You come to think and pray and find yourself again. Or, perhaps, to find God.
Manresa, a Jesuit-run Roman Catholic retreat house near Annapolis, offers visitors more time, space and silence than everydaylife affords -- elements conducive to peace and reflection. The white-pillared mansion sits elegantly on a hill across from the city, butits hallmark is simplicity.
A long row of green-painted wooden rockers line the porch above the Severn like an old beachfront hotel. Clean lines define the white-brick chapel, adorned solely by stained-glass windows.
Big rose-colored chairs and trailing plants make sitting areas homey, but bedrooms are Spartan, each with a plain bed, a desk, a wardrobe, a sink and a Bible.
The retreat house welcomes most non-profit groups, as well as religious groups and individuals who come for one of three retreat options -- private retreats, which simply means you do whatever you like; directed retreats under a staff member's supervision; and larger planned conferences with teaching and group discussions.
"They come in crisis, or in depression, or recovering from an addiction,"says the Rev. Leo Murray, a Jesuit priest. "Or just people with no special reason, who would like to get closer to God."
Murray, one of six resident Jesuits, helps direct retreats. "We may talk of who God is in their lives and how they respond to God," he says. "The spirituality we have to offer is relevant to their lives."
Manresa also offers small nooks for personal reflection, large conference rooms for bigger groups, and outdoors, a huge expanse of lawn sloping down to the water. Benches line a path along the river, and at night acrossthe Severn, the lights in the State House and several Annapolis churches twinkle in the darkness.
The Jesuits opened the house in the 1920s to conduct retreats for men in the Washington and Baltimore areas.
They named the place Manresa, in honor of Ignatius Loyola, a Roman Catholic saint who went to Manresa in Spain 400 years ago as part of his struggle to discern God's will.
In a cave he reserved for intense prayer and penances, the saint supposedly received illumination that influenced his later founding of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, who this year are celebrating the 450th anniversary of their founding as well as the 500th anniversary of the saint's birth.
St. Ignatius shaped the early Jesuits' by developing an intense 30-day retreat which he called the Spiritual Exercises. The Jesuits at Manresa ask the same questions that St. Ignatius asked: "What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ?"
Jeronimo Nadal, an early companion of St. Ignatius, wrote, "During Ignatius' sojourn at Manresa, God gave him a most profound insightinto, and feeling for, the mysteries of our holy Faith and the Catholic Church. At that time he also inspired him with the Spiritual Exercises by moving him to devote himself entirely to the service of Godand the salvation of souls."
To help others on this pilgrimage, Manresa has served as a retreat house since its inception, extending its ministry in 1964 to include women and married couples.
In the years following Vatican II, Manresa was given the task of providing innovative programs and retreats. Today the house offers an extensive selection of programs for the entire family.
Both religious and non-religious groups come to Manresa: twelve-step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, parish groups, police, student groups coming as partof their Confirmation process, black church groups, midshipmen, Lutherans, senior citizens, married couples, religious education teachers, seminarians, priests. There are retreats for charismatic churches, for the handicapped, for college students.
Innovative special retreats include programs such as spirituality of awareness, focusing on Eastern meditation techniques, family weekends, retreats for lawyers and judges, weekends wrapped in silence, Holy Week retreats and retreats on social justice issues.
Costs are low, with a daily charge of $28 per day for religious personnel and $40 per day for laity. However, the fees make up less than 60 percent of Manresa's budget, says the Rev. Terence Toland, the center's director. He came to Manresa a year ago and has settled in enough to begin planning money-raising endeavors. He also hopes to establish an endowment fund to assure Manresa's future, he says.
Sister Marie Carmel Galligan, a School Sister of Notre Dame, speaks at retreats for senior citizens worried aboutthe changes following Vatican II and to 14-year-olds with many questions.
"I see great spiritual interest these days," says Sister Galligan, who has been at Manresa for more than a decade. "More people are interested and wanting to know more."
Murray likes to emphasize that God is present in every aspect of their lives when he leads retreats. He'd like to see Manresa become interfaith in some way, he says. "We need to understand the Jewish and Islamic worlds. I think we can share meaning with everyone."
For Toland, the key to directing a retreat is minding your own business as much as is prudent. "You make suggestions, but you never tell anybody how to pray. God deals with everybody differently, and so you respect that. It's not a course in spirituality, and you don't want to get in the way," he says. "A good retreat director never forgets the director is the Holy Spirit."
For Candi Ferrara, a middle-aged woman who is a veteran of Manresa,every retreat has been a good retreat.
"It's so peaceful," she says, as sunlight through tall windows illumines her Bible.
"It really is a retreat into another world. It lets you step back and regain a perspective about what matters. It helps you regain a heart that will hear God."
In addition to coming on retreat, the Severna Park resident visits occasionally just to attend Mass in the blue-and-ivory chapel, or to walk along the path by the river to pray, or just to relax and watch the ducks.
"People come from all over the state," Ferrara says. Sometimes famous people stop by Manresa for retreats in the secluded spot.
"The soul of this place," says Toland, "is for someone to come here and get some taste, however brief, of what Ignatius Loyola experienced during that pilgrimage of conversion. His heart set on fire with the knowledge that God loved him and the implications that had for the service of others."
The world is troubled, Toland acknowledges. But it's also a world "waiting to be redeemed," he says. "You cannot simply love God. It has to spill out into love of neighbor."