As many reasons for retreats as there are people

  • April 16, 2007
TORONTO - Ann Jacques had been away from the church for a long time when she answered an ad in the church bulletin to go on retreat.
“I had no idea of what to expect, but certainly it was a place that once I was there I knew it was where I needed to be,” said Jacques, a 67-year-old who works as a receptionist for the Etobicoke Services for Seniors.

There are as many reasons for why people go on retreats as there are people who make them, said Fr. John O’Brien, S.J., who directs Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Renewal Centre in Pickering, Ont.

“Some people want quiet and time to reflect on their lives and decide what God is wanting them to do,” said O’Brien.

Others need a break from the everyday to strengthen their prayer lives. Still others use retreats as a time to discern their vocation or a major life decision, he said. 

In Jacques’ case, one of her retreat experiences helped her overcome the loss of a job.

“I was given notice that my job of 35 years was going to end and it was during Lent and I was attending a (retreat) and I was able to grieve through the loss of my job and cope with the loss.”

Retreats also give Jacques direction. “Sometimes I’m floundering about the right decision to make and going to a retreat is a source of enlightenment,” said Jacques, who does retreats at Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre in Mississauga, Ont.

Many retreat centres offer spiritual direction during and after the retreat. 

Retreatants “need somebody to journey with them — a spiritual director. One that could help them through Scripture, name where God is calling them or how God is calling them,” said Ann Hales, a certified spiritual director who leads retreats at Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre. After Jacques had been attending the centre for a number of years she struck up an ongoing spiritual direction relationship with Hales.

O’Brien said while retreats are well worth the time, money and effort, there are roadblocks that get in the way for some people such as family commitments, cost or fear of the unknown.

Most retreat centres offer programs for people of all ages and some have programs for the entire family. 

For Tom and Cathy Knox and their three sons, setting aside time and money to attend yearly retreats at Villa Madonna Retreat Centre in Rothesay, N.B., has always been a priority.

“I’m going to spend my time and resources giving (my children) opportunities to grow in their faith. At the end of their life I want them to know the Lord. That’s why we go, to encounter the Lord,” said Tom Knox, from St. Stephen, N.B.

He and his wife have been going on retreat for 25 years, starting shortly after university when they got more involved in their faith lives. They started bringing their teenage sons on family self-guided retreat.  

“It’s investment of my time, investment of my money and hopefully it comes out in who I am as a husband, a caregiver. I see it as I owe it to my family. I’m much sweeter after.”

They have a loose daily schedule with morning, noon and evening family prayer time, recreational activity on the retreat grounds, play music and look for opportunities for adoration and Mass. 

Knox said some of his favourite memories are “just giving everyone an opportunity to speak to all the family members and what sort of gifts they see in one another, what they appreciate in one another.”

“Asking one another for forgiveness on retreat is kind of cool.... It builds you up as a family.”

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