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Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre to celebrate 75 years of silence

At the Mount St. Francis Retreat House just outside Cochrane, silence is golden.
The annual Blessing of the Pets is a popular event at Mount St. Francis Retreat.

At the Mount St. Francis Retreat House just outside Cochrane, silence is golden. And it comes highly recommended.

Mount St. Francis is a spiritual centre of peace, healing and prayer that opened its doors in 1949, at the invitation of the then Catholic Bishop Francis Carroll of Calgary. They will celebrate their 75th anniversary on August 10 and 11, offering spiritual retreats, weekend, mid-week, day away, evening twilight and week-long retreats. They also host outside groups who reflect something of their mission of peace, healing and prayer.

A few of the attendees at a presentation for the Rotary Club of Cochrane this week stepped forward to attest to the power of silence they experienced on their retreats, as Susan Campbell, the director of the centre shared its history.

The Franciscan Friars of Canada, inspired by the vision and example of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, have served at the Retreat since 1949.

“We have strong ties with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary; other Christian Churches, schools and organizations; as well as others not affiliated with any particular faith but who are in accord with our mission of peace, healing and prayer,” Campbell said.

Retreats are mostly silent retreats reflecting on a spiritual theme. This year’s theme for the regular retreats is “All Things Made New,” inviting people to look again at their lives and see where something new has emerged or is emerging, even within the struggle and challenges of one’s life.

They offer retreats for women, men, young people and mixed groups. Everyone is welcome: Catholic, Protestant, non-denominational, people with no faith tradition or belonging to another religion.

The centre can accommodate up to 48 people overnight. An average group is around 30 participants. Some people come for their own private retreat, normally scheduled mid-week. There is a rustic log cabin – electricity but no water – that is often booked for a hermitage experience, i.e., being totally alone with without distractions. People living a hermitage often fast.

They also host community events such as our Blessing of Pets in October, an outdoor Christmas Pageant scheduled for Dec 10 this year and the outdoor Way of the Cross on Good Friday. Many people from the community regularly walk the property whether it is on Bill Hill or the trail along Big Hill Creek.

There are several hundred acres of property to explore. They have been partnering with Bike Cochrane to improve the trails on lands used by walkers and bikers not directly near the retreat centre.

A local outdoor children’s play school, Growing Roots Forest Play, rents part of our property for their programs. The Town cemetery is on land donated by the Franciscans.

Campbell said people come to the silent retreats for different reasons.

“Many want time away from their busy lives. They recognize that they need a spiritual place to connect or reconnect with the sacred in their lives. Their life is chaotic and they need to ground themselves again in what is important,” she said.

“So people use the time to slow down and take stock. It is so easy to get caught up in projects, ways of thinking and behaviours that escalate until you feel out of control or out of sync.

“One man said that when he was deciding whether to go on retreat this year or not, his wife told him, ‘you have a better year after you’ve been on retreat,’ and he said that she also has a better year after he’s been on retreat.”

They also offer a series of retreats called “serenity retreats” based on the spirituality of the 12 Step Program founded by Alcoholics Anonymous, but they are not affiliated with AA.

 One of the organizations Campbell is involved with is called Returning to Spirit, an organization started by an Indigenous man and Catholic Sister to bring healing from the legacy of Indian Residential Schools.

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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