January 23, 2021

Back to Live Retreats

Retreatants are social-distanced in the Conference Room for Mass and for the talks (Sister Mary Anthony is pictured here giving instructions on the retreatants’ first night.)

Over the past year we have been considering how we can renew in-person retreats and meet all the safety standards for COVID19.  Much thought and prayer has gone into the decision to begin inviting retreatants again to Casa Maria Retreat House.  We are required to limit the number of retreatants who can attend and follow the guidelines concerning the virus.  These requirements, while a burden in many ways, are well worth the effort to provide in-person retreats again!  Although we still have to visit with masks and distancing, the gift of being in the presence of our retreatants and in the same Chapel for prayer is a blessing beyond words.  One of our Sisters shares her thoughts with you:

The Sisters plate the meals…

“I’m an extravert and our apostolate of catechesis and retreats is right up my alley.  I’ve always enjoyed visiting with retreatants whenever I could, engaging in joy-filled conversations.  But this has not been possible with COVID19.  We had only been in lock-down a couple of weeks before my dreams at night became filled with crowds of people!  I know it has been hard on a lot of people. At least in the convent, we have our community of Sisters; but I miss interacting with our retreatants, old and new. 

A retreat is a time and a place provided for people to come and get away from daily distractions – and hopefully worries, though we always bring those with us – and spend time with God in prayer.  It is also an opportunity for retreatants to connect with other like-minded people. They can discover they aren’t the only ones in the universe who believe as they do, though sometimes they may feel like the odd ones out!

 

and deliver them to the retreatants at tables in the Reception Room

Finally, this last fall, we were able start up live retreats – just not in our usual way.  There is social-distancing and we wear masks, taking the precautions we must.  Nonetheless, now we can invite people to come back and have the rich experience of time away with God in a holy place largely without distractions.  (Have you ever felt that the term “social-distancing” is an oxymoron?)  We can only accommodate about 15-20 people with the COVID regulations, but now at least some can interact live with the retreat priest, other retreatants, or us sisters (socially-distanced, of course).  And we live-stream the retreat, but I feel that a “live studio audience” has to be better than a zoom meeting any day of the week.

This reflection is from Sister Marie Francesca who, besides engaging with retreatants and Community friends, loves to be outdoors among the flowers!

For my part, I am happy to have even limited “real” retreats (as we’ve taken to calling them) and we pray for an end to this pandemic and look forward to seeing all of you again at Casa Maria!”

 

 

 

 

A retreatant takes advantage of our new Marian Shrine

We are so blessed to still be able to provide a time and place for a prayerful retreat with Our Lord

The reverent celebration of the Sacred Liturgy at Casa Maria deeply enriches us and those who attend Retreats here

January 9, 2021

Winter Repairs and Improvements

A typical scene from Fall 2019…  Mother Louise Marie rakes back loose gravel from the drain that struggles to keep up with flooding rain water

Now that Winter is upon us again, our friends at Nature’s Edge Landscaping have begun our next stage of property improvements.  After they did such a beautiful job restoring the lawn outside the Convent wing and adding new drainage lines, we asked them to do similar work outside the Retreat wing.

 

Nature’s Edge at work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A beautiful transformation and no more water problem! (Summer 2020)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lawn outside the Retreat wing has long needed additional drainage work.  Over the years the ground has settled and eroded, and often retains standing water after a hard rain.  We are working to control the water in this area and then we will relandscape around the building.

Beginning the project

Installing French drains and additional inlets

New gravel drip edge

We also had a fence installed to screen our air conditioning units and transformer, making the area safer and more sightly.

(Before)

(After)

The drainage in this area is difficult and necessary and we pray the results of this project will be a blessing for both the Sisters and our retreatants!  (To see pictures from previous projects, visit our Photo Gallery.)

December 16, 2020

Sister Servants Sing Cathedral Vespers and Prelude Music

Last month, Father Bryan Jerabek, Rector, and Mr. Bruce Ludwick, Jr., Director of Music and Organist, at the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Birmingham, invited our community to lead the Cathedral’s sung Vespers for Sunday, December 6th.  We had the joy of practicing for this special occasion over the past few weeks.  Our choir, directed by Sister Benedicta Marie, not only prepared Solemn Vespers, but also provided much of the prelude music beforehand.  We shared a few favorite choral and solo pieces that we use for special liturgies throughout the year and two organ pieces played by Sister Margaret Mary.

We were grateful to be so warmly welcomed by the Cathedral Parish and to be joined together as a diocesan family with all those who were able to attend with social distancing.  Music is a cherished part of our community life – both liturgical and non-liturgical music that lifts our hearts to praise God.  When the whole Cathedral joined together in singing the opening hymn, “Lo He Comes”, it was breathtaking!  The congregation joined us in chanting Vespers, including the Magnificat in alternating plainchant and polyphony verses. What a joy to chant the Psalms in such a resonant space, where the echo of voices resounded and seemed like angels were answering!

The event was a blessed experience for us, and we hope the recordings below contribute to your Advent preparations for Christmas!

 

The following is a 15 second clip of the Sisters warming up with “O Sacrum Convivium” by Roberto Remondi.  To hear the full song recorded during the Prelude, visit our Soundcloud page.





Although not part of our usual liturgical repertoire, we thought the following soaring piece by Mozart would be a perfect addition to our prelude music for this occasion.

 

Sister Margaret Mary played Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude’s “Preludium in D,” which was a special treat for her on the Cathedral pipe organ!

 

The whole congregation joined us in the opening hymn of Vespers, “Lo He Comes”.

 

The Sisters sang the “Alma Redemptoris Mater” Chant to conclude the Vespers Liturgy.

 

The following is a short clip from the the Third Psalm of Vespers.  You will notice the special psalm tone we used to highlight the Alleluias.





December 10, 2020

Bon Voyage, Little Dump Truck!

Sister Marianna with the dump truck she drove during our building days

You may have noticed the array of construction equipment on our grounds and heard stories from the Sisters about their excavation of the parking lot and drainage retention pond.  Along with the expert excavator Robert, our founding Sisters operated much of the construction equipment during the first years of building. Sister Marianna, seen below on the “wacky-packy” as she compacted the dam, also drove the dump truck pictured above, while Sister Mary John Paul operated the Bantam and other equipment.

 

Robert and Sister Mary John Paul working on a project

A picture from the past, as we excavated the retreat center courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These machines served us well for several years’ excavation. Now, many years later, they have found a new home! Our friend Zach (pictured below) has been working to get them up and running.

The bulldozer lends a hand getting the truck from the pond up the hill to the parking lot

We bid them a nostalgic farewell…

…and they are seen below, already hard at work for Zach!