Benedictines expand Rock Island center

ROCK ISLAND — It was only intended to be a small retreat house — a very simple ministry the Sisters of St. Benedict could offer their new neighbors after they moved their motherhouse from Nauvoo to Rock Island in 2001.

But God had other plans for Benet House Retreat Center, which is located on the grounds of St. Mary Monastery.

“We had no idea it was going to take off,” said Sister Phyllis McMurray, prioress. “Sister Catherine Cleary laid the groundwork and did a wonderful job. Every year it would double and then it would triple and it just keeps going.”

That growing need for a quiet place for prayer as well as more meeting space led the Benedictines to build an addition to their 7,700-square-foot retreat center. Ground was broken on July 2, 2008, and the new space was used for the first time on Feb. 13 for an evening of reflection for married couples in honor of St. Valentine’s Day.

The 5,100-square-foot addition includes a large meeting room, library and kitchen; offices for Sister Charlotte Sonneville, OSB, director of Benet House, and Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB, who offers spiritual direction; and two more guest rooms. There is also a hermitage that has a small kitchen, a bedroom and bathroom, and a sitting room.

Even though the Benet House addition nearly doubles the space they had before, Sister Phyllis said the Benedictines worked hard to maintain a peaceful ambience there.

“We still wanted it to remain intimate — a place where there aren’t so many people that you lose the whole idea of quiet and a reflective atmosphere,” she said.

“This has become a community ministry,” Sister Charlotte told The Post. “A lot of the Sisters are involved in a variety of ways — hosting at prayer or coming over to help us in a pinch, such as cleaning in a hurry when there’s a shifting of rooms. There’s a lot of publicity and phoning and putting out mailings and this requires a lot of people. And the support and the prayer is very important for us.

“We brought it to the community because we thought this is a community project. It’s not just a couple people, it belongs to all of us,” she said. “Everyone had input.”

The people of the Quad Cities have welcomed the Benedictines with open arms and they are happy to respond by sharing the haven of natural beauty and peace they have found, Sister Phyllis told The Post.

In the end, it’s not what they do for people that matters, though. “We provide the space. God does the rest,” Sister Phyllis said.

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