New retreat center director eyes potential for growth

Story and Photos By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

The Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat Center in Metairie has just hired a new executive director to succeed Dr. Paul Ceasar as he transitions to retirement.

She is Shannon Haddad, who is thrilled to discover the strong women’s programming first established at the retreat center by the Cenacle Sisters, who opened the ministry in 1958. Haddad also is excited about forthcoming plans to invite others to experience “the quiet.”

“The center offers a place that allows people to get away from the busyness of their daily life and be able to come and really rest and encounter Christ in the peace and quiet here,” Haddad said. “I want to respect the traditions that are here but also open up space for new programming specifically for young adults and families.”

Deep-rooted faith

Originally from Florida, Haddad is steeped in the Catholic faith. She attended Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade and has led Catholic retreats, Bible studies and women’s programming through campus ministry at Florida State University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.

She was drawn back to school to learn more about Catholicism and has a master’s degree in theology from The Pontifical John Paul II Institute (with a concentration in marriage, family and bioethics) and a master’s from Notre Dame Seminary (with a concentration on systematic theology, biblical and historical theology).

She also taught religion for two years at Mount Carmel Academy.

Haddad believes God led her down her current path where she can meld her college degree in exercise science with her faith degrees.

“It was clear to see the way God has woven the path together in my studies,” she said.

Her wish list

With a strength of hers being a good listener, Haddad plans to brainstorm with staff for programming ideas. She is well aware of their wealth of experience; some staffers worked with the Cenacle Sisters and are committed to the mission of “offering a serene environment for spiritual contemplation.”

“Unplanned talks and Holy Spirit-led conversations with her coworkers” have been fruitful for Haddad. She said she senses their support of embracing varied center participants such as young adults – a priority for her.

Among her ideas for attracting young crowds are adding nights of praise, worship and adoration, bringing in vibrant speakers and offering evening Mass opportunities.

Long-term goals include spiritual opportunities for men, offering larger meeting space in a separate building and building cabins to blend in with the beautiful grounds.

Haddad said she will carefully implement anything new but can already feel the staff’s support for infusing new energy into the center.

“For me, the potential is huge,” she said. “There is so much we can do, and I’m excited about it.”

 

Welcomed at fundraiser

When she was hired this summer, Haddad made the analogy that she was walking to a door and didn’t know what was behind it.

“I had lots of questions, but I know the Lord was inviting me,” she said. “On day one, I burst through the door, and every moment offers new prospects.”

She’s enamored by the grounds and the programs and will not disrupt the lasting peace visitors say they gain here. She sees her job as assembling a puzzle “that’s all coming together to being about our mission” to reach as many people as possible.

The weekend that she, her husband Jordan and their daughter Lily moved back to New Orleans, Haddad met many supporters of the retreat center for the first time at its annual gala. She was amazed at the turnout.

“It was a great experience to see the support and dedication of the people (for the center) there,” she said.

Ceasar, who will return to being an active counselor, said he has been impressed with Haddad’s perceptiveness, new ideas and commitment to the Catholic Church.

He said Haddad’s hiring fulfills Archbishop Gregory Aymond’s desire to build on the strong foundation of the retreat center and “move it into a new era with a fresh perspective to attract a younger population” and families.

Haddad has a strong affinity for New Orleans, having met her husband while studying at Notre Dame Seminary and falling in love with the people and culture. She’s glad to be back.

“New Orleans has a way about it that connects you to it,” she said. “Once you’re in, you’re in.”

The Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat Center, dedicated to Our Lady of the Cenacle, has 48 private rooms for overnight stays, a chapel, rooms for reflection (including a library and parlor), a dining hall and offers 25 retreats, days of reflection and renewal annually and spiritual direction to people of all faiths. The center is also open to schools, groups and organizations desiring staff retreats. Call 887-1420 or visit www.arch-no.org/retreats.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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