot of renewal and transformation. We’re very blessed to have this facility.”

The archdiocese is working with potential buyers of an eight-acre parcel of the grounds in hopes of  keeping  the area green space. The effort is being launched by Metairie Sanctuary on the Lake.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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