Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 31, 2004
Discover Sanctum Retreat
Tucked away in a carolin forest this new retreat offers spiritual sanctuary
By BILL GLEN
Hidden in the depths of pristine forest, free of cell phones and surrounded by the majesty of nature, Sanctum Spiritual Retreat Centre west of Caroline offers a retreat with a difference.
WCR Staff Writer
The Raven River meanders throughout the property. Trout are spotted frequently. Plans are underway to build several footbridges and four looping paths. Three hermitages will be constructed.
The retreat house, with a towering stone fireplace, is in place. It will be a gathering point for prayer and discussion and a large 27-bedroom lodge and chapel are currently under construction.
This isolated spiritual refuge is the creation of Mariette and Kristoph Dobrowolski.
"What we have here typifies creation," Kristoph said. "We have a beautiful, mature forest and the river. This is a rich location for a display of God's handiwork. Going to places of refuge and solitude is a very important part of Christianity. Jesus said to go up the mountain and rest awhile, calling his followers not to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, but to take time to rest before returning to their day-to-day relationships.
Clarity comes from stillness
"It is important to take time to centre oneself. Like a mountain pond, there is great clarity in a still place. And when it is churned up, it becomes difficult to see through it," he said. "One of the beautiful fruits of spiritual retreat is the clarity of what it is God wants from you."
After several years serving as full-time retreat ministers at Mount St. Francis Retreat in Cochrane, Mariette and Kristoph decided to provide people with this retreat location when the Franciscans announced they were downsizing Mount St. Francis.
"In our pause, God meets us, as he does in our business," said Mariette, a former school teacher who has a master's degree in theology.
"That personal conversation between ourselves and God, and the maturing of our being, is a journey that has its valleys and its mountaintops.
"Everyone who comes away from the retreat is going to be at a different point in their journey. What a retreat is about is like life. It is a mystery to be lived."
When the Franciscans decided to end their overnight, weekend retreat program, Mariette and Kristoph wanted to offer something not only to complement what retreats remained, but to offer something a little different.
"Because Mariette and I worked at Mount St. Francis for many years, some people are drawing the conclusion that the Franciscans are opening this retreat," said Kristoph, former department head of religious studies at St. Mary's High School in Calgary.
"We are third order Franciscans but we aren't the first order who own Mount St. Francis. In no way are we intent upon replacing Mount St. Francis. Although they are not closing their retreat, they did send out a notice that they are downsizing.
"Mariette and I are not competing with them. Rather, we are acting in harmony with them. What we are doing is trying to keep the retreat movement alive and vibrant in the province and to fill the void created by the closure or downsizing of other centres," he said.
Sanctum Retreat is a three-phase project which includes a partially cleared 40-acre parcel which enjoys the use of an adjacent 20-acre wooded lot belonging to the Crown. Sanctum is currently negotiating to acquire property to bring the site up to some 100 acres.
The centre is to officially open July 23 when Archbishop Thomas Collins is slated to celebrate Mass with a blessing of the chapel.
"Something nice that has been happening lately is that people have been coming from the local area to help in any way they can," Kristoph said.
"A neighbour is serving as head carpenter for the entire project. He is installing century-old oak doors in the chapel from a convent in Saskatchewan."
The chapel will accommodate 50 people. Archbishop Collins has given permission for Mass to be held and Confessions to be heard for retreatants only. Regular Sunday Mass will continue at St. Joseph Parish in Caroline.
With a stunning view of a small clearing and large spruce trees, the chapel will be fitted with a blonde poplar plank floor hewn from local trees.
Mariette was instrumental in designing the lodge, with peaceful reflection and simplicity in mind. Each of the 27 bedrooms will have a bed, desk, toilet and sink. Twelve of the rooms can accommodate couples. Access to private showers is off the main hallways. With the hermitages, capacity is 44 people.
The use of natural light is prevalent. The main heat source will be in-floor, hot water heating rather than forced air, because it is quieter. The building was designed to help people look into themselves, not focus on the amenities, Mariette says.
Cell phones don't work
She also pointed out that cell phones do not work on site, which is ideal for a silent retreat. There is also a large food service area and solarium that Kristoph calls the star gazing room. He says the reason they are starting the retreat centre is simple. Because there is a need.
"It's been said that when talent meets a need you have vocation. We believe that with our skills and background, and with many supporters encouraging us, we can help to offer this gorgeous facility," he said.
"There have been so many providential moments along the way that show us God is at work here. We were able to put together $1.7 million in six months for this project through fundraising, financing and private donations. Archbishop Collins, Bishop Fred Henry and the Franciscans are all delighted we are doing this. There is a need for a new facility, especially in central Alberta."
"We are trying to add to what is," Mariette said. "Every retreat has its own niche, just as our retreat will have its own unique mandate."
There are alternate themes prepared to suit a particular retreat, whether it is a Christian retreat, or a 12-step serenity group gathering, or something for couples.
"If it is a men's retreat or a women's retreat, there is a mix of ages and a mix of journeys," Mariette said. "Some are coming during a positive time in their lives and some are coming during a distressed time in their lives. The breadth of the conference has to speak to the human journey regardless of where a person is at. It gets narrowed depending on what the group is."
With 51 retreats already booked ahead of a waiting list, response to the retreat centre has been promising.
"The demand is there," Kristoph said.
"More and more is being written about spiritual rejuvenation," Mariette said. "Corporations are sending their employees on retreats because of stress in the workplace. It's meeting the needs of the secular world."
Sanctum will be a bridge between secular society and organized religion, Kristoph says. Fallen-away Catholics, for example, will often find their way back to the Church with the help of a spiritual retreat.
Generally, $200 to $300 per person is the suggested offering for a weekend retreat. Retreat passes for $150 are available until July 1, which are good until January 2010.
Sanctum also offers mid-week retreats and silent seven-day individually directed retreats.
For additional information or to register for a retreat, call 1-888-442-0285.
The website is www.sanctumretreat.ca.