Bon Secours Spiritual Center: A place of good help in Howard County

Spiritual retreat center continues to branch out

February 01, 2011|By Jennifer Broadwater

In 1824, in the wake of the French Revolution, the sick and suffering in Paris found comfort from Catholic nuns who nursed them through their pain.

Those nurses were the 12 founding members of the Sisters of Bon Secours, or, translated from French, the Sisters of Good Help.

Some 180 years later, thousands still turn to the Sisters for help with everything from the dejection of unemployment to the stresses of being a caregiver, to receiving direction and inspiration in life’s journey. And the Sisters have dedicated a special place in Marriottsville to carry out their ministry.

Nestled among 313 acres of wooded, rolling hills, Bon Secours Spiritual Center is a place of serenity and beauty. Sister Rose Marie Jasinski, the order’s leader in the United States, said the spiritual center is “another way of reaching out” in the Sisters’ ministry of compassion and healing.

“The grounds are very healing,” she said. “I think there’s a real need in our world today for that space and time to reflect on one’s life and get that centeredness. I think it’s a wonderful place to do that.”

The staff at Bon Secours make it their mission to set the scene for prayer, introspection and healing — there is a serenely low-lit stone chapel, a room stocked with nothing but rocking chairs, 70 lodging rooms, an in-ground pool for the summer months, along with walking trails, a meditative labyrinth, a Zen-style peace garden and even massage services.

The spiritual retreat center is continually evolving in an effort to serve the changing needs of the community, according to Lynn Lieberman, manager of spiritual development programs at Bon Secours. They’re even on Facebook.

In 2011, the spiritual center will begin offering wedding and reception services, along with other banquets. The addition seemed natural, according to Lieberman, since for several years the center has hosted popular Valentine’s Day dinners, complete with a ceremony for the renewal of marriage vows.

The center is the only ministry of its type operated by the Sisters, whose 234 members serve in France, Ireland, Great Britain, Peru and the United States.

In 2009, the Sisters’ Marriottsville campus took on a more prominent role when the order moved its official headquarters there from Paris. The Marriottsville site also is home to 13 Sisters and home base for the Bon Secours Health System, which grew from the order’s roots in nursing.

Time to reflect

But the spiritual center is unique. With its ecumenical approach, it aims to draw a wide variety of people.

“I think there’s a real effort to touch in to people’s needs, what’s going on in society and in this day and age,” Jasinski said.

Indeed, many of the ideas for retreats and programs come from the people who visit the center and the roughly 50 people from all sorts of backgrounds who are program leaders — ordained clergy and lay people, artists and authors, Catholics and non-Catholics.

Fifty-six retreats are planned in 2011 including March’s “Confirm Your Well-Being,” a program led by a nurse aimed at helping people make choices that lead to healthier, happier lives; July’s “Meeting with Jesus — the Psychotherapist,” in which participants examine the “messiness of our inner lives”; and October’s “Exploring Nature for Relaxation and Healing,” which blends discussion, music, poetry and movement.

There are programs that last just a few hours, such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day events, those that last 3 to 5 days — some of which are silent retreats — and even a monthlong program in July based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Offerings include daily Mass, free one-day retreats for job-seekers and the bereaved, and concerts on the third Sunday of each month.

While the programming is varied, not every pitch gets a nod. The suggestion of a retreat for those who wish to talk to trees, for instance, wasn’t pursued.

Just as its programs draw from different traditions, the center’s visitors hail from far and wide, including Ireland, Israel, Africa, Australia and Canada.

Grace Garrett, of Columbia, has led Keep the Spirits Up Day retreats for job-seekers since 2009.

“I came, and what I saw astounded me. I’ve never seen a retreat center do hospitality like this. I thought, ‘It’s so genuine. I want to be a part of this philosophy,’ ” she said.

Garrett, a personal life coach, said she sees some participants start the day dejected, angry and in despair.

“By the end of the day, I see them walk out with their eyes sparkling more; they stand straighter, they’re smiling, and they know there’s a community to support them and nurture them,” she said.

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