Whatever became of our Retreat House in Michigan?

It was a sad day in 2013 when Fr. Frank Sacks and Vince O’Malley left St. Lazare Retreat House on the shore of Lake  Michigan. They were the last confreres serving a retreat ministry begun with its first retreat on January 27, 1953. Over the next 60 years, more than 40 confreres guided over 700,000 people as they took time out from their busy lives to root themselves more fully in God. While on vacation with his family this summer he stopped by to see what has happened during the last four years.

Renamed The Sanctuary at St.Lazare, the property has been subdivided into 32 new single-family building sites to form a waterfront community located on Spring Lake.

See picture below

Begun at the request of Bishop Haas, Fr. John McGowan directed the original search for suitable property and the subsequent construction of the modest facility.

In 1953, 460 Catholic lay men and women participated in 48 retreat weekends at Saint Lazare. During the next three years, the annual number of retreatants jumped successively from 800 to 1,005 and 1,059. In the 1950’s on average, forty retreats were conducted amounted to 1300 retreatants per year. Throughout the 1960’s the count averaged approximately 1600. In the 1970’s and 80’s St. Lazare averaged 38 parish retreat weekends, which averaged 161 persons. In the 1990’s and into the next millennium, an average 37 retreat weekend were conducted for the parishes and an average 1400 people attending each year.

All told approximately 716,000 people attended parish-based retreat, while tens of thousands of other attended the various other forms

Why did so many come?

In 1961, Father William Casey, C.M. answered the question this way.

Retreatants have the ordinary blessings of religion in their own parish churches. They have the sacraments, their church services and the counsel and ministration oftheir own spiritual leaders. Why do they make a retreat?

Unfortunately, there are so many distractions in daily life. This is the “jet age”, an age of speed and noise and confusion. Even at home, there can be no so little time to think, to pray, to find and follow Christian answers to modern living.

There are so many problems to be thought out carefully and quietly … Where will we find security? The payment on the house is due. How shall we guide and train our children? We can’t afford another child! And on and on.

With everything else clamoring for attention, the most important thing – your peace of mind here and your eternal salvation can be forgotten. It is true that you want to get to heaven, but do you take the time and trouble to get there? A weekend retreat at Saint Lazare may make all the difference for you in this world and the next

St. Lazare hosted weekend retreats for engaged couples, married couples, single women, young ladies, nurse, the Legion of Mary and Catholic War Veterans.

Midweek 3 and 4 days retreats have been held for local Catholic high school students, the priests and permanent deacons of the Diocese both for continuing education and for days of recollection.

During the summer, week long retreats were popular with priests and religious sisters.

In September 1965 the Regional Congress for Retreat Houses of Michigan chose Saint Lazare for its first-ever gathering.

Numerous non-Catholic religious groups began to hold one-day meetings in the the paradisiacal setting of Saint Lazare.

In 1984 Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon began making weekend retreats at Saint Lazare. Beginning in spring 2000 the retreat house director began offering twise=-weekly Masses for home-school children and the parents, and a weekly movie night followed by reflection among the attendees.

Secrets to success

All the Retreat House Directors over the years intentionally maintained a low cost of offering from the retreatants, and that no cost would be necessary if a retreatant could not afford it “Give what you can,” had been the mantra of the directors. No retreatant was ever turned away.

Second, all the directors involved themselves with the diocesan clergy. The Vincentian directors regularly attend the diocesan priests’ annual convocation and local deanery monthly meetings. The directors happily offer the facility of Saint Lazare for priests’ continuing education programs and priests’ formal and informal meetings, and to be available for confession and counseling for the benefit of diocesan priests. Diocesan priests felt at home at Saint Lazare Retreat House, sponsored parish retreats and recommended their parishioners to take advantage of the opportunities.

Cardinal Mooney’s wish “that the Retreat House shall bring blessings to thousands of men and women of the Diocese who were seeking persona! intimacy with the Lord has been fulfilled beyond imagination and expectation. As Saint Paul had promised, “He who begins this good work, will bring it to perfection.” (Phil. 1.6) The retreat house achieved its mission.

But times changed….

Among those currently alive who served there

  • Jim Dorr
  • Richard Kehoe
  • Mike Kennedy
  • John Kettleberger
  • Vince O’Malley
  • Al Pehrsson
  • MikeShea
  • Lou Trotta
  • Steve Trzecieski


Retreat ministry continues today with many individual confreres. A partial list includes

  • Pat Griffin
  • Marty McGeough
  • Tom McKenna
  • Mike Shea

St. Lazare Reteat House, Spring Lake, Michigan – YouTube

▶ 9:08
Apr 11, 2011 – Uploaded by Frank Sacks
Portrays the March 25-27, 2011 women’s retreat at St. Lazare Retreat, Spring Lake, MI. The center is …
Picture of old house
Picture and video as source of excerpts from Sacks

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