OSHKOSH — Jesuit Retreat House on Lake Winnebago celebrated a grand opening and dedication of its new wing for retreat guests, called the Manresa Residential Wing, and the facility’s renovated LaStorta Conference Center on Saturday, July 11. The event also included a farewell for Jesuit Fr. John Schwantes, retreat house director from 2003 to 2014, and Servite Sr. Kerry Larkin, associate director since 2007.
More than 500 guests attended the celebration, which also included tours of the facility and a Mass with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau as presider and six Jesuit priests.
Bishop Morneau called the retreat house additions “a great achievement … for our diocese and far beyond.”
“I stand in admiration,” he said during his homily. “At this time in the life of the church, in the last three years we’ve lost four retreat houses in our area: Holy Name Retreat House on Chambers Island, Monte Alverno in Appleton, (St. Anthony Spirituality Center) in Marathon and St. Joe’s in Baileys Harbor. They just couldn’t do it. Because of your dedication, your organization and your wonderful benefactors, you’ve pulled this off.” (UPDATE: St. Anthony Spirituality Center, previously operated by the Capuchin Franciscans, underwent management change and continues to operate. Their website is www.sarcenter.com.)
The new 35,000-square-foot Manresa Residential Wing includes 60 bedrooms with private toilets and showers. The LaStorta Conference Center seats 70 people and features seven spiritual direction rooms and a new Chapel of the Annunciation. The project was completed at a cost of $5.9 million.
In preparing his homily, Bishop Morneau joked that he called on three Jesuits to help him: St. Ignatius, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Pope Francis.
“St. Ignatius was kind of concise,” said Bishop Morneau. “He only gave me 13 words. ‘Tell the people this: We come from God. We belong to God. We go back to God.’ That’s it.”
Bishop Morneau said these words are the foundation for all believers. “All life, all existence comes from God and everything that we have is a total gift,” he said.
“Gerard said that at any major celebration, such as the dedication of a retreat house, we should have a piece of poetry,” said Bishop Morneau, who is well known for following the directive. Hopkins, a Jesuit who died in 1889, was highly regarded as one of the greatest poets of religion. Bishop Morneau recited Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty,” which begins, “Glory be to God for dappled things” and ends with the command, “Praise him.”
“All of the work here at the retreat house is to give God glory (and) to make sure that God is praised,” said Bishop Morneau.
Finally, the bishop said he was advised by a contemporary, Pope Francis, to share one line from his exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
“Eucharist is a fulfillment of sacramental life. It is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” Bishop Morneau said, quoting Pope Francis.
“Everyone who comes to the retreat house door, all of us here are struggling pilgrims,” said Bishop Morneau. “In fact, this retreat house is a field hospital. We come here to be healed, to be strengthened, and refreshed on the journey.”
Following Mass, Bishop Morneau, assisted by Deacon John Ingala, blessed a time capsule that will be buried and opened in 2061. Jesuit Fr. Chris Manahan, who succeeded Jesuit Fr. John Schwantes as retreat house director last January, offered words of thanks to Fr. Schwantes and Sr. Kerry for their leadership at the retreat center.
“We honor Sr. Kerry today for the insight and wisdom that she has brought to this retreat house for the past eight years and the way she has been dedicated to the good of retreatants and staff no matter what the personal cost,” he said. “We wish her well in her journey to serve her Servite community in that same way.”
Sr. Kerry was presented with a framed image of the retreat center’s new contemplative chapel.
In thanking Fr. Schwantes for his 14 years of service at the retreat house, including the past 12 as director, Fr. Manahan said his predecessor overcame challenges and tragedies.
“Jesus calls us to be there for others,” said Fr. Manahan. “And today we honor Fr. John … for being kind, gentle and humble in his care for retreatants and for way he’s led the dedicated retreat house staff, past and present. His work has been a reflection of God’s greater glory and that’s what we honor today.”
He presented Fr. Schwantes with a miniature replica of the center’s new entry sign that features a silhouette image of St. Ignatius leaning into the wind.
“For me it’s a bittersweet moment,” said Fr. Schwantes. “I loved ministry here and enjoyed it. I’m sad to go. I am grateful, humbled for your appreciation, affection and your support that has watched over me for 14 years.”