Bucolic retreat expands services Bon Secours center in Marriottsville open to spiritual seekers

September 27, 1998|By Heather Cabot | Heather Cabot,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Camille Solis said she felt the presence of God when she first saw a narrow footbridge gently arching across a placid fish pond behind the Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville.

"This is my bridge of transition," Solis, 51, says, signifying the journey she would soon take from a worldly life to a convent in Connecticut.

Since 1969, the center has opened its doors to people like Solis -- some seeking a simple respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life, others for quiet communing with God. Last year, nearly 14,000 people visited the center's 331 acres of rolling hills and trails.

Now, in a bid to capitalize on the popular interest in satisfying the soul, the nonprofit center is extending its reach.

It has a new marketing director and strategic plan, which includes building a labyrinth and secluded cabins for those seeking a place for meditative calm.

"We want to make more people aware of its existence to kind of spread the work that we do," says Sister Anne Marie Mack, president of the United States Order of the Sisters of Bon Secours.

She sees the initiative as "a continuation of the health care ministry" the order founded more than a century ago, when French nurse-nuns settled in the Baltimore area.

Mack isn't reluctant to also acknowledge, "In a business sense, you need to keep your business functioning, so we'd like more people to know about the center."

And the timing seems to be right, according to Sister Connie Gilder, S.S.J., the center's director of marketing.

"In the Western world, we have lost a sense of the mystical and the contemplative," says Gilder. "People are longing for a sense of rootedness and spirituality that gives meaning to their lives. We're looking to provide a space for them to do that."

Building a labyrinth

One way the center will add to that space is through construction of an ancient meditative tool -- a labyrinth. On a shady patch of grass where the sunshine barely pokes through the heavy canopy of foliage, Gilder envisions a circular path, 40 to 60 feet in diameter.

Unlike a maze, this route of stones or cement is not intended to be a puzzle, but a means by which one can take an introspective journey through an intricate pattern of winding walkways. The labyrinth underscores a growing understanding and mainstream acceptance of the connection between the mind and body, say Bon Secours leaders.

"So much of the prayer experience needs to be incarnational," says the Rev. Kevin Gillespie, S.J., director of the master's program in spiritual and pastoral care at Loyola College of Maryland.

He observes that more people are taking to heart the link between body and soul, as evidenced by the popularity of alternative medicine and books on holistic wellness.

Expanding activities

It makes sense, Gillespie says, because "when your body is relaxed, you can be open to the subtle movements of God."

Bon Secours hopes to widen the menu of physical activities already available to guests -- such as massage therapy, swimming in the pool and hiking on four miles of lush trails. There also are plans to add an indoor exercise facility.

Many visitors seeking to reach a peaceful state say they also crave a quiet place to think. Next year, Gilder says, the center will add three hermitages, or secluded cabins. For $40 a night, visitors will be able to indulge in complete isolation.

For now, guests seeking that kind of solitude can make use of a dining area where silence rules. It is where 67-year-old June Taliaferro ate lunch recently. Wearing a flowing, green-and-yellow dashiki, she also soaked up the tranquillity of the manicured Japanese garden and enjoyed a midmorning massage. The experience heightened her senses.

"Just to be able to walk and hear silence. It is impossible to find it. Everywhere you go, there is something on -- the TV, a boom- box. But not here. And our Lord does speak in a still, small voice. If you want to hear him, you need it to be quiet," she whispers.

A teacher and counselor at Victory Church of Jesus Christ in Washington, Taliaferro discovered Bon Secours when her pastor suggested she could use the rest. Her 10-day project: to read the entire Old Testament.

"I was in Proverbs when I came and I intend to be finished with Malachai when I leave," she vows.

All are welcome

Secular and professional groups also come, for training and meetings. And the nonprofit center invites people from a variety of religions and philosophies to bring their agendas for a weekend or night in the 80 private bedrooms at the center. A staff of trained spiritual directors is on hand for those of any faith seeking guidance.

Bon Secours offers its own programs, from midlife workshops to seminars on "eco-spirituality" -- a divine perspective on the environment -- and support weekends for parents of gay men and lesbians.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.