Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 21, 2003
Retreat center marks 50 years
Oblates founded centre which is now run by a lay board
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"The way in which women have enhanced (the centre's) beauty is quite amazing."
- Fr. Camille Piche
"It's still a place to nurture the soul," noted Father Camille Piche, superior of the Oblates of Grandin Province.
The Oblates began to let go of the facility some 20 years ago and transferred it to lay hands in 1991. By 1996 there were no Oblates on staff. Now the centre is operated by a 10-member lay board, which this year assumed full financial responsibility for the facility. The Oblates continue to be involved as sponsors and retain ownership of the building.
Piche believes the centre is in good hands. "Since it has been under the direction of women, the feminine touch is evident (at the centre)," the priest said. "The way in which women have enhanced its beauty is quite amazing. In fact, every time you go there you see something new. Even from the outside there is a touch of class, a touch of beauty."
The priest points to the professionally landscaped gardens surrounding the centre and the appealing decoration inside. Walls are painted in bright, vivid colours and some have symbols drawn on them. Icons, carvings, statues and paintings from local artists can be found all over the centre. There is even a water fountain in one of the gardens.
There are 60 rooms in the two-storey facility, including five complete suites fully decorated according to a theme. The Garden Room, for example, is decorated with a garden scene. The Shalom Room is a peaceful room painted with warm, calming blue colours. The Eagle Wings Room is a rustic country-style room painted in warm colours. The building is divided in several wings, each wing painted in different colours such as the Purple Wing and the Orange Wing. Peaceful seating areas can be found on both the first and second floors.
"The women there make everything appealing. Even if it is an old door they have it painted a different way and it looks nice," Piche laughed.
Had the Oblates continued to operate it, the centre would be a more or less plain facility, the priest said. "We would have just the essentials, nothing else. We make vows of poverty, so even if we just have a square box, we are happy."
Sandy Prather, the centre's first lay director since 1991, said she gets a lot of comments from people who know what the centre was like before. "We try to make it beautiful but simple," she said. A few years ago they put in large windows to open the facility up to the outside. And she said they began professional landscaping of the site to show that "God's creation is beautiful" and to allow participants to enjoy that creation.
Apart from the 60 bedrooms, 28 of which have double beds, the centre has two large meeting rooms with a seating capacity for 65 people each and two small meeting rooms seating 15 each. The dining room seats 70 people and the chapel another 70. There is also a smaller chapel for private prayer and meditation on the second floor.
"The Star of the North is just a wonderful place to find quiet and spirituality," noted board chair Alice Gagne of Edmonton. "It gives people an opportunity to get away from the daily routine, the rat race and to go back inside themselves and reconnect."
Gagne, board chair for the last four years, recalls making a weekend retreat at the centre at age 16 some 45 years ago. Since then she has always had a special place in her heart for the Star of the North. The retreat not only brought peace to her heart but also gave direction and meaning to her life. "It was very enlightening," she recalled. "I still remember it as if was yesterday."
As Prather pointed out, the Star has seen a lot of changes over the past five decades. For the first 20 years, the Star of the North was very connected with parishes, having people in every parish responsible for inviting parishioners to attend the preached retreats offered at the centre.
In addition to preached and silent retreats, the Oblates would also host conferences and offer an opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation, the Eucharist and shared prayer.
During weekdays they offered retreats for special interest groups such as men, women, nurses, handicapped people and businessmen. On weekends, they offered preached retreats for Catholic parishioners. Originally there were 40 bedrooms but the centre became so popular that in the early 1960s the Oblates added an extra wing to bring it up to the current 60 bedrooms and suites.
Currently there is a movement away from the traditional silent preached retreat to the more participatory workshop type of retreat, noted Prather. Seminars and training sessions are on the increase with most of the facilitators now being lay people.
"We still do a lot of faith education and spirituality-based work but we don't target the parishes anymore," she said. "We advertise through the parishes but we don't have people in the parishes recruiting for us like it used to be. We develop our own programs for special interest groups, such as people interested in social justice or Scripture or prayer."
In the beginning, the Anglican Church had its retreats at the Star of the North. In the last 10 years ecumenical use has broadened incredibly, said Prather, noting that in addition to the Anglicans, groups from the Lutheran, United, Baptist and Reformed churches use the centre regularly.
Other groups that use the centre regularly for faith formation include the Formation for Pastoral Service program, youth groups, school staff groups, self-help groups, Engaged Encounter and Marriage Encounter. Individuals and couples who want to get away from the daily routine and in touch with the spiritual also make use of the facility regularly.
The Star still offers special retreats for business groups but the bulk of its use, 80 to 85 per cent, is religious. "In the last two years there has been a number of First Nations groups using the facility and really liking it," Prather noted. "They do training and healing workshops and like the peace and the quiet that the centre offers. There are no phones or TVs here."
About 8,000 people use the retreat centre every year with the most popular retreats being R&R Days, a two-day a month retreat that focuses on rest, relaxation and renewal and attracts about 140 people a month. The retreat, led by Pallotine Father Eric Riechers, goes on for nine months of the year and includes talks on topics such as the Sermon of the Mount and the Beatitudes followed by silence, rest, reflection and prayer.
Catherine Nabozniak has been taking retreats at the centre for about 20 years and has no plans to stop. She has taken weekend silent retreats as well as preached retreats, which she said have brought her close to God and made her more knowledgeable of her faith.
"I just like the homey atmosphere there," she said. "It's a very spiritual atmosphere. They've got this beautiful prayer chapel where I can go by myself and meditate. I feel very relaxed there, very close to God." And when she goes home after a retreat she said she feels "incredibly uplifted and at peace."
Nabozniak likes the Star's atmosphere so much she and her husband recently bought a gravesite at the cemetery adjacent to the centre. "I guess it's a very pastoral, homey, relaxed and spiritual setting and the staff there are very friendly, professional and hospitable."
Gagne, the board chair, said the Star of the North may have been around for a long time but it is still needed today. "I think is still very appropriate because people are in need of spiritual nurturing today as much as any time."
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.