Three generations of the Scheliga clan take in the Kolping Society’s retreat at Marylake in King City, Ont. They are, from left, Peter Scheliga, Werner Scheliga, Ryan Kleinau and Tom Kleinau. Photo courtesy of Werner Scheliga

Passing the faith down the line

  • September 26, 2012

King City, Ont. - Every time Werner Scheliga drives away from a weekend at Marylake’s Our Lady of Grace Shrine, he leaves feeling enriched and enlightened. But 55 retreats ago, enrichment and enlightenment were not his primary concern.

It was 1956 and Scheliga had recently arrived in Canada from Germany. At just over 20 years old, he hardly spoke a word of English and knew no one. Before he left his homeland, where he was a Catholic youth leader, he was given only one name to contact — Fr. Schindler at St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Toronto.

Schindler helped Scheliga find a room and support within the community. Many other men attending the church were in a similar situation as the young German. Under Schindler’s guidance, Scheliga joined the Toronto chapter of the Kolping Society that was founded the year before, and through the society he was invited to the group’s first retreat at Marylake, which is run by a community of Augustinians. 

Scheliga had never attended a retreat, but went on faith that what others told him was true.

“At the time, I did not know how important Marylake would become in my life,” he said.

Right away, he found the place “had a very homey and secure and pleasant feeling.” The first five or six retreats Scheliga attended were always in German, which was a welcome convenience to the novice English speaker. And though he did not easily identify with the older priests, younger ones eventually replaced their predecessors to the liking of the young Scheliga.

The current retreat program for the Kolping Society starts on a Friday in April with dinner and ends the following Sunday with lunch. The weekend is filled with themed talks, the opportunity for confession, Mass, group discussions, adoration of the blessed sacrament and personal time for reflection.
Scheliga has been retreat captain for more than 25 years.

With retreats, he sees his mission as helping “other men, young or old, to attend the retreats in Marylake to find comfort  and to receive strength and support.” He has travelled to many countries, including China, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Argentina, but “every year when I went (to Marylake), I felt closer to God than anywhere else,” he said.

Today, at age 76, Scheliga is married with two children, six grandchildren and has been retired for about a decade after running his own business for 30 years. But in his earlier days, he struggled with whether he should leave Canada and head back to Germany, and it was going on retreat that helped him solve such fork-in-the-road life decisions.

“As you go through life, you look for answers, especially as a young person,” said Scheliga. “And you look for a sign of heaven and somebody that helps you make up your mind. Which way do I go? Left or centre?”

At Marylake, beyond the greenery of overhanging trees, the seclusion from city life and the peacefulness, it’s a place to discuss the issues of life normally left unspoken with friends.

“Many Catholics don’t necessarily tell their friends that they are practising Catholics,” said Scheliga. “You keep that privately to yourself.”
But at Marylake, Scheliga can talk openly about his struggles and his faith. In turn, his fellow retreatants and Catholic friends can openly offer up their thoughts and solutions.

“I always found the answers that I’d been looking for,” Scheliga said.

He also found the “strength and support to master all the aspects of life and to believe in our Lord.” And with this strength, he has solved the questions that he focussed on while on retreat: to stay in Canada or return to Germany, to extend his professional education, to get married and whom to marry, to purchase a house, to have children, to start a business, to help his kids with their education, to purchase a cottage, to support his grandchildren, when to retire, how to give thanks and more.

He goes back year after year to thank God and because it’s “just like going home to your parents once in a while.” He feels as if he’s 100 to 200 km away from home. So the half-hour commute from where he lives in Toronto’s east end is worth the opportunity to temporarily “switch off” from the busyness of life.

“I think we all have to walk away from our daily chores from time to time,” he said.

Scheliga’s son and son-in-law have attended the retreat with him for the past 20 years and, recently, his grandson has joined them when his school schedule permits.  

Over the years, fellow retreatants have died and the retreat group he captains is in the process of merging with other groups. But for Scheliga, “Marylake has been and still is a source to find inner strength, comfort and peace and I will support it as long as I live.”

And when he arrives home from his three-day retreat, feeling great, Scheliga hugs his wife and knows he is happy for what he has.


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