White Post retreat center welcomes early guests

First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
Previous Next

The town of White Post is about 70 miles west of Arlington and sits between Winchester and Front Royal in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley. Its relative isolation makes it the perfect site for a place of reflection, prayer and meditation.

The San Damiano Spiritual Life Center in White Post officially opens its doors Jan. 15, but groups are getting previews of the former Franciscan novitiate.

The Arlington Diocese purchased the building and surrounding land from the Third Order Regular of St. Francis' Sacred Heart of Jesus Province in 2006 using funds from the Rooted in Faith - Forward in Hope capital campaign. After years of renovation and construction on the 1960s-era building, the center will soon begin a full calendar of retreats and spiritual activities.

The center sits on 150 acres and has 31 guest rooms, a chapel, numerous meeting rooms, a kitchen and dining room.

The name "San Damiano" was chosen to remind visitors of the site's Franciscan background. Tradition says that St. Francis of Assisi was praying at San Damiano Church near Assisi, Italy, when Christ spoke to him from the cross saying, "Francis, repair my Church." At first Francis thought He meant the rundown building he was praying in, but soon realized He meant the whole Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. St. Francis created the Franciscan Order to fulfill Christ's wishes.

Third Order Regular of St. Francis Father Sam Vaccarella is executive director of the center and John Campbell is the administrative director. Campbell is responsible for the day-to-day operations. The former youth minister at St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, Campbell said he's ready to welcome retreatants. He said the pace was hectic in the last few weeks with furniture deliveries coming and small "punch list" items needing attention. On Christmas Eve, Campbell had contractors putting up ceiling tiles and painting, plus a crew cleaning in preparation for the first guests.

Campbell said that his 2010 calendar is starting to fill up and that he even has an event booked for 2011.

"We're happy to give the diocese a retreat center that will provide the right environment for every retreat experience," he said.

The Arlington diocesan Office of Vocations was the first group to hold a retreat at the center. Father Brian Bashista, vocations director, said that he usually holds seminarian retreats at various venues in the area, but he likes the idea of a diocesan center. He was pleased with the services provided.

Campbell said he and volunteers were loading soap in restroom dispensers prior to their Sunday opening session. The hard work paid off with seminarians satisfied with the outcome. But Campbell said there was one minor issue.

"One seminarian asked: 'Do you have any real spoons yet?'"

They didn't, so he had to rely on plastic spoons.

Seminarians were quick to praise the retreat center. Luis León, in his fourth year of theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., said the beautiful environment is very helpful to meditation.

"People fear silence. Silence is the way to meet God," said León

Mount St. Mary's Seminary first-year pre-theology student Dort Bigg also liked the reflective nature of the White Post location.

"It's really a beautiful place - quiet," he said.

The Youth Apostles Institute will hold the next pre-opening retreat at the center. They'll be the last group to meet before the official opening.

Real spoons will be available.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010