It was a sorry spectacle that unfolded at a recent meeting of the Carroll County Zoning Board of Appeals. Opponents to a request by the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore to operate a spiritual retreat in Millers resorted to distortions in an effort to deny the sisters the variance they sought. Fortunately, the Zoning Board saw through the rhetoric and granted the variance.
The board heard arguments that the spiritual center would attract undesirable people who could "pose a threat to our safety, security and sense of well-being," that the project would overtax the area's water supply and depress property values. Though these assertions had no basis in fact, a few neighbors nonetheless offered them to the board as if they were legitimate justifications.
Most of those who will use the retreat will be people enjoying material wealth but aching from spiritual poverty. As explained by Sister Eileen Quinn, one of the two resident spiritual advisers, a small number of people will use the retreat at any one time because counseling is done on a one-to-one basis.
The retreat will not tax the area's water resources any more than if a family with four children moved into the house. As for traffic congestion, there might be an extra car or two coming to the property each day -- not much more disruptive than a neighborhood bridge game. The three nuns who will operate the retreat could probably have moved in, begun their ministry and few neighbors would have even realized it.
The Franciscans envision the center as a place for people of all faiths who need a respite from their daily grind and want to reflect on spiritual matters. These people seeking spiritual solace may stroll the property's three acres, but most of the counseling will take place in a room that is being converted to a chapel.
In the 125-year history of their order, the Franciscan sisters have cared for orphans and taught developmentally disabled children. This center -- which will be known as "Aisling," Irish for vision and hope -- is their effort to offer the community a ministry of prayer and reflection.
"We will be there for people who are hurting," Sister Eileen said. In these days of fear and foreboding, the community should be able to welcome people devoted to providing this kind of care and comfort.