Spiritual retreat aims to advance

Bon Secours center plans upgrade as part of its 40th-year celebration

December 02, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Sun reporter

The Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville is best known as a quiet place, surrounded by more than 300 acres of farmland and forest, and featuring walking trails, a tranquil pond, a peace garden and a labyrinth.

But as the retreat and conference center approaches its 40th anniversary in 2008, its leaders have decided it is a good time to make a little more noise. That includes the hammering and drilling of a major renovation project and a more outspoken publicity campaign to let the community know about a place that marketing coordinator Barbara Castellano calls "the secret at the top of the hill."

With the updated facility, Castellano said, "A whole new generation of people will find this ... a place of peace, a place apart, as well as a place of hospitality."

Visitors will have a number of opportunities to see the changes during the center's anniversary activities next year.

There will be an opening event Jan. 13 with the Eucharist and a blessing followed by a reception and open house. There will be another open house Feb. 10, and later next year the center will hold a quilt exhibition, a Celtic spirituality concert, a family Advent concert and more tours.

The center was founded in 1964 as a home for the Sisters of Bon Secours, a Roman Catholic order with a mission to be "good help" to people who need physical and spiritual healing. The center has continued to be the sisters' provincial administrative offices, a home for retired and infirm sisters, and a novitiate, or place of learning, for newer members.

Alice M. Talone, president of Bon Secours Sisters U.S.A., said the center's first leaders realized in the mid-1960s that the Howard County property was underused. In 1968 "the Holy Spirit inspired us to make a spiritual center, open to people of all faiths," she said.

Today the center offers events and retreats with a focus on Catholic spirituality and makes its space available to other religious and secular groups with compatible missions. People can spend a few hours enjoying the natural setting or spend a few days in spiritual reflection, and conference facilities are available for up to 150 people.

Recently, the center has added public events, including an Easter brunch and family egg roll, a Mother's Day buffet, a Father's Day cookout and movie nights.

"My philosophy is that God gave [the site] to us so we could share this wonderful gift with others," Talone said. "I think it is an untapped treasure. We really do need to get our name out there."

A big step in making the center more appealing to the public and more sustainable for the future has been a complete overhaul of the overnight facilities. The center will have 70 individual bedrooms with new beds, new furniture, computer access and - a significant selling point - private baths in each room to replace the communal ones.

The project began last December and will be completed this month.

The 2008 phase of renovation will include moving the bookstore to a new location, renovating the food service area, including a new kitchen, and adding an oratory space for prayer and reflection as an alternative to the chapel in the spiritual center.

Meeting rooms are being updated, audio/visual equipment is being upgraded and a new outdoor pool is planned.

Janet D'Agostino, a surgical nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has been taking individual and group retreats at Bon Secours for 35 years. The Timonium resident said the changes are impressive, particularly when compared with the dozens of places across the country she investigated while the Marriottsville center was closed for renovation.

"I know what people are offering," she said. "There is not a second's worth of doubt in my mind Bon Secours will have every aspect a person could want."

She added: "It is going to have a much bigger outreach [in the retreat community]. People are going to be willing to try this."

As a regular visitor and informal adviser to the staff, she said she saw plans for the new rooms, and when they were finished "it was very exciting to actually see what they looked like. ... I think some people are going to be out-and-out shocked."

The Bon Secours Sisters run more than a dozen health care facilities across the country - the health system's headquarters is on the Marriottsville property - but the spiritual center is "a unique ministry of theirs," said the center's executive director, Thomas E. Little.

"It allows them to create a place that's not medical," he said. "The themes of healing, caring and hospitality are real for some folks. This is a place that gives you a sense of well-being."

Little added: "People don't realize there is a place like this. We want to share that opportunity."

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

IF YOU GO

The Bon Secours Spiritual Center is at 1525 Marriottsville Road. Information: www.bonsecoursspiritual center.org or 410-442-1320.

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