Back from the Cloistered Life

Retreat CenterWould you believe that I went on a spiritual retreat at a cloistered monastery?  Well, if you believe that one, would you believe that they let me leave?

It’s all true.  Last week I headed up to the mountains of central PA to the St. Gabriel’s Retreat House in Clarks Summit, PA.  My cohorts in crime retreat were friends from my monthly prayer group.  We’ve been meeting together for over 2 years now and after an overnight retreat last spring, we decided to do a longer retreat this fall.  I’m telling you, St. Gabriel’s is one of the best-kept secrets in PA.  I understand that the weekends are quite busy but we were there mid-week and we had the entire retreat center to ourselves.    The other side of the facility houses a chapel and the Passionist nuns.

Crucifixtion Scene inside EntranceThe nuns…..oh, my!  What can I say other than, they were great!  We mainly interacted with Sister Regina (in her 80’s and going strong), and Sister Olive Ann (their blogmaster).  Sister Regina is still baking the St. Gabriel’s bread that has made the cloister well-known in the area.  Delicious.  And her wit…..wow!  Despite the fact that she has done several stints as Mother Superior herself, we see her more as a young Maria in “The Sound of Music.”  I’ll bet she has kept things hopping over the years at the cloister.  Sister Olive very graciously took us Protestants under her tutelage for the daily prayers and made sure that we knew what pages to go to for the readings  and what hymns to sing.

Snack TableThe email that our group’s organizer sent out as we prepared to head up for our retreat told us to bring snacks to share.  Does this table look like we took those instructions to heart?  I mean, we had enough to feed an army.  It was almost embarrassing, considering that there were only 6 of us there.  And we each had our own private room with sink.  Plus we didn’t even have to cook our own meals.  Those were provided by the retreat house staff.  The food was simple but delicious.  Any time I don’t have to cook but can concentrate on other things is a plus in my book.

We had debated whether or not to plan group activities once we got there but we decided to leave it up to each individual as to what we wanted to do.  Most of us found places of solitude on the grounds or in our rooms and read, prayed or just sat quietly and listened, something that we don’t have much chance to do these days.  Mary StatueThere were statues scattered about the grounds as well as benches that were perfect for contemplation and soaking up the sun.    There is even a labyrinth there that you can walk, if so inclined.  One morning some of the group came bursting in to tell Paper Wasp Nestme about a huge “nest” that they had found attached to one of the windows outside.  They thought it might be a bird’s nest.  When I went out to see it, I saw bees buzzing around it and going into it.  It was some kind of paper wasp nest or insect nest.  I sure wasn’t going to get any closer to find out but I did take a picture of it and show it to the nuns who were amazed.

Our Retreat Group #2All too soon, it was time to pack up and head back home.  I think I need more retreats like this.  It’s quite refreshing to be able to just slow down the pace a bit and spend time with God.  And I even got blessed by a priest.  My sister-in-law, Jeanie would be thrilled for me.

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