Hermitage at Nazareth House offers ‘a little piece of heaven’

Photo Caption: Sister Sonia Mancuello, SCTJM, walks toward The Solitude of the Sacred Heart, a hermitage nestled on a wooded river bluff on the grounds of Nazareth Retreat House in Henry.

By: By Tom Dermody

HENRY — A “little piece of heaven” where most visitors say they have heard God speak waits silently for visitors on a wooded river bluff here on the grounds of Nazareth House, the retreat center of the Diocese of Peoria.

“You can really feel the presence of God,” said Sister Sonia Mancuello, SCTJM, as she looked out a window of The Solitude of the Sacred Heart. Since opening 17 months ago, the tiny dwelling has drawn a steady flow of individuals seeking a place of silence and beauty for prayer and reflection.

And as spring brings the surrounding woods to new life, the invitation to take advantage of the hermitage is also made anew.

“God speaks to your heart here,” said Sister Sonia.

As a coordinator of The Solitude, Sister Sonia has experienced its special qualities both personally and through the witness of others. The hermitage — blessed by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, in December of 2011 and able to be reserved by any individual — is only a short walk away from the main retreat center. But it is far removed from the noise and distractions of daily life.

Sister Sonia sees a difference in visitors from the time they check into the hermitage and when they leave, whether the visit is brief or extended.

“You can see the peace,” she said. “They have found what they were looking for. Whatever that may be is between them and the Lord.”

Among the many priests of the Diocese of Peoria who have found renewal at The Solitude is Father David Whiteside, pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Havana and Immaculate Conception, Manito. After his time at the hermitage in the winter shortly after its opening, he has recommended the quiet place to those for whom he provides spiritual direction — including some mothers of large families.

“We need to take care of our souls more than we need to take care of our body,” said Father Whiteside. When we can experience stillness and “let the Lord set the schedule,” he said, God “pours his grace into our souls and makes us stronger. After silence for a day or two, your soul experiences a strengthening and a renewal and you hear God more clearly. You walk away being able to live your vocation better.”

As vice chancellor of the Diocese of Peoria, Deacon Bob Sondag is pulled in many directions. When he visits the hermitage, it takes a half-day or so to quiet his mind. But when he does, “it seems that when you pray you know there is someone who loves you. There’s an intimate communication.”

He encourages all to seek out what the hermitage offers. “You won’t be disappointed,” he said.

Visitors can opt to have meals provided by the retreat center, or bring their own provisions. The Solitude is fully furnished with a bed, shower, small refrigerator, microwave, a recliner, and writing table. The presence of God can be found in surrounding nature — a walking trail through the woods is nearby, and a large window offers an ever-changing view of the Illinois River below — or in the Eucharist at the retreat house chapel. Books are offered at the center’s library.

“God will speak,” promised Sister Sonia. “This is a little piece of heaven.”

For more information on reserving The Solitude of the Sacred Heart, call (309) 364-3084 or visit Nazareth Retreat House.

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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