Archdiocesan retreat center flourishing in Metairie
It’s been a little more than a year since Dr. Paul “Buddy” Ceasar assumed his role as director of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat Center in Metairie, and he is pleased with the progress the former Cenacle Retreat House has made in serving women, their families and Catholic entities with retreats and other spiritual programs.
“We’ve had a year of challenges and accomplishments, and we’re continuing to move forward with a lot of hope and optimism,” Ceasar said. “We’re trying to build on the strengths of the past. We’ve studied what was working well when the Cenacle Sisters spent 55 years building up a retreat ministry, and that was a very solid base. Now we’re trying to expand into new areas.”
Spiritual uses expand
When the archdiocese purchased the former Cenacle Retreat House from the Cenacle Sisters in August 2013, the idea was to preserve the retreat facility as the spiritual oasis it had become, beginning in 1958.
The only major change was the archdiocese’s sale of an undeveloped, eight-acre parcel on the eastern side of the 18-acre property that helped defray the cost of purchasing the center.
“The sale of that land doesn’t impact any of the property we regularly use for retreats,” Ceasar said.
Many of the weekend retreats that are designed for women have remained on the schedule, and many of the presenters are veterans who have given retreats there before, Ceasar said.
A full schedule of retreats through next August is at www.retreats.arch-no.org.
One of new features Ceasar is promoting is the use of the retreat center for one-day retreats or meetings of parish and school groups, other Catholic organizations and religious communities.
“We’ve done almost twice as many of those as they’ve done in the past,” Ceasar said. “We’ve had parish staffs come here, and we’ve had high schools meet with their faculty and staffs for day events. Various religious groups have met here. The Marianites did their annual retreat here. The Christian Brothers held their provincial council here, and we have the Oblates coming for their provincial council. We’ve had priest study days and a seminarians’ orientation. We’ve also held ordination retreats.”
The retreat center hosted a recent gathering of retreat directors from around the Gulf South.
“What we’ve found is that people want a variety of retreat experiences,” Ceasar said. “One of our models is the Ignatian retreat, which is held in silence. But there are other models where you have discussion. We’ve also had a retreat for young adult women, and we hope to do more in the future. One of our challenges is to try to get a younger clientele.”
Some parishes are offering days of renewal. Father José Lavastida took his pastoral council at Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos to the center for such a gathering. Marist Brother Stephen Synan, coordinator of ministry development, helps with the parish days of reflection.
Other members of the retreat ministry team are Noel Delery and Agnes Bitature, who live on the grounds.
“It’s a great place to get away from your regular setting and have a quiet, different place for reflection and discussion,” Ceasar said. “We can provide lunch, and people seem to enjoy that. A lot of people still don’t know this place exists.”
Ceasar said he is most gratified by the number of people he meets who have been regulars at the Cenacle over the decades. There are 95 retreat captains.
“The most impressive thing has been the number of people who have been coming here for years who talk about the spiritual experiences they have had,” Ceasar said. “They talk about how this place has helped them grow spiritually and transformed their lives, and they’re so appreciative that the archdiocese is continuing this retreat ministry.”