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« Retreat. Part II. | Main | The End. Of the Year. »

Retreat. Part I.

I'm in a place called "Queenswood" for the weekend. As much as you may want to guess it's a mental health facility of some kind, it's actually a retreat and residence for the Sisters of St. Ann.

A bit of history. The Sisters of St Ann were pioneers in education and health care in British Columbia. They opened the very first school in Victoria in 1858, in addition to St. Ann's Academy where they educated the sisters and went on to open 34 more schools throughout the Pacific Northwest. In the 1960's when St Ann's Academy was bustling and filled to capacity, the Sisters of St. Ann decided it was time to find property in Victoria near the University where young sisters could live while getting their education and professional training, and where ill and aging sisters could reside and retire.

Near Cadboro Bay the sisters found 15 wooded acres, containing pristine forested areas as well as tended gardens. It had been the homestead of Lt. Col. Alen A. Sharland, whose home was destroyed by fire in the early 1960s. In the 1966 the sisters commissioned architect John DiCastri to design Queenswood House, a convent and retreat centre. Queenswood was designed as an oasis of peace for students, missionaries, and people of all faiths who needed space to study or just respite from the buffeting of the world. Designed as a space evolving spiritually in harmony with the contours of the land, the building follows the descent and rise of the terrain and the orientation of light within it's magnificent natural surroundings.

The building itself reflects the shape of an uplifted body, with the residence wings as the legs, counseling rooms in the torso; hospitality centre and Marguerite Lounge in the heart; conference rooms, library and dining room as the outstretched arms and the chapel as the head.

Quite forward thinking and always with concern for women, the sisters' first retreat upon opening in 1967 was for single mothers needing to renew their energy. It was called "Seven Beds for Seven Mothers."

As Queenswood programs became known in the Greater Victoria community, it has earned a reputation as a welcoming, nurturing retreat centre for anyone seeking a quiet, restful place to retreat, relax and renew oneself - physically, mentally and/or spiritually.

As you know, Haiti has been devastated by Tuesday’s earthquake. There are 40 Sisters of St. Ann and their families in Haiti and they run four schools and a clinic as well as the SSA Haitian Province Administration centre, with residence and novitiate. Sister Eileen confirmed to us this morning that all the buildings have collapsed and that one of the Sisters was killed when this happened. All of the others survived.

I'm here this weekend to learn Reiki from one of the sisters. Sister Eileen to be exact. The course is Friday night to Sunday but I checked in a day early to give myself some time to settle in and prepare mentally for learning a healing practice.

As you can imagine, the building is old. It's built with concrete blocks, each one being the outside and the inside of the walls at once. The interior walls are the same concrete blocks. Each residence wing is two floors housing small rooms, a few offices, rooms for reflection and a communal shared bathroom.

My bedroom contains a closet, a single bed, a sink and mirror, a desk and chair, the rocking chair in which I now sit to type and a dresser.

Quite a few of the areas here are "silent", which suits me just fine. I'm sure the other guests appreciate that they feel no obiligation to speak to the girl with the blue hair. Over the last couple of days they've managed to eyeball their fill, so to speak.

I think there may be internet connections available in the library although once I became accustomed to it not being available, I find I have no real desire to check on the 'real world'.

After unpacking on Thursday, I headed to the library to check out a couple of books (the lovely old system of signing the card in the pocket!) and retired to my room to do a little reading. I chose two books for my time here, for although I brought a non-fiction book and a small business book of my own, I wanted to read some selections a bit more inward looking and thought provoking. The library is quite comprehensive and carries over 12, 000 books - I'd say 90% of them are biblical, spiritual or philosophical in some way.

My two books are a research paper: " Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics: Lifestyles for Self-discovery" by Marsha Sinetar; and the non-fiction "Lambs of God" by Marele Day.

Back cover blurb for Lambs : Carla, Margarita, and Iphigenia are three nuns living in a crumbling monastery on a remote island, forgotten by time, the world, and the Church. Their days are spent in rituals of prayer and storytelling, as they knit the wool of the sheep that inhabit the monastery grounds, and into whose bodies they beliieve their deceased sisters' souls have entered. Then one day a priest appears. Hoping to rise in the Church hierarchy, Father Ignatius wants to convert what he believes is an uninhabited and valuable piece of Church property into a resort for the wealthy. He is as surprised to see the nuns as they are to see a flesh-and-blood man, and what follows is the strange, moving, and often hilarious story of their struggle - a struggle of wills, but also of faith.

I've read a bit of each so far and both are extremely compelling books.

After a brief bit of reading, I headed down to the dining room for the 'silent' seating of dinner. Inside the room door there is a bowl filled with words and each entrant is invited to dip their hand in and pull out a word, laying it down face up on the table so that others can see what's come up that day. My word? "Birth". I find it appropriate.

Dinner was Mediterranean chicken breast, salad bar, baked potatos and a lovely rasberry cake and whipped cream dessert followed by a walk around the grounds and through the labryrinth.

Typical as Island winters are, the trees are skeletal and the very air is grey but here and there are snowdrops under the trees and tulips poking their heads above the soil and in my minds eye, I can imagine how beautiful and enchanting this place must be in all the other seasons of the year.



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Reader Comments (1)

Lovely - both your writing and the surroundings you're in. Looking forward to more updates!
January 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfishboy

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