A Roman Catholic retreat centre that has been quietly operating in South Surrey for nearly 40 years is closing its doors.
Officials with the Archdiocese of Vancouver confirmed Thursday that the Rosemary Heights Retreat Centre, at 3690 152 St., will cease operations at the end of December.
“It’s been brutal,” communications director Paul Schratz said, of coming to the conclusion, which was shared with the centre’s 26 staff members early last week.
“It was a very difficult decision to make.”
What this means for the site moving forward – it is located on a prime piece of real estate overlooking the Nicomekl River – remains to be seen.
While one employee who contacted Peace Arch News expressed concern it could be sold and developed, Schratz said no decisions on its future have been made.
A statement issued last week says only that the Archdiocese “hopes to realize the best value possible for the Rosemary Heights property.”
“It remains committed to providing a retreat centre and is looking at affordable alternatives. An announcement will be made as soon as any development is finalized.”
The site has been operating as a retreat since 1976, but Schratz said its roots date back to the 1960s, when the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd built a facility for girls and women with personal and behavioural problems.
Cottages and a school for girls came next, followed by a name change to Rosemary Heights in 1972, and the opening of one of the cottages for boys a year later. After funding and staffing changes resulted in that program closing in 1976, the Good Shepherd Sisters were asked to open the doors as a retreat centre serving the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
Schratz said that continued for nearly 20 years, with the Sisters hosting groups for prayer and hospitality, as well as individuals, especially woman seeking a short-term place of respite and healing during crisis.
In 1992, the centre was handed over to the Archdiocese, which has owned and operated it since then.
Schratz said the Archdiocese has been trying “for some time” to keep the centre operating, but declining interest in retreats has made the task financially “impossible.”
“We’ve tried everything we could think of to try to increase attendance,” he said.
While the hope is to continue offering retreats, how to do that has not yet been determined, he said.
“For now, we’re going to end things,” Schratz said.
While retreat centre staff did not want to speak publicly, the employee who contacted PAN said its closure is “really sad,” and will be a loss.
“It is a place of people coming and looking for being with Christ and in a peaceful environment,” the employee said. “I just love the place. Everything they do, they do with love for the people.”
The staffer said word of the pending closure took everyone by surprise.
“When I heard it, I cried.”