Get in touch with your soul as you get away from it all Serenity: Retreat centers attract visitors with the promise of peace and the offer of spiritual guidance.

November 10, 1996|By Debra Supples Keiser | Debra Supples Keiser,NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Perhaps they should be called spas for the spirit, these guest houses that provide a serene setting for self-renewal and direction. By any name, retreat centers are welcoming oases for the harried.

Wisdom House in Litchfield, Conn., about 80 miles north of New York City on 58 acres of wooded hills, opened in the 1970s. Formerly a novitiate, it strives to provide "hospitality and an environment of peace conducive to reflection, conversation and prayer."

Though the interfaith center is run by the Daughters of Wisdom, a Catholic order, it has a decidedly feminist stance, with both approach and programs geared to women and artists.

The main building, with private, semi-private and dormitory-style rooms, also houses an art gallery, chapel, book shop, dining and living areas. Rooms are Spartan -- no TV, phone or coffee maker -- but clean. According to Sister Jo-Ann Iannotti, program developer at Wisdom House, "People who are getting in touch with the basics in their life like it when it's just the basics around them." There's a pay phone in the basement, a pot of coffee is on all day in the main dining room, and you'll find a TV and VCR in the living room. For inspirational tapes, bring your own or borrow the center's.

Wisdom House, like most centers of this kind, offers different kinds of retreats. Choose a private retreat, and quieting your mind is your only task. (Topsmead State Forest is within walking distance.)

On a directed retreat, you'll meet daily with a spiritual director, who, Iannotti says, "will help you discern what's going on in your life by listening and trying to hear patterns which lets you be more reflective about life experiences when you leave."

Evening programs include: Sitting in Silence on Tuesday, Yoga on Wednesday, A.R.T.S. Anonymous on Thursday.

During a guided retreat, there's a theme, with a presentation by an authority in the field. Depending on the program, this can be followed by personal reflection, a Q&A or a prayer service. Group meals are buffet style.

(Private room with bath, and three meals, costs $55-$60 per person per night; prices for guided retreats vary. Call Wisdom House at [860] 567-3163.)

As Wisdom House is yin, so Graymoor Christian Unity Center is yang. There, high on a hill in Garrison, N.Y., the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement invite retreatants (men and women) to revitalize mind, body and spirit.

You'll be met at the Information Center (fifth floor) by a friar, who will give you a tour and tell you the schedule for prayers, Mass and meals.

Of several chapels on the property, the beautiful St. Francis dates to 1911, and houses a statue by Andrea della Robbia from the death mask of the saint.

In the main building, where retreatants stay, there's also a bookstore, library, chapel, conference space and dining room. Meals are a combination of buffet and family style, with smoking allowed in the dining room and a designated lounge.

A directed retreat is handled according to the retreatant's wishes. "Everyone has a reason for being here" explains Brother John Baptist. "Some have a deeper need for God in their life, some need some quiet time and space. Others have serious problems and need someone to listen."

Guided retreats include Matt Talbot (for recovering alcoholics), Do Not Fear to Hope (HIV/AIDS), Spirituality of the 12 Steps, Senior Weekend and Healing the Child Within.

(Retreats, including meals, are $50 per person per night. Guided weekends are about $90 in a double room, $120 in a single. Rooms are Spartan, with showers and restrooms in the hall. Towels are provided. Graymoor: [914] 424-3671, Ext. 3515.)

At the foot of the Graymoor mountain, the Sisters of the Atonement also offer directed and private retreats in Our Lady's Guest and Retreat House. Exposed wooden beams and a warm decor make it very cozy. Midweek retreats are by arrangement; weekends are for groups. Private retreats are $24 per person per night and include breakfast; directed retreats are $30; lunch is $6 extra, dinner $9. (914) 424-3300.


"The U.S. and Worldwide Guide to Retreat Center Guest Houses," by John and Mary Jensen, is an invaluable resource for finding the perfect place to retreat. Published annually by CTS Publications, P.O. Box 8355, Newport Beach, Calif. 92660, it lists, describes and provides phone numbers for some 740 centers in almost 50 states, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It costs $15.95 (add $2 for first-class mail).

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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