Get away to pray: Encounter God at one of these retreat places near Denver this summer

Beyond the never-ending debate of whether summer is better than winter or vice versa, there is no doubt that the green, flowers and fauna of the warmer days of the year provide a unique experience for family time, outdoor activities and prayer.

Fortunately, the Archdiocese of Denver has been blessed with numerous retreat sites surrounded by silence and beauty that are available to Denver Catholics. So, consider going on an individual or group retreat to one of these sites and encounter the Creator through the beauty of creation.

Regina Caeli Hermitage

“Soaked with a monastic spirit” and located in a silent valley of western Littleton, the Regina Caeli Hermitage sits amidst the beauty of the Rocky Mountains — and at a convenient distance for Denver residents.

This property welcomes both individuals and groups throughout the year for retreats. Run by the community of the Brothers of Saint John, who follow the footsteps of the Beloved Disciple through prayer, study fraternal charity, and teaching and preaching, the hermitage counts with a big retreat center and two cabins.

The Dome House has 20 beds, eight rooms and a bathroom on each of the three floors, a spacious library that can be used as a conference hall, kitchen, refectory and chapel.

The other two individual cabins, named “Patience” and “Faithfulness,” are for “brave souls,” since, due to their rustic nature, they provide a unique experience for those who wish to “go to the desert” like the first Christian monks. They are equipped with a bed, desk, chapel and wood stove to stay warm during the winter months. Bathrooms and a kitchen are available in the Dome House.

The Brothers of Saint John acquired the property from Father Roger Mollison in 2002, a priest from the Archdiocese of Denver, in order to have a place of retreat for their novices during their required two months of “desert” or silent retreat.

For a calendar of availability and to stay tuned on future retreats organized by the Brothers, visit rchermitage.org.

Mother Cabrini Shrine

Not many dioceses can offer a place where the faithful can walk and reflect in the footsteps of a saint. Here in Denver, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini parish offers that and more.

This popular retreat site offers opportunities for group and individual retreats and for overnight or day retreats. The historic three-story Stone House that was commissioned to be built by St. Frances Xavier is available for overnight group retreats. It features 10 bedrooms, 28 twin beds, chapel, sunroom and great room for presentations.

The Hermitage is available for overnight individual retreats or one- to three-people retreats. It gives an experience that is “remote” and “isolated.” It features a great view of the Statue of the Sacred Heart, living room with kitchenette, one bedroom and one bathroom. For people seeking an individual or group day retreat, the shrine also offers opportunities. Groups can book a conference room, a chapel, the Hermitage or the Stone House, and order meals. Individuals can enjoy their self-guided retreat in the quiet and beautiful places, including the prayer garden and the stations of the cross leading up to the 22-foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

To book your next retreat, visit mothercabrinishrine.org.

Jesus Our Hope Hermitage

Located on South Creek Road in Littleton, Jesus Our Hope Hermitage is a great place for those looking to find God in silence and nature near the Mile-High City.

The hermitage is directed by the Community of the Beatitudes of Denver, and features four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen, a meeting room that can fit up to 20 people and a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament.

Devoid from all modern technological distractions, the hermitage’s 62 acres of rugged woodland allow for a restful and prayerful stay for individuals or groups.

The piece of land on which the hermitage rests was purchased by Father Roger Mollison in the early ‘90s, who dreamed of providing a safe place away from the distractions of daily life where people could encounter God.

The Community of the Beatitudes continues that mission by providing spiritual guidance or private Mass if requested with anticipation and “Come and Rest” days for groups seeking guided reflection.

As the site’s website suggests, “Whether you walk the trails, sit quietly in the gazebo or find a spot [you discovered], the solitude and beauty of nature is a constant reminder of the love God has for this earth, for each of us, and for you in particular. God will speak to you there and you will return to your daily life blessed and renewed.”

Visit jesus-our-hope.org for more information.

Annunciation Heights

Providing one of the most beautiful views of Longs Peak, the Archdiocese of Denver’s new adventure camp, located 10 miles south of Estes Park, rightfully carries the mission of providing a place where people can encounter the Creator through the beauty of creation.

The fun activities and programs offered for kids, families and schools year-round are all directed to this goal. The Summer Camp programs for 4th to 12th graders include activities such as hiking, climbing and zip-lining, along with daily Mass, formation and prayer. While Annunciation Heights is not available for individual retreats, it is possible to book for group retreats for adults or young men, women and other Catholic groups.

Even more, the staff continuously strives to be witnesses of what Christian hospitality should look like. And for those who truly seek to get away, there is no cellphone coverage, which helps to enter into the experience, instead of checking social media or work emails. Wi-Fi, we must say, is available for retreat leaders and emergencies.

Whether you want to send your kid to summer camp or go on retreat with your parish group or your family, Annunciation Heights is a great option. The archdiocese invested in a place to make it available to the faithful — use it!

