BEGINNINGS AND DEDICATION
The story of Immaculata Retreat House in Willimantic, Connecticut begins and continues with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, United States Province. On July 3rd 1958, The Missionary Oblates received ownership of the Willimantic property for the price of $6,800. Oblate Father Leo Monette, who was then Superior of the retreat house in Mainville, RI was appointed to undertake the building of a retreat house in Willimantic, CT. He arrived on September 14th, 1958 and resided at St. Mary Church while immediately beginning plans on this seemingly “impossible project”.
In spring of 1959, trees had been cleared off the property and the half mile road had been completed. The next task proved much more difficult. The land where the house was to be built presented a rock ledge, much more extensive and expensive to remove with dynamite, and this changed the location of the house by fifty-feet west of the original plan. At least the rock ledge did ensure that the house would be built on a firm foundation – a very Scriptural way to start a project!
On July 5th, 1958, the long-awaited approval from Rome came and construction on the building officially began on July 27th, 1959. The house comprises one central building with three wings radiating from it like spokes in a wheel, with the main chapel set in the middle of the hub. The main chapel, which can seat one hundred persons, is the heart of the Retreat House, centered in the middle with no openings to the exterior. The chapel walls rise up almost endlessly from exposed trusses that reach towards the sky and join together as hands in prayer.
On August 16, 1960, Fr. Alfred Pelletier, Provincial Superior of St. John the Baptist Province, in a letter from Very Rev. Leo Deschâtelets, OMI Superior General in Rome, announced the official establishment of Immaculata Retreat House, Willimantic, Connecticut as an Oblate ministry. Fr. Leo Monette, OMI was appointed Superior, Director and Treasurer. Fr. Anatole Baillargeon, OMI was appointed First Assistant and Retreat Master.
The first retreat was held on the weekend of September 9th – 11th, 1960 to a group of 58 laymen and was preached in French. The following weekend, a second retreat in English for some 56 men was held.
A great day in the life of the Missionary Oblates and the Diocese of Norwich occurred on Sunday, October 16, 1960 with the dedication of Immaculata. A crowd estimated at two thousand participated in the dedication ceremony.
GROWTH AND 25TH ANNIVERSARY
In the decade between September 1960 and September 1970, Immaculata, although still in its beginning, had many firsts. Among those was a quarterly newsletter entitled “Immaculata” with the first issue appearing in August of 1961. It was reported in the 1st edition, that 2,099 people had made a retreat at Immaculata in the first year alone. Another great event in the history of Immaculata occurred on July 31, 1964 with the visit of Very Rev. Leo Deschâtelets, OMI Oblate Superior General. Immaculata’s Newsletter reported the event by quoting Fr. Deschâtelets who said in French: “Immaculata est une œuvre qui fait honneur à la Province et à la Congrégation.” Immaculata is a ministry that gives honor to the Province and to the Congregation!
Immaculata celebrated its 25th Anniversary on September 15th, 1985 with a mass at St. Mary Church in Willimantic.
In 1999, ground was broken for a new elevator and the sign at the bottom of the hill was replaced. Immaculata was designated a “Jubilee Year” pilgrimage site by Bishop Daniel Hart and a weeklong celebration of the 40th anniversary took place between March 3rd – 10th, 2000.
STATE OF THE ART RENOVATIONS
In 2006, Immaculata underwent a multi-million dollars’ renovation of its facilities. The center wing was torn down and rebuild as a three-story addition with elevator service to all three floors. Rooms in the right-wing were also renovated, bringing the capacity to the house to 73. A total of 5 handicap rooms are now available for retreatants. Each room contains a private bath and individually controlled heating and air-conditioning units. The left-wing was fashioned into office space for staff and an area for private and directed retreats. There are now three spacious meeting rooms, a chapel and dining room that both seat 90 persons. The entire facility is now WI-FI accessible.
The rededication of the house took place on July 29th, 2007 with Oblates, staff and employees and hundreds of friends of Immaculata joining together for this joyous occasion.
If we consider the following except from a 1970 Hartford Courant article, prayers have been answered and the initial focus of hospitality remains true to this day: Immaculata Retreat House is a quiet place where people of all faiths can get away from the rat race and find themselves again. We pray that we may continue to be this for the many who come . . . well into the future.”
Let us to close this overview of the history of Immaculata by quoting the words of Father Donald Lozier, OMI on the occasion of the 25thanniversary of Immaculata Retreat House.
“Immaculata Retreat House is more than a building—more than a place where programs are offered. It is a spirit, a desire to share the Word with those who come; a desire to search for the Word with those who come, with the prayerful intercession of our patroness, Mary Immaculate.
Immaculata is a part of life. We could describe it as separate from the world, but our programs involve us in the heartbeat of the world: the struggles of the addict, the cries of the divorced, and the emptiness of so many.
We have no dramatic conversions to report . . . no miraculous healings . . . although one of our members tried to develop his powers to “divine” water this past summer.
We can only claim life: a simple life, a life of faith—the faith which transforms everyday into grace . . . for ourselves and for others.
Except from the book “Immaculata – House Built on Rock” (Available at our gift/book shop)