Venice | It has been more than 20 years since a piece of land situated along the meandering Myakka River was converted into holy ground.
With Florida live oaks throughout the property, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center is a place where people can find a little bit of tranquility as they can take time out of their hectic lives and grow closer to the Lord.
Founded in 1995 by Bishop John J. Nevins and Redemptorist Father Charles Mallen, as its Director, the retreat center — known by many simply as OLPH — is a thriving place of contemplation and faith nestled along the riverbank and among the trees, where people find dynamic conferences and opportunities for retreats throughout the year.
Father Sean Morris, Oblates of the Virgin Mary, Director of OLPH, brought a new vision to the retreat center since his appointment in 2014.
“OLPH is the retreat center for the parishes within the Diocese,” Father Morris explained. “If you are in the area and want to stop on by, do so. Say a little prayer. Take time with the Lord. We welcome everyone.”
Father Morris introduced Ignatian retreats to what was already being offered at OLPH. These retreats can come in several forms. Ignatian preached retreats are weekend silent retreats that include scheduled conferences each day, Mass, and an opportunity to meet at least once with the retreat director. The conference topics center around Ignatian spirituality, prayer and discernment. The next such retreat is Nov. 14-17.
There is also a day of prayer on second Wednesdays from October through May. The day includes a continental breakfast, lunch, two conferences, Mass, adoration, and the opportunity for confession, with the first opportunity of the season coming Oct. 12.
There are retreats that follow the spiritual exercise of St. Ignatius and are guided by a spiritual director, which can last one day, three days, five days, eight days and even 30 days. These exercises have a focus that reminds participants, “We are made for God and God desires to be in a relationship with us,” Father Morris explained.
“There really are retreats for everyone,” he said. “We are here to offer spiritual direction on an individual basis and offer retreats for groups of any size, both providing opportunities to reflect and learn about one’s call from God. This occurs through directed prayer and spiritual support, which can help one develop a deeper and more meaningful prayer life. OLPH is the perfect setting for this.”
With lodging in villas that accommodate up to 52 guests, a conference center, and the renovated Maxine and Ray Schirmer Dining Center with seating for up to 150 persons, the center offers facilities for many different uses, whether it is for an Ignatian spiritual retreat for an individual or a conference for a large group.
Throughout the years, the center has served untold numbers of people of all ages. There have been National Evangelization Team retreats for teens, a Scout prayer walk, and most recently a weekend gathering for an Emmaus group from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, a weeklong retreat for Diocesan priests, and a divorced and separated conference presented by the Diocesan Evangelization Office.
Father George Ratzmann, Pastor of St. William Parish in Naples, who attended a priest retreat in September, said he finds solace when he goes to OLPH. “There is something special about being in such a holy place. I look forward to coming here every time.”
When visiting OLPH, people will find a number of religious statues as they travel across the property, some present for years, others recent additions.
St. Joseph Chapel is the centerpiece of the retreat center. With movable worship space, it seats 150. With a simple and contemplative design, the stained-glass windows depict a mini history of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and provide quiet light conducive to prayer and contemplation. A life-sized statue of St. Joseph the Worker graces the entrance of the chapel.
In addition to the renovated dining center, the retreat center has undergone other changes, including the creation of an Adoration Chapel in Villa I. This chapel is available for use by all visitors and provides a private area for prayer and reflection in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The small chapel includes a painting of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon and a stained-glass window with the same image.
Also new at the retreat center are newly installed Stations of the Cross that surround the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament and provide a prayer opportunity for retreatants to meditate on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. The stone Stations meander along the lake with the main building serving as a backdrop. Lighting has been added to allow guests to take advantage of the Stations at all hours.
Prominent features of the property include the Holy Family Shrine, donated by the Cursillo Movement in the Diocese. It is an original creation of sculptor Paul Gaczy, and a favorite place of retreatants for quiet prayer and contemplation.
Another frequent place for contemplation is the Rosary Walk, located across from the Holy Family Shrine. This shaded, tranquil path along the Myakka River provides the opportunity for retreatants to meditate and reflect on the mysteries of the rosary or simply walk the path in silence.
Prayer decks are also located at various sites on the retreat center property and offer retreatants quiet space to read, pray and/or meditate.
A carillon bell tower, located between the St. Joseph Chapel and the Stations of the Cross, tolls the hours.
OLPH is blessed with a dedicated staff and a committed corps of volunteers, some of whom have been assisting there for many years. They are described by Father Morris as the heartbeat that helps to keep the center alive and helps give it a unique sense of home for all who come.
For information about the Retreat Center or to register for a retreat call 941-486-0233, email email@example.com, visit www.olph-retreat.org, or write to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, 3989 S. Moon Drive, Venice, FL 34292.