At Dunrovin Retreat Center, visitors can experience an ‘oasis of peace’ – Twin Cities

Before arriving at the Dunrovin Christian Brothers Retreat Center on a recent Friday afternoon, the confirmation cohort from St. Anne-St. Joseph Hien Church had to agree to refrain from cell phones, game consoles and other electronic devices.

Vanessa Pham, 16, literally said goodbye to her iPhone in the parking lot of the Marine retreat center in Sainte-Croix. “I have a picture of (Chinese actor) Yang Yang on my screen, and I gave him a kiss before I gave it to my parents,” she said. “I knew it would be hard not to have it.”

Than Nguyen, 20, said he had trouble falling asleep without his mobile phone. Nguyen, a student at North Hennepin Community College, scrolls through TikTok and watches YouTube videos before bed and listens to Korean pop music or white noise to help him fall asleep. “I hate to admit it, but I’m pretty sure I’m addicted,” he said.

Vanessa and Than were among 28 high school and college students from North Minneapolis Parish who spent the weekend in Dunrovin, located about 10 miles north of Stillwater.

Prior to COVID, the retreat center hosted hundreds of students and support staff from Catholic churches and schools in the Twin Cities and Chicago each year, but these were canceled during the pandemic.

With COVID numbers dropping, groups are starting to plan and book retreats again, said Jerome Meeds, executive director of the retreat center.

“People are starting to say, ‘We want this to come back. We need that back,” he said. “Retirements and pandemics don’t mix very well. We’re trying to build community, build closeness, and then you have social distancing, well, that just doesn’t work. We don’t want to be socially distant; we want to be close.

The need for Dunrovin’s ‘oasis of peace’ is greater than ever, said Camille Kiolbasa, director of marketing and development. “Given everything we’ve been through for the past two years, and even before that, the kids are just super stressed,” she said. “They need what we offer. And adults need what we offer. You not only have to unplug the technology; you have to be in the middle of nature in a very simple setting.”

MAKEOVER DURING HIATUS

The dormitory-style accommodation on the banks of the St. Croix River “really lends itself to keeping kids and adults alike undistracted,” Kiolbasa said. “The rooms are deliberately very simple. It’s not meant to be a vacation.

While retreats were on hiatus, Dunrovin staff revamped the retreat center. Buildings have been renovated, rooms have been redone, walls and windows have been painted and grounds have been renovated, Meeds said.

“We decided we could look at this as ‘the ship is sinking,’ or we could look at it as an opportunity,” Meeds said. “We chose to look at this as an opportunity to be in a better place when things are done. We found a way to make lemonade out of the situation.

Dunrovin is open to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.

“We are open to anyone God calls us,” Kiolbasa said. “Dunrovin is a Catholic mission, but it’s not just for Catholics. Catholic means “universal”, and as such we universally welcome everyone. This hospitality is at the heart of our Lasallian Catholic mission.

Dunrovin staff hope to return to pre-pandemic booking levels – or even higher – this year. A marketing campaign emphasizing the availability of weekday night reservations and the ability to simultaneously accommodate multiple small groups is underway, Kiolbasa said. Groups tend to be smaller and couples retreats are expected, she said.

A cabin on the property — just yards from the St. Croix River — is regularly rented out on the Airbnb short-term vacation rental app for $93 a night.

PLAN TO INCREASE PROGRAMMING

Cross-country skis and poles await users just outside the main guesthouse at the Dunrovin Christian Brothers Retreat Center in Marine on St Croix, Saturday February 12, 2022. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

Dunrovin staff hope to attract even more customers by increasing the lineup. An ongoing initiative is to bring Catholic school groups to Dunrovin during the school year. Before the arrival of Kiolbasa, school groups only came in the summer.

“I come from an education background, so I saw this was something we could do immediately,” said Kiolbasa, former director of development at St. Croix Catholic School.

Dunrovin staff want to bring inner-city middle schoolers out as formal groups and train older high schoolers in Dunrovin’s leadership program to help with college retreats, she said.

