By Cathy Kiley
We live in a demanding world of busy people. There is barely enough time to work and care for our families and we simply do not take enough time to care for ourselves. To enjoy a rejuvenating walk on a beautiful day feels as if it is a privilege instead of a necessity and to think about taking even an hour out of our day to rekindle our spirits seems to be an impossibility.
St. Francis Retreat House is a peaceful haven nestled at the north end of Chipman Road between Easton and Bethlehem (bordering Routes 22 and 33.) The Franciscan Friars have welcomed over 200,000 men, women and youth across their threshold since The Friary’s inception over 50 years ago, yet it continues to be one of the best kept secrets in the Lehigh Valley. Their history is rich, beginning in 1929 when Slovakian Franciscan Friars arrived in America to minister to Slovak speaking people in Ohio and Pennsylvania. However, following World War II, the church in Eastern Europe was forced underground by the Iron Curtain and countries were in ruins. As the diverse immigrant population grew in the United States, this handful of Friars answered the call of St. Francis to reach out in faith to bring hope to those in despair no matter what their ancestral or spiritual background. It is in this spirit of St. Francis that the Friars, volunteers, staff and benefactors continue his legacy today. St. Francis Retreat House opened its doors in Easton in 1961. Situated on 22 secluded wooded acres, it is easy to get lost in your thoughts here. A sense of calm greets you as soon as you enter the grounds. The chapel is, of course, the center of the property where Mass is held daily at 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM on Sundays. The garden quadrangle across from the chapel is beautiful, showcasing a statue of St. Francis of Assisi surrounded by animal statuettes and bronze, mosaic and brick Stations of the Cross interspersed in beds of wildflowers and groves of white pines and forsythias. A prayerful walk through this courtyard is relaxing on a warm sunny day and a perfect place to sit, reflect or perhaps read a book. The nearby meditation garden and the pavilion on the east side of the property showcasing the Pieta are outdoor gathering places, not only for retreatants, but for individual visitors as well. There are 72 rooms at St. Francis Retreat House with accommodations to suit everyone. Dining facilities featuring delicious homemade cuisine are available to serve a group. The warm, welcoming retreat house is air conditioned and handicap accessible. The definition of “retreat” is a place of retirement, quiet or security; a refuge; or a change of direction. It implies an invitation to give over the rigors of daily life to meet, share and deepen the understanding of one’s life and the awareness of the presence of God in it. The Friars have a superb schedule of organized retreats on their calendar featuring not only spiritual and religious subjects but personal interest topics such as: “Aging with Grace”—The challenges of and the emotional dealing with all aspects of the aging process; and “A Time of Hope: Reflections of Cancer Survivors.” The Friars are inviting cancer survivors to gather for a weekend of sharing later this summer under the direction of cancer specialist Dr. Sukamal Saha (affiliated with Michigan State University.) Also invited to participate in the weekend are those currently undergoing cancer treatment, along with their caregivers.
In addition to planned retreats, the St. Francis Retreat House is available for outside retreats, as well as private and corporate meetings. It hosts many youth Kairos gatherings as well as the “Every 15 Minutes” programs held by local high schools reinforcing the results of underage drinking and driving to young adults; Marriage Encounter; Life Teen programs; Overeaters Anonymous meetings and other groups too numerous to list. On any given weekend you will find groups of mothers, teachers or friends who have come together for sharing and relaxation; and every year, The Evening Star Quilters fill the meeting rooms with sewing machines, materials and artistic ideas necessary to create their masterpieces. It is important to note that St. Francis Retreat House is a perfect place where any group with something in common can come together for peaceful exchange. One popular program is the on-going Job Transition Workshop held the second and fourth Thursdays of the month from 9:00 to 11:30 AM. Workshop Facilitator Tom Emmerth said that this workshop serves the needs of those who have lost their jobs in current recessionary times. He explained that the job search is a solitary process and this program presents a forum for the meeting of minds to share ideas and experiences, hone job searching and networking skills, tweak resumes and quite simply, be a support group for each other and share the stress of job-hunting in today’s economy. St. Francis Retreat House provides an environment of Franciscan hospitality and compassionate care. It offers an affordable oasis for those seeking spiritual nourishment and renewal through a wide range of retreats for both large and small groups. The retreat house is administered by helpful staff and friendly Friars who will be happy to assist. Visit stfrancisretreathouse.org for more detailed information regarding retreats, Franciscan history and their Mission, photographs, directions and volunteer opportunities. All are invited to visit St. Francis Retreat House to find out what it is all about. While there, check out their small but mighty gift shop featuring religious articles, books, cards and foodstuffs with wonderful names like “Burnt Sacrifice” BBQ Sauces, Prayerfully Popped Corn, Holy Chocolates, Monastery Maple Syrup and Carmelite Coffees. You’ll be delighted with what you find at St. Francis Retreat House. It is truly a little bit of heaven right here in the middle of the Lehigh Valley.
St. Francis Retreat House
Easton, PA 18045