Santa Casa – A House of MercyMarch 7, 2023
From its beginnings as a convent school, Santa Casa Retreat Centre continues to provide a sacred space for visitors to reflect, seek and deepen their connection with God and the cosmos. In 2023, Santa Casa will offer fourteen in-house retreats that are open to the public as well as a selection of one-day retreats.
Santa Casa Retreat Centre is located on the cliffs of Victory Bight on the Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria, and is a ministry of the Institute. The property was acquired by the Sisters of Mercy in November 1901 and the convent school opened the following year; however, due to its remote location the school was unable to thrive and closed after four years.
In 1916, the sisters were approached by the Catholic Women’s Social Guild (CWGS) with a request to use the building as a holiday home for children from disadvantage backgrounds, a partnership which saw the sisters being responsible for the children during their stay and CWGS for the organization and finances. This partnership lasted for 43 years until 1961; except when for a brief period in 1937 the house was seconded by the Government during the polio epidemic and used as a rehabilitation hospital for children recovering from polio.
From 1961, the centre was used for formation and holidays for the sisters and more recently Santa Casa Retreat Centre was established as a spirituality centre open to people of all faiths. As the centre has responded to the changing needs of the time, the Mercy charism imbued by the Sisters has remained constant and encompasses those values of dignity, excellence, justice, service and stewardship.
Today, Santa Casa offers a nurturing and safe space for visitor’s attending in-house retreats, as well as for external groups wishing to hire the space for group retreats. In-house programs are run by experienced retreat directors, including sisters, religious from other orders, and lay people, and cover a wide range of topics like the gospel, prayer, interculturality, ecology, mysticism and social justice.
The retreat centre is open to bookings by external groups looking to hold self facilitated retreats. Sr Lizzie expresses that all are welcome “as long as their hearts and beliefs are aligned with our values”. The space welcomes groups from different faiths and is frequently booked by other Churches including Anglican, Baptist, and Uniting Church.
Other retreats being held in the space include quilting groups, tai chi, school leadership programs, the Salvation Army, and religious priests and sisters from other orders. Recently a group of asylum seekers attended the centre for r&r pampering days which was funded by Mercy Action Support Fund.
In 2022, Santa Casa launched a series of day retreats, predominantly targeting people who live in Geelong or on the Bellarine, and the success of these day programs has resulted in another 18 being booked in for 2023. Day programs cover a variety of topics including guided meditation, prayer, music, and topics covered in the longer retreats. Groups are facilitated by a number of volunteers and participants can be upwards of 25 people.
“Post-COVID there is such a hunger for this sort of thing,” says Sr Lizzie. “People’s understanding of Church has changed, they are seeking connection and the programs we offer are an invitation to take a small bit of time out of the busyness to pause and connect.”
Sr Lizzie has enjoyed seven years as Manager of Santa Casa and prior to this she spent over 10 years as a nurse and midwife in developing countries like Ethiopia, Angola, and the Philippines. Her ministry today, at Santa Casa, has a vastly different pace and Sr Lizzie acknowledges the good fortune she has to experience daily the same blessings she offers her guests; including the majestic grounds and a place of silence and contemplation.
“Our grounds provide a beautiful backdrop to prayer, reflection and meditation,” says Sr Lizzie. “Many of our retreats are silent, or have a silent component to them, and there is something about that stillness that is so holy.”
“A lot happens when you are in that silent space. You are getting in touch with who you are and who you are with your God.”
For more information on upcoming retreats at Santa Casa Retreat Centre visit: https://santacasa.org.au/