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Archdiocese purchases Cenacle Retreat House

Many in New Orleans and beyond can now breathe a sigh of relief. The Archdiocese of New Orleans is the new owner of the Cenacle Retreat House in Metairie.

“We are very pleased that the archdiocese is buying it, and our retreat ministry will continue,” said Cenacle Sister Rose Hoover, community leader since August 2012.

The archdiocese bought the 19-acre site that includes the main building housing the retreat center, a convent, meeting halls and 52 bedrooms. 

Immediate plans are to keep the retreat ministry open to serve the people of the archdiocese and beyond.

“I have great respect of the ministry of the Cenacle Retreat House and deep appreciation and affection for sisters,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said, mentioning a long-time connection with the order and the retreat ministry that includes attending and facilitating retreats.

“It is important for me that the ministry for women continues,” Archbishop Aymond added. “As we know, Manresa is the place used for most men who want to go on retreat. There should be a place for women. I want to be able to continue a ministry for women and their families. I am sure the retreat house will embrace other ministries.”

Retreats will continue
The Cenacle Retreat House has been a fixture in the archdiocese since it opened in 1958, first catering only to the spiritual needs of women and then expanding it to men. 

“We have had a certain emphasis for women since it began,” Sister Mary Sharon Riley, provincial councilor of the North American Province, said. “The women of the area realized they needed what this would give them.”

The decision in late 2012 to close the Metairie site was mainly due to the diminished number of Cenacle sisters available to operate the ministry, Sister Riley said. Only 95 sisters remain in the North American Province of the Cenacle Sisters, an international congregation.

“The principal reason is personnel,” Sister Riley said, “With the diminution of the number of sisters, we just don’t have the people.”

It is not easy for the sisters to leave their ministry. Sister Riley said they have built so many relationships over the years, often hearing from retreatants how Cenacle retreats have changed their lives and the way they live it, helping them deepen and become more fully rooted in faith. 

“We leave with real sadness.” Sister Riley said. “It’s hard to leave. The goodbyes are already in process. Each goodbye is painful.” 

The Cenacle plans a Mass of Thanksgiving Sept. 14 at 11 a.m. in the chapel, 5500 St. Mary St., Metairie. Archbishop Aymond will be the celebrant. A reception will follow. Sister Riley said Cenacle sisters who had previously worked at the Metairie site have been invited to the celebration.

Retreats will continue at the Cenacle through Aug. 17, and prayer enrollment (the public can still buy cards) through early October, Sister Riley said. The Cenacle Sisters are expected to vacate the property by the end of October.

She is confident the archdiocese will continue to meet the needs of those who come to the Cenacle for retreats, spiritual guidance, prayer enrollment and more.

“We have had a wonderful relationship with the archdiocese all the years we’ve been here,” Sister Riley said.  “Archbishop Aymond couldn’t have been kinder, and he’s brought a generous spirit. He is just so aware of the spiritual needs of the women of this archdiocese and the greater area. He has given himself to doing all he can so those needs are met.”

The archbishop said he wants to give tribute to the contributions of the Cenacle Sisters over the past five decades and has asked for consideration from the sisters to allow the archdiocese to use “Cenacle” in the new name.

The retreat house is situated on 11 developed acres, and eight acres are undeveloped. Discussions are ongoing in the archdiocese about different options for the undeveloped acreage, but its mission as a place for retreats will remain, Archbishop Aymond said.

“It has been discussed if we don’t need (the undeveloped land), we would consider bids to purchase it to help pay for the retreat house,” he said.

The transition of operations from the Cenacle Sisters to the Archdiocese of New Orleans should be seamless, according to Sister Riley. 

“We are very pleased that the archdiocese will be here,” Sister Riley said. “They are as committed as we have tried to be to the work of retreats, especially for women. ... We have every confidence that they will continue that in a devoted and concentrated way.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion

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