Brother Alan Gaebel leads a group of people at Mount Alverno Retreat Centre. Photo by Michael Swan.

Retreat centre falls victim to rising costs

  • August 25, 2017

More than 45 years of quiet, peaceful work to help Catholics know themselves and their faith better ends Aug. 26 when Mount Alverno Retreat Centre closes its doors.

The Capuchin Franciscan retreat centre will hold an open house for friends and co-workers from 1-4 p.m. at 20704 Heart Lake Rd. in Caledon, Ont. New owners will redevelop the site as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility over the coming year.

The centre relied on a steady stream of high school retreats over the years, but those numbers fell as transportation costs rose.

“We were one of the very few retreat centres in Canada that was self-supporting, that wasn’t subsidized by a diocese or a religious community,” said Brother David Connolly. “We were kind of proud of that. But we needed 8,000 kids a year to make that line. There was one year, the highest was 11,000. We usually fluctuated between 8,500 and 9,500.”

But recent years saw the student retreat population fall to 6,000 as busing costs went up.

“The educational cuts have filtered down to the schools and less and less of them are booking,” Connolly said.

Connolly knows of at least one instance where the retreat centre saved a life. A teacher who arrived with her class for a Monday-to- Friday retreat in the early 1980s planned to commit suicide as soon as she returned home Friday afternoon.

“Because of tremendous abuse in the home, she just couldn’t tolerate it any more,” said Connolly. “But because of that week, she changed. Because of that week she said, ‘No, I have other options.’ Now this woman is alive. She’s now a psychotherapist and works with abused women. That’s what she’s good at.”

It was only years later that the teacher revealed how the retreat leaders had given her reason to live.

Mount Alverno began its life as a minor seminary — essentially a high school operated by Franciscans — in 1962. By 1970 minor seminaries were out of fashion and the school gave way to the new Capuchin retreat ministry.

As the student retreat population gradually fell, parish retreats never picked up the slack and weekend bookings also slid.

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