This peaceful path at Our Lady of Peace Retreat House in Beaverton isn't far for many Catholics in the Archdiocese of Portland.
This peaceful path at Our Lady of Peace Retreat House in Beaverton isn't far for many Catholics in the Archdiocese of Portland.
Everyone knows the vacation drill. It begins with the stress of getting ready to get away. Next comes the stress of go-go-going during the days and nights of the get-away, to make sure you’re enjoying yourself, relaxing and also getting your money’s worth. Then a growing exhaustion and finally the overwhelming trauma of returning to hundreds of emails, delayed projects and guilt.

It’s a necessary cost for investing in family or couple time.

There’s another get-away investment that’s also important: the self-care of retreats.

Pope Francis recently asked the world’s Benedictine monasteries and abbeys — like Mount Angel Abbey and the Queen of Angels Monastery in the Willamette Valley — to continue their work as “oases where men and women … can discover the beauty of silence” giving retreatants the space to listen to God’s voice.

Including the Benedictines’ retreat facilities, the Archdiocese of Portland is blessed with many Catholic retreat houses, places to go to rediscover one’s true bearings. They include:

Bethany Center in Beaverton,

Father Bernard Youth Center in Mount Angel,

Franciscan Spirituality Center in Milwaukie,

the Griffin Center in Milwaukie,

the Grotto in Portland,

Mount Angel Abbey Retreat House in St. Benedict,

Namasté, the Holy Names Sisters’ retreats in various locations,

Our Lady of Peace Retreat House in Beaverton,

Shalom at the Monastery, Mount Angel,

St. Benedict Lodge in McKenzie Bridge,

St. Rita Retreat Center in Gold Hill and

The Trappist Guest House near Carlton.

“Retreats help us be the best person we can be,” says Heather Wycoff, manager of the Griffin Center, operated by the Archdiocese of Portland. “Retreats are a way of doing that, to spend time with God. Retreats help the soul, they feed our spirits.”

The Griffin Center, like St. Benedict Lodge in McKenzie Bridge, is a center that groups can book at a reduced cost because groups bring their own food, cooks, kitchen clean-up crews and sometimes even their own bedding.

“If you use the dishes, you put them away,” says Wycoff of the rules at the Griffin Center. “If you move the furniture, you put it back.”

When youth groups book a weekend at the center, they often don’t even use its 15 single and six double bedrooms. They bring sleeping bags, with boys sleeping in one conference room, girls in another.

The Griffin Center also is popular with groups of older retreatants, who do use the bedrooms, each of which has its own bathroom in the converted convent.

If a group wants cooking included, on the other hand, the Franciscan Our Lady of Peace Retreat House is the kind of facility an organizer might choose. “I have to admit our food is really good,” says Franciscan Sister Anne Marie Warren.

Our Lady of Peace draws so many retreat groups that the sisters are pondering whether to build a new retreat house or repair what is there. Whatever the sisters decide, they’ve already raised funds to renovate the chapel and they’re also improving the Way of the Cross path on their lush grounds.

“Retreats are going well,” says Sister Anne Marie. “People find them important.”

In part, that’s because of the silence, which is so key to what gives room for the Holy Spirit to be present. “Noise can hide God from us,” says Sister Anne Marie.

In his book “A Time To Keep Silence,” travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote about his unexpected discovery of the power of silence at the great Benedictine St. Wandrille de Fontanelle Abbey in northern France. He’d been looking for a cheap place to write. He found much more.

At first it bothered him so much he couldn’t sleep. But then he began sleeping perfectly, “followed by awakenings full of energy and limpid freshness. The explanation is simple enough: the desire for talk, movement and nervous expression that I had transported from Paris found, in this silent place, no response or foil, evoked no single echo; after miserably gesticulating for a while in a vacuum, it languished and finally died for lack of any stimulus or nourishment.”

Karen Armstrong wrote in the introduction to the book that Fermor realized that he had “entered a territory that was alien in a different way from the remote places he had described in his other travel books. ... One that entirely and deliberately reversed the norms of secular life.”

Fermor used the words “light,” “peace” and “happiness” to describe what he found in the silence at St. Wandrille and then at the Trappists’ La Grande Trappe and the rock monasteries of Cappadocia in Turkey.

Sister Anne Marie sees retreatants finding those same blessings at Our Lady of Peace, whether they come for more time with Jesus or in a quest to hear God’s voice as they make a major decision.

She says the retreat house and the groups coming work with a variety of retreat masters, Jesuit, Norbertines and Redemptorists, something that has worked well since the center doesn’t have a resident spiritual director. For that reason, it doesn’t cater to individual retreatants.

The Trappist Guest House near Carlton, on the other hand, welcomes mostly private retreatants, although they also host two group retreats every month. Retreatants there can request a session of spiritual direction with one of the Trappist monks in residence, but for the most part retreats there are not guided. When groups come, they are generally meditative.

The rooms book up quickly, with many retreatants returning every year for a day or couple days’ retreat praying alone and with the Trappist monks.

Those who make the time discover its potency for renewal, and often come again and again, says Sister Anne Marie.

“It’s hard to make time for yourself,” says Wycoff. “But it’s important.”