Dunrovin became a retreat center for high school students from De La Salle Christian Brothers Schools in 1964 when the religious organization purchased the 50-acre property on the St. Croix River. Campers attend morning and evening prayer services in the retreat center chapel.

Meeds has been the director of the retreat since 1999. He and his wife, Mary, who is the center’s executive assistant, raised four children in Dunrovin.

Rental income, combined with donor support, allows Dunrovin to house underserved young people for free, Meeds said. A group of students from San Miguel School in Chicago, for example, come to the retreat center every summer. Donors fund their visits, including accommodation, food and program activities; the school pays the cost of transporting the children to the camp.

Other churches, such as St. Anne-St. Joseph Hien Church in Minneapolis, are paying their own way.

MAKE CONNECTIONS

Theresa Lam, St. Anne-St. Church retreat co-ordinator Joseph Hien said every Confirmation class is looking forward to their stay in Dunrovin.

“We come from big cities, so we don’t understand at all,” she said, pointing to the snowy field leading to the St. Croix River. “We kind of put them in the middle of nowhere and separate them from their lives, so they can regroup and connect with the spiritual aspect of their lives.”

The retreat program, written by a Vietnamese priest, aims to bridge the gap between teenagers and their parents.

“There’s a big disconnect between parents coming to America and kids growing up in America,” she said. “We try to connect them. It can be difficult to find your way around. »

Many parents have “uprooted their lives … to give their children the opportunity to live the American dream,” Lam said.

Highly educated parents in Vietnam arrive in the United States and “work long hours to support their children by working … like being janitors and nail technicians,” Lam said.

“We hear every year, ‘My mum/dad works too much; they don’t even know who I am. Both parents and students are stuck in an endless cycle of not being enough for each other.

Retreat facilitators work to get students and their parents “to stop the cycle and understand each other instead of blaming each other,” Lam said. “It’s a huge eye-opening experience for both parties.”

The students, who have attended the same Sunday School class together for 12 years, are separated from their usual “meeting groups” during the retreat.

“We put them with people they don’t usually gravitate towards,” Lam said. “We create an environment that puts students out of their comfort zone, where they share feelings of insecurity and talk about family issues they’re going through. They realize that everyone is going through the same things, and that binds them.

At the end of the retreat, each confirmation student received a letter from their parents.

Than Nguyen said his parents’ letter made him cry. “Like in many Asian homes, our parents don’t really show their love physically, but through what they do: cooking, working, buying us stuff,” he said. “Receiving a letter from my parents was a new experience for me. They were able to tell me their thoughts, which had never really happened before.

Vanessa Pham said the most meaningful part of the retreat for her was “connecting with everyone on a deeper level”.

“I loved talking to them,” she said. “It helped us make the environment safe and comfortable for us to connect with people we hadn’t had the chance to meet in class.”

Dunrovin helps foster relationships like this, Kiolbasa said.

“It’s a quiet place just to get out of the chaos of the world,” Kiolbasa said. “People are realizing more and more that they need to get away from it all and they need the peace that a place like this offers.

“It won’t magically make the world a better place or erase all of its problems, but it can equip children to better handle the challenges they face,” she said. “That’s what we are: a safe haven where they learn to trust.

OPEN DAY

The River Cabin at Dunrovin Christian Brothers Retreat Center in Marine on St Croix.
The River Cabin at the Dunrovin Christian Brothers Retreat Center in Marine sur St Croix, Saturday February 12, 2022. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

The Dunrovin Christian Brothers Retreat Center will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday. Nonprofits, community groups, schools, places of worship, and small businesses looking for overnight accommodations with meeting space and meal services are invited.

Dunrovin is located at 15525 Saint Croix Trail N. in Marine sur St Croix. Facility tours, food tastings and nature walks will be offered; a draw for a chance to win a stay in a chalet will also take place. To RSVP, email [email protected] More information can be found at Dunrovin.org.

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