Island of spiritual renewal
Diocesan retreat house will celebrate its 50th birthday throughout this summer
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
This summer will be a season of celebration at the Holy Name Retreat House on Chambers Island. In recognition of the retreat house's 50th anniversary, returning retreatants will have the opportunity to take a walk down memory lane.
"We gathered some pictures and some items from archives for display," said Monica Penzenstadler, co-administrator along with her husband, Dcn. Bob Penzenstadler. "A memory book will also be available where people can share stories of past retreats and experiences on the island."
The first retreat on Chambers Island was held on Aug. 3, 1951. Last summer actually marked the 50th year, but the celebration was more suitable this summer, said Dcn. Penzenstadler, who also serves as the spiritual director at the retreat house.
"Last year, we had the dedication for the building and renovation project," he said. "We didn't want to have another major event for the anniversary, so we decided to celebrate it throughout the retreat season."
"Hopefully the people will share their experiences," he continued. "The first story was already shared with me while I was on retreat. A guy passed me a note at lunch one day."
The note included a confession that the man had turned on the fire hose at the retreat house when making his first visit to the island as an eight-year-old boy.
"I asked some of the people who had been around at that time if they remembered that," said Dcn. Penzenstadler. "They remembered the time exactly. It caused some water damage to the carpet. The hose was never properly drained, so in the winter it froze and had to be replaced. Someone told me to go back to this guy and ask him to make a donation to cover his costs. We have had some fun with it already. One of the other old stories we found out about is that Fr. Dave Baeten used to drive a bus up there when he was a seminarian."
Three walls will include displays featuring the history and progress of the retreat house. A wall outside the chapel will include photos and text depicting the transformation from a home on the island to the retreat house. A wall in the dining room will showcase photos of the spiritual directors and administrators who have served at Chambers Island. The third wall, located in one of the new conference rooms, is tentatively planned to include photos of the present facilities and a look to the future.
Retreat participants will also receive a gift from Bp. Robert Morneau in celebration of 50 years. He has written a poem and two prayers to mark the anniversary. The poem will be displayed throughout the retreat house. The prayers will be given to retreatants in prayer card form.
The retreat house functions from mid-May to mid-September. Retreats are offered for men, women, couples, religious personnel, seminarians and parish groups. Retreats can accommodate 69 people including the directors and musicians. Each retreat begins with a 45-minute voyage across the waters of Green Bay in the Quo Vadis, the retreat house boat, captained by Joel Blahnik. Registrations for this summer are filling up, said Dcn. Penzenstadler.
"Seven retreats are filled already," he said. "This is considerably ahead of last year. If people would like to come, there is still plenty of room, but they should sign up as soon as possible."
The Penzenstadlers credit volunteers for their assistance in preparing the retreat house for the 2001 season. A College Work Weekend in late April helped complete many tasks.
"We had students from UW-Green Bay, Silver Lake College and UW-Oshkosh," said Monica. "They came to work and also for a retreat experience. They were phenomenal."
"We had 38 people for the College Work Weekend," said Dcn. Penzenstadler. "We had a list of things to do and a list of things in case they finished the first list. They not only finished the first list, but finished the "in case" list and did some other things as well.
"The volunteers we have seen up there make it work," he added. "Chambers Island would not succeed without the volunteers."
"We have many professional people, plumbers, carpenters, cooks and cleaners who give their time and talents," said Monica. "They have projects they want to accomplish each year."
"People are coming partly because they are asked, but also because they want to be there," said Dcn. Penzenstadler. "That to me is the strongest draw to the place."
Even though Holy Name Retreat House has a more than 50-year history, it is still an unknown treasure to many people within the diocese, said Dcn. Penzenstadler.
"I describe it as one of the best kept secrets," he said. "When you talk to some people they ask 'Where is it?' 'The diocese owns it?' A lot of people just don't know that the place exists."
"It's not just the retreat house that attracts people," said Monica. "It's the island experience. There are so many places of peace and quiet and beauty on the island, that if you are coming to a retreat to sort through things, you can find a place to help you find answers."
As the new administrators, the Penzenstadlers have set one goal for the summer.
"We want to make the retreat house a place where you can feel like you are at home," said Dcn. Penzenstadler. "We want it to be a place where you really don't want to leave because you've enjoyed it. When you come back, we want you to feel that you are being welcomed home. We feel that it is a very spiritual place. We want the spiritual side of things to come alive."
"We want it to be a spiritual home away from home," said Monica.
For information about Holy Name Retreat House or to register for a 2001 retreat, call Debra Rusch at (920)437-7531, ext. 8296.