Archive » September 13, 2007
The Way it Was
By Hattie Beresford
La Casa de Maria
“La Casa de Maria is one of the best U.S. retreats,” wrote U.S. News and World Report in its December 2005 issue. “When you walk through their gates, you enter a new and peaceful dimension.”
Striving to preserve this retreat, the Immaculate Heart Community, in 2005, purchased the seven acres of property that they had freely given to the Casa de Maria organization in the 1950s. By taking on the financial challenges of this purchase, they insured that their mission of serving humanity would continue.
Stephanie Glatt, Casa de Maria’s executive director, says, “La Casa de Maria has been serving people for over 50 years, regardless of economic level and spiritual leaning and has persisted in offering programs that meet the needs of the world.”
Over 100 local groups along with hundreds of organizations ranging from farther afield have found a peaceful place to do their work at the retreat center or benefited from Casa de Maria’s programs. Juliet Spohn-Twomey, assistant executive director, says that better than 87% of the groups return and La Casa de Maria serves over 12,000 people each year. “Many consider this a spiritual home and make yearly visits to renew themselves,” adds Twomey.
La Casa de Maria offers ongoing programs like the weekly “Mindfulness Meditation,” special events like the annual Sadako Peace Day Ceremony, extended programs like the October 21-25 “Basic 12-Step Retreat,” and series like the Capacitor Series for caregivers of the elderly or dying. The facilities are also open to groups desirous of a peaceful and spiritual environment in which to do their work. Twomey says, “La Casa de Maria has a long history of being a birthing place.” The Fielding Graduate Institute, the Waldorf School, and Pacifica Graduate Institute all saw their genesis at La Casa de Maria.
La Casa de Maria was created by a group from Beverly Hills that sought a quiet and secluded location for a married couples’ retreat. The property of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart’s novitiate in Montecito seemed just the place for meditation and discussion. At first, retreatants used the novitiate house for daytime programs and stayed at the Biltmore in the evenings.
By 1956, the group’s desire for a permanent retreat center had led to the deeding of seven acres of the Sister’s property and the creation of La Casa de Maria. Under the supervision of Mother Regina, a large chapel was built as well as a lounge, dining room, and a 42-bedroom unit.
In the 1970s, La Casa de Maria expanded its ministry by providing support and space for a variety of groups and programs, the novitiate returned to Los Angeles, and the Immaculate Heart Community was born. Originally made up of former nuns, the community was open to men and women of all faiths.
Though the primary purpose of the Community was to run the Center for Spiritual Renewal, they were active and supportive of La Casa de Maria, serving on the board and offering facilities on their property for La Casa de Maria’s work.
In 2005, La Casa de Maria – legally a separate entity from the Immaculate Heart Community – was struggling to meet its financial obligations and offered the property for sale. Wishing to preserve the mission, the Immaculate Heart Community took up the challenge, purchased the property, and initiated a Capital Campaign to fund it.
Their first goal is to retire the mortgage. Since 2005, they have made significant progress in raising funds to do so. Recently, an anonymous local benefactor has given the Community a one-million-dollar matching grant, which when matched, will accomplish that goal. So far, approximately $350,00 has been raised. At a private gathering at the home of John and Alyce Faye Cleese, La Casa de Maria supporters, Mary and Gary Becker generously offered to match donations up to $100,000.
“Once the mortgage is retired, full attention can be given to maintenance, physical improvements, and programs,” says Stephanie Glatt. The Community has also received several grants for “greening” the environment and was selected by the Community Environmental Council as one of the non-profits it will advise and help design plans to create a sustainable environment.
Paul Orfalea, philanthropist and founder of Kinko’s, said, “It is important to the world that there are places like La Casa de Maria, where we can retreat from the everyday concerns of the world and get in touch with our deeper values, things that really matter.”
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