Closing a Monastery—Remembering a History (continued)
By 1927 small retreat groups began coming to pray in the original solid stone wing of Our Mother of Sorrows Monastery. Earlier, in 1908, St. Paul of the Cross Province had been split along the Ohio River. In 1923 the major Passionist foundations were in West Hoboken, (Union City) NJ, Pittsburgh, Boston, Dunkirk, Holy Cross Prep in Dunkirk and Baltimore. During the 1920s Provincials Stanislaus Grennan (1923-1929) and Justin Carey (1929-1932) were leading the Passionists into new ministries. The Archconfraternity of the Passion was founded in the 1920s and the Passionist educational program became more institutional and professional. Missionaries were sent to China in 1921 and in 1922 they were sent to Germany. By the late 1920s the Passionists began the apostolate to the "Colored Missions" in North Carolina.
Some of our present day foundations were in their beginning stages. Shelter Island was a swamp. St. Patrick's Monastery (present day rectory of Our Lady of Angels Parish) in Kingsbridge, Bronx, bought in 1920, was being sold because it was in too congested an area; and negotiations had commenced to purchase the Allien Estate on Palisade Avenue in Riverdale (the present day Riverdale Research Center) which was bought on September 24, 1924 for $235,500. Later, the April 1925 readers of The Sign, the Passionist periodical first published in 1921, were told that the Retreat House of the Immaculate Conception in Jamaica, NY, was accepting retreatants.
The Passionists hoped West Springfield would serve the emerging lay retreat movement. Joseph Chinnici, OFM, in Living Stones: The History and Structure of the Catholic Spiritual Life in the United States (Macmillan, 1989) portrays this movement as one of the major devotional thrusts of the twentieth century. Over the years, as the retreat movement grew and expanded so did the buildings. Maintenance costs and declining number of religious are two important reasons for closing the West Springfield Monastery. Another is the decline in the number of retreatants. The relationship of the above issues had a bearing on the closing of the retreat movement in Brighton, MA, Baltimore, MD, and North Palm Beach, FL.
Why has the number of retreatants declined? The answer is not simple. In part, the success of the retreat movement has been built on the premise that one goes on retreat for an entire weekend. However, Witold Rybczynski in Waiting for the Weekend (Penguin, 1991) explains that the weekend as we know it came of age at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. One can argue, therefore, that weekend retreats, which started with small numbers in the 1920s, was a creative response to the weekend experience. Both Passionists and retreatants found the retreat weekend to be a powerful experience. It is imperative that we Passionists make an effort to document this important spiritual movement in the United States Church. United States Catholic missionaries went on to develop this movement in other parts of the world.
Rybczynski argues that today, many more people work on the weekend than thirty years before. The meaning of leisure has changed. The time for leisure has changed and leisure for many people has become something they work to achieve. Today, leisure has less to do with spiritual things. In fact all human activity over the past century has undergone tremendous social and technological change. This has affected the church, devotional life, and the retreat movement specifically.
This information has to be taken into account when discussing the decline in the number of retreatants. Changing demographics and ethnic religious practice are not the only questions that must be asked to understand how the lay retreat apostolate will move into the future?