New diocesan retreat center taking shape; will be named Sacré-Coeur
MAGNOLIA – The sounds of hammers and circular saws break the natural quiet of the wooded bluff above the Illinois River in rural Putnam County where for five decades thousands have sought peace and an encounter with God.
When the seekers return in August, they will again find the reflective space long provided by King’s House of Retreats and known since 2009 as Nazareth House.
But they will be welcomed into a facility that is experiencing its own dramatic rebirth.
The transformation from a 1960s era retreat house to an entirely new, enlarged complex — including a four-story structure with 70 guest rooms, a state-of-the-art conference center, and a main chapel with seating for 140 — is so profound that the Diocese of Peoria has just given the location a new name:
“We’re not calling it a retreat house anymore. We have much more to offer because of the capabilities of the facility itself,” said Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka, who has been overseeing aspects of the project at the request of Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, since last fall.
“My hope is that it will be a place that will bring people close to Jesus, particularly the heart of Jesus,” Bishop Tylka told The Catholic Post. The new name is French for “Sacred Heart.” In addition to calling to mind Jesus’ heart and divine love, the name honors the French missionaries that plied the Illinois River centuries ago to bring the faith to the region. It also connects the center with the religious community that will continue to provide staffing – the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
WILL OPEN IN AUGUST
Meanwhile, the diocese last month named Deacon Terry Stalsberg, a permanent deacon from Metamora who has 25 years of experience in hotel management, to serve as the new facility’s executive director. (See related story here.)
While the construction site 40 miles northeast of Peoria is hidden from public view by the wooded bluff to the west and surrounding farms, Deacon Stalsberg gave The Catholic Post a tour in mid-March to show the progress that has been made in anticipation of an opening this summer. The first scheduled retreat is for seminarians on Aug. 1, and Deacon Stalsberg is accepting bookings for fall 2021 and beyond.
As more than 50 workers representing several construction companies did both interior and exterior work, Deacon Stalsberg walked through the two-story entry hallway. To the left was a front desk reception area, his office, and a library. The first hallway to the right led to a spacious main chapel as well as a smaller chapel.
While on this day the walls were bare, in the coming weeks and months artwork and furnishings – original and repurposed – will be added to transform the facility from something secular to reflective of its faith-based mission.
For example, the main chapel – which has a 40-foot ceiling and can seat up to 140 – will have stained glass windows and a main tabernacle from the former Sacred Heart Church in Rutland. Stations of the Cross are coming from the former St. Mary’s in West Point. But the altar, presider’s chair and ambo will be new from Daprato Rigali Studios.
Original art will include an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe coming from Mexico, and statues of the Divine Mercy and St. Therese being created by sculptor Suzanne Young.
The small chapel will feature Byzantine icons being donated by Bishop Jenky.
The tour continued with Deacon Stalsberg pointing out features including:
- the conference center with two large meeting rooms — named the Franciscan Meeting Room and the Hearts Meeting Room — that can be further divided into four spaces that also have names (St. Francis, St. Clare, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary).
- a dining hall that can serve up to 140
- a gathering room with a wood burning fireplace, and
- the four-story building for guest rooms. Each of the 70 guest rooms will have private bathrooms, a queen size bed, and a desk with chair. Unlike the former retreat house, the guest rooms will feature individual temperature controls and thicker, more sound-proof walls. Each room will have a crucifix, an image of the Blessed Mother, and a Scripture quote on its walls.
There are also three one-bedroom suites with a kitchenette. One of the suites on the fourth floor will serve as a convent for the three Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary who will help staff the center.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Sister Ana Pia Cordua, SCTJM, current director of the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation who will be among the Sisters on staff. “We always wanted the (new facility) to be better, but never thought it was going to be this beautiful.”
Bishop Tylka said the construction has been funded through a partnership of the diocese and other donors. Among the groups expected to utilize the facility are OSF HealthCare for its mission training; diocesan priests, deacons and seminarians; Rachel’s Vineyard; and other diocesan and parish organizations. Interest is already being expressed by groups outside the diocese as well.
Those familiar with the former retreat house will note some things familiar and new on the 67-acre site. The pond remains, but has been enlarged and is now two-levels. The outdoor Stations of the Cross have a new location. Among the new outdoor spaces are a patio with a fire pit as well as gardens and walking paths. “The Solitude of the Sacred Heart,” a 16-by-20-foot, two-room dwelling on the grounds for individuals seeking a place for quiet prayer and reflection, remains available for booking.
Sister Ana Pia, Bishop Tylka, and Deacon Stalsberg all emphasized the mission of Sacré-Coeur Retreat Center.
“We’re not opening a conference center of a hotel,” said Bishop Tylka. “We’re opening the Sacré-Coeur Retreat Center and so the groups that utilize it have to be part of the mission of the church in some way.”
“We want it to be a place where people can come and encounter God,” added Sister Ana Pia.