Place of peace and prayer: St. Francis Springs plans expansion
STONEVILLE — St. Francis Springs Prayer Center opened its doors in 2005, located on 140 acres of beautifully wooded property 40 minutes north of Greensboro. Six years and many thousands of retreats later, the response to the Catholic retreat center has been overwhelming, and the prayer center is planning a dramatic expansion to further its mission as a place of spiritual retreat, beauty and peace.
Pictured at left: Father Louis Canino, OFM, is director of the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center. (Photo provided by St. Francis Springs Prayer Center)
"We turn people away every week who want to bring retreats here because we don't have the space," said Ann Bauer, the center's assistant director.
Sometimes, Bauer explains, it's a group of day retreat participants needing an assembly room that holds more than 40 people. Other times it might be an overnight group needing more beds.
For the staff at the prayer center and for Father Louis Canino, OFM, the center's director, the increased demand has been a blessing, a joy and a natural affirmation of their hard work. Most importantly for Father Canino, however, it confirms the need for what the center offers: a sanctuary where silence is respected, prayer is honored, and all those seeking a deeper connection with God are welcomed.
"We believe that everybody has a contemplative bent," Father Canino says. "What I mean by that is we believe everybody has a need for silence and solitude to listen to the heartbeat of God."
To "nature or nourish" that part of our being, Father Canino says, is the first part of the center's mission.
First, the center accomplishes that through its building and grounds. The common areas, such as the open dining room or the main sitting room, are spacious and inviting for fellowship among retreat participants.
Moving away from the common areas, the center's layout offers peaceful spaces designed for retreat participants to seek quiet places to pray and to listen to God: the chapel, the residential wing with its quiet rooms, and small sitting areas.
Second, the center's mission is supported by the people who work there, nearly all of whom are volunteers. They make the beds, cook and serve the meals, clean the rooms, wash the linens and more.
PEACE THROUGH JUSTICE
The second part of the center's mission is to teach people to create peace through the Peace and Justice Institute located at St. Francis Springs.
"Justice is giving back to people that which rightfully belongs to them," Father Canino says. "Here at the institute, we work to promote that."
Shelter, clean water, and the freedom to practice one's religion are some examples given by Father Canino of basic human rights that all people should have in a just world. The institute offers one-day and weekend retreats to explore the social justice dimension of the Gospel and how to integrate the Gospel message into one's life through prayer and action.
A week-long immersion experience in El Salvador is also an important program at the Peace and Justice Institute. It allows participants to experience a world different from their own – and the opportunity to understand truly what it means to struggle daily for one's basic needs.
Last November 18 people traveled to El Salvador with staff from the institute. Since 1999 more than 100 people have participated in this immersion program, and many have returned to help improve the lives of the people they met. Through support and donations, the institute, in conjunction with the El Salvadorian aid group Aprodehni, has been able to build day care centers, wells, latrines and bridges. They have helped families be able to send their children to school and they have sponsored some of these children through college.
PRAYER IN ALL THINGS
For the people who work at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center, paid or volunteer, the effort they put forth is a ministry. They believe that the center is a place where God's presence is tangible and, perhaps most of all, challenging. In a world that is, as Father Canino calls it, so broken, the need for the prayer center has never been greater.
"Spending qualitative time in silence and prayer leads to a deep realization that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers," he says. "That realization leads us to understand that in order for there to be peace in the world, there must be justice for all."
PHASE II EXPANSION PLANS
Because of the increasing number of requests the center is receiving for larger meeting spaces and more guestrooms, plans are under way to begin a building expansion that will double the center's size. The center will go from 25,000 square feet to a total of 50,000 square feet spread among a campus of new buildings.
The expansion includes three hermitages and two cottages separate from the prayer center's main building. The hermitages will have a kitchen and bath, enabling retreat participants to enjoy greater privacy in small group settings. The cottages will have room for small groups and provide overflow sleeping for large groups using the main facility.
Other outdoor gathering/prayer areas and gardens are also planned, as well as a new assembly building. This building will have its own small chapel as well as kitchen and dining facilities, restrooms, parlors and a bookstore.
One of the most unique additions to the new campus will be an outdoor chapel, Father Canino says. The walls will be constructed of large window panels that can be opened, creating a beautifully open and airy space. The chapel will feature a large San Damiano Cross window framed in stone, a stone altar and hand-crafted pews.
— Annette Tenny, correspondent
By the numbers
– More than 30,000 people have attended retreats at the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville since it opened in 2005.
– More than 100 volunteers work at the center.
What's coming up
The center is available for private individual or group retreats. Day retreat and overnight retreat rates includes meals. On Sept. 17, there will be a "Justice & Peace Day Retreat." Go online to www.stfrancissprings.com to see the complete fall and winter schedule. For inquiries, call 336-573-3751.