OSHKOSH — Just as parishes are welcoming people back to church this fall, the Jesuit Retreat House is opening its doors to new and returning retreatants. There to greet guests are two new faces, Jesuit Frs. Mark Carr and Jim Shea.
Fr. Carr succeeds Jesuit Fr. Chris Manahan, who served as retreat house director for seven years. Fr. Carr began his new role on June 22. Fr. Shea serves as a retreat team member and also arrived in June.
With the addition of the two priests, the retreat house now has five Jesuits living in community in Oshkosh. The others include Fr. Jack Treloar, Fr. Eugene Donahue and Br. Lee Colombino.
“We have a beautiful place here,” Fr. Carr told The Compass Sept. 29. “We have a wonderful team and we really do operate as a team.”
Ordained in Milwaukee in 2005, Fr. Carr, who was born and raised in Wheaton, Ill., said his main work since ordination has been in secondary education and campus ministry.
In his brief time in Oshkosh, Fr. Carr said he has come to understand, from their comments, the love people have for Jesuit Retreat House.
“So, every Thursday afternoon, September through May, a new group of retreatants arrives here,” he said. “They pull up and walk into the lobby and pretty much everyone says, ‘I’m so glad to be here. I’m looking forward to the silence,’ or ‘I’m looking forward to reconnecting with God.’”
These comments, he said, “are a helpful, sometimes needed reminder, to never take the JRH for granted. It’s a special place.”
Like all other institutions and businesses serving the public, Jesuit Retreat House was forced to close in early 2020 due to the pandemic. From mid-March 2020 to mid-June 2020, no retreats were offered. It reopened its doors in September 2020 for preached weekend retreats. However, strict COVID regulations were put into place.
Fr. Carr said the facility operated at reduced capacity and split retreatants into two groups to allow for social distancing. It meant that retreat directors would give the same talks twice and back-to-back Masses were celebrated. There was also an option to participate virtually via the internet.
“In late June, we went back to whole group gatherings, so one Mass for each retreat group and one seating at each meal,” he said. “In July, we had maybe a three-week period where we were maskless, before the Delta variant, and we started opening up some retreats to full capacity.
“So right now, we have whole group gatherings through the end of the year,” said Fr. Carr. “Retreats are open to full capacity and we have private bedrooms for 60 people. Right now, we are masked during retreats and we are asking people to share vaccination status when they arrive. Right now, we are 97% vaccinated in terms of our guests who come here. I think that’s a safe environment for people to come to for retreat.”
Fr. Shea, who was ordained in 2015, said his last assignment was in Chicago, working at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.
As part of his Jesuit formation, called “tertianship,” he spent one semester last year at Jesuit Retreat Center in Parma, Ohio. “It was like a preparation for coming here,” he said.
According to Fr. Shea, he enjoys the reconciliation services offered at the retreat house.
“People often come looking for some reconciliation, whether between themselves and God or other people, or simply within themselves, to be at peace with themselves,” he said. “The moments when they find that, whether it’s in the reconciliation service or in the sacrament of confession, that’s very satisfying. I get to be a part of that and it really doesn’t have much to do with me at all. It’s really between them and the Lord.”
The opportunity to encounter the Lord is what makes Jesuit Retreat House a special place, said Fr. Shea.
“I remember one retreatant was here and he wanted to talk to me and we were by the lake. He said, ‘Let’s just sit down here for a minute.’ He closed his eyes and he began to listen. Soon, all you heard was the sound of the waves, the sound of the water.
“It was a new experience for me, maybe because I’m a city kid and I don’t stop and listen much,” added Fr. Shea. “That’s why this is a special place, because people come here just to be able to have an experience that they generally don’t have in their ordinary, everyday life. I think that’s true for me, too. That’s why it’s such a gift for me to be able to work here.”
This year, the Jesuits are celebrating a special Ignatian year, from May 2021 to July 2022. The year celebrates the 500th anniversary of the conversion of the religious order’s founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
“One thing the retreat house is doing to mark (the anniversary) is offering another form of the spiritual exercises to people,” said Fr. Carr. “It’s a series of eight Thursdays … called ‘Meeting Christ in Prayer.’ It’s the first time, at least in recent years, that the retreat house has done this.”
While about 75% of those who visit Jesuit Retreat House are repeat retreatants, Fr. Carr welcomes those who have never been to the retreat house located on the shores of Lake Winnebago.
“JRH seems to be a little local gem in the diocese that a lot of people don’t know about,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place to pray, to grow in one’s faith and we are open. We have beautiful and comfortable grounds and facilities for people. We welcome folks here to grow in their faith life.”
To learn more about the retreats offered at Jesuit Retreat House or for more information visit jesuitretreathouse.org or call (920)231-9060.