For more info visit annunciationheights.org

COMING UP: Machebeuf basketball star traded success playing hoops for a solitary life of prayer

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Shelly Pennefather led the Bishop Machebeuf High School girls’ basketball team to victory in every game she played in. It was not surprising to her friends and classmates that she would go on to play college ball for Villanova and then play professionally in Japan. It was not even surprising that she would have a religious vocation.

What was surprising was the order she chose. In 1991, Shelly Pennefather drove to Alexandria, Va., where she entered the Monastery of the Poor Clares. She would become a cloistered nun, living a radical life that included going barefoot out of penance and poverty and praying all of the hours of the Divine Office, even at 12:30 a.m.

This also meant she would not see her family except for twice a year from behind a transparent screen. She would not hug them until 25 years after her profession.

“I was shocked that she chose a cloistered order,” said Annie Mcbournie, graduate of Machebeuf in 1984 and a friend of Pennefather’s. “I was not at all shocked that she chose a vocation.”

Her story was recently featured on ESPN, who recounted how Pennefather gave up being the highest-paid women’s basketball player in the world in 1991 to live a life in service to the Lord as a Poor Clare.

Pennefather took the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. This past June, Sister Rose Marie celebrated her 25th anniversary of her solemn profession: the long-awaited moment to greet her family from outside the screen, not to happen again for another 25 years.

Villanova teammates, friends, Machebeuf classmates, and family were all in attendance. She hugged her 78-year-old mom for what will probably be the last time.

Mcbournie was not able to make it but will visit Sister Rose Marie this fall. Since she’s kept up with her via letters, she is permitted to visit the monastery.

Pennefather attended Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver from 1980 to 1983 before transferring for her senior year due to her dad’s military job. She left Machebeuf with a 70-0 record.

“Her entire high school career, she never lost a basketball game,” Mcbournie said.

Mcbournie was a cheerleader and friend of Sister Rose Marie in high school, but a deeper friendship began 10 years after graduation. Sister Rose Marie’s brother Dick called Mcbournie before World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 since Mcbournie was still in the area.

Sister Rose Marie had just joined the Poor Clares and Dick and McBournie met up and spoke about the mourning process the family was going through, McBournie said. Dick mentioned to her that they could write Sister Rose Marie as many letters as they wanted, and one day a year, on the Feast of the Epiphany, she could write back.

Shelly Pennefather, pictured here in this photo from the Archdiocese of Denver archives, always exuded a deep spiritual life, her former Bishop Machebeuf classmates said. (Photo by James Baca)

“From that year on, I have been writing her every year,” McBournie said. She gives Sister Rose Marie updates on life, pictures from their high school reunions, and prayer requests.

“I have witnessed her journey through these letters,” McBournie said.

When Sister Rose Marie’s dad passed away shortly after entering, she was not able to leave the monastery to go to the funeral. McBournie saw how difficult these sacrifices were for her, especially in the early years of her vocation. But the letters show Sister Rose Marie’s joy.

“The last 5 to 10 years, I could just see her say, ‘I’m so blessed to be able to do this’,” McBournie said. “She’s so joyful.”

A fellow Machebeuf classmate asked McBournie for Sister Rose Marie’s address in order to have a little fun. He sent her a $20 bill with a note saying he thought she could use a smoke and a bottle of wine.

Sister Rose Marie did not miss a beat and in her yearly letter, she responded, “I bought incense, and I drank from the chalice,” McBournie recounted.

Shelly Pennefather (#15) had a 70-0 record playing basketball for Bishop Machebeuf in the 1980s, and went on to play for Villanova and then professionally in Japan. (Photo courtesy of Villanova Athletics)

But this letter sparked a friendship. This classmate has continued to write letters and even attended the 25-anniversary jubilee.

“Her letters are still hilarious, still very sarcastic,” McBournie said.

She remembers Sister Rose Marie being reserved and quiet in high school, focused more on school and basketball than anything else. Her father was in the military and the family was very disciplined, but they had a good sense of humor and quick wit, McBournie said.
“Her spirituality permeated her existence from the time she was young,” McBournie said.

David Dominguez was a few years ahead of Sister Rose Marie at Machebeuf but remembers her discipline and her talent. He called himself her cheerleader.’

“If it was really tight, we would start yelling, ‘Shelly, Shelly!’” Dominguez said. “It was one of my favorite cheers.”

Dominguez exercised at the Air Force base gym where Sister Rose Marie would train and play basketball with her dad and brother.

“I knew she had incredible skills,” Dominguez said. “It was kind of magical to watch.”

Sister Rose Marie recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her profession of vows with the Poor Clares. She was able to hug her friends and family for the first time in 25 years. ESPN was there to cover the occasion. (Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Bonacci)

Dominguez also knew she was different.

“She was living for a different purpose than everyone else,” he said.

Sister Rose Marie’s devotion and personality remain the same, though she has traded in her jersey for a habit.
Although Sister Rose Marie can only write one letter a year, and can seldom have visitors, her friendship and influence reach far beyond the monastery walls.

Mcbournie said that their yearly letters have brought them even closer than they were in high school.

“I look forward to her letter every year,” Mcbournie said.