Christ the King Retreat House offers a restful break from a busy world
By Pat Shea
Sun associate editor
Just a mile away from the bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-81 and the endless parade of cars crowding into the parking lots at Destiny USA is one of Syracuse’s best kept secrets: Christ the King Retreat House and Conference Center.
Located at the top of Brookford Road in Syracuse, the retreat house isn’t especially hard to find; it’s just hard to fathom how this stunning mansion offering peace and tranquility can be situated only minutes from downtown Syracuse.
The mission of the center is “to provide the community with an environment and opportunities for spiritual, personal and professional growth, healing and peace.” In keeping with its mission, the center itself has been in a period of new growth. The mansion is being repainted, spruced up and repaired for guests, and in January 2013, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham appointed Father John Rose as Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ the King and Father Louis Sogliuzzo, SJ, as Ignatian Spiritual Facilitator for the center. Both men are eager and anxious in their new roles to spread the word about the retreat center and the new ideas and programs being offered.
“People need a third place — there’s work and there’s home but they need somewhere to reflect and refocus on their life,” stated Father Rose. “This is their third place: their go-to place to renew their spirit.”
The center, which hosts more than 9,000 visitors annually, offers programs that are unique and varied. On April 25, the retreat house will offer an Afternoon Appreciation for Office Staff. Later in the spring, additional programs include Mother/Daughter Night of Pampering and Prayer, Day of Reflection on Joy and Laughter, Mother’s Day Mass and Brunch and a Men’s Night Out. And every month the center offers a Conversation Series, an opportunity for the public to hear from local community leaders on a variety of topics.
“The word ‘retreat’ or ‘retreat house’ can be intimidating and off putting to some,” explained Father Rose. “We invite the public to come by, listen to these speakers and see the facility. Once they do, they’ll come back again and again.”
The power of slow
Visitors to the center can come for their lunch hours, for the day or a night — or even stay for several days for just a nominal donation.
“People today are hungering for quiet, serenity and yearning for God,” stated Father Rose. “When they come here they detach from the world. They unplug their iPads, iPhones, laptops and stop texting — they just enjoy the deep stillness surrounding them and listen to what God is saying.”
Father Rose and Father Sogliuzzo continually bounce ideas off each other, brainstorming new ways for individuals and groups to come and “journey in faith for hope and healing.”
“We offer a place for people to shift gears,” said Father Sogliuzzo. “This is a place to take time to just be: a place to breathe deeply and be mindful of beauty, great artwork, good food and nature.”
Father Sogliuzzo directs a silent retreat at the center, as well as facilitates other spiritual projects that follow in the spirit of Saint Ignatius, which is to celebrate God. “These [silent] retreats offer a chance to pray and ask questions such as ‘What is God doing in my life?’ or, ‘What is He inviting me to do?’ The retreat house is a wonderful place to get those answers,” he said.
Father Rose agrees. “Sometimes when we do nothing it’s when something happens,” he said. “We offer the power of slow here: the opportunity to put life on pause. If we make ourselves unavailable to the world, it is then we make ourselves available to God and can be ministered by Him.”
A legacy to the community
The retreat facility was originally constructed as the Parker Stacey family estate in 1934. Mrs. Majorie Stacy, formerly Marjorie Lipe, was the daughter of Charles Lipe, a partner in Brown-Lipe-Chapin, a major Syracuse employer in 1910. The Stacey estate was considered to be one of the most impressive homes in Syracuse at the time, and hosted guests such as Wendell Wilke and Governor Dewey.
In 1944, after Marjorie Lipe-Stacey died, Father Robert Grewen, SJ, purchased the house from her estate on behalf of the Jesuits and Christ the King Retreat House was officially opened that year as a Jesuit retreat house. The facility conducted 48 retreats and hosted approximately 1,000 men during its years of operation.
In 1994, the Diocese of Syracuse purchased the home and land from the Jesuits and renovated the retreat center to allow access to both men and women of all denominations, as well as business and corporate groups. Currently, Barb Shepard, the center’s marketing director, actively promotes the use of the facility to local corporations, parishes and businesses as a unique and creative setting for meetings, planning sessions or brainstorming sessions.
The retreat center holds a chapel that seats up to 85, accommodations for 65 overnight guests, meeting and conference rooms, a dining room, a gift shop, an outdoor pool, 32 gardens, and an outdoor altar with Stations of the Cross for prayerful reflection.
“We are surrounded by the spirit of nature here,” stated Father Rose. “Everywhere there are deer or small animals just at peace with their environment. We all need to remember our first vocation is to be human. And the retreat center is the perfect place to come and recharge, renew and refocus.”