by Moira Cullings
EASTON — It’s a brief walk along a gravel path to the new shrine of St. Joseph at Christ’s Peace House of Prayer here.
A statue of the saint holding the baby Jesus stands among a copse of trees that casts shade over a sweeping meadow.
The respite it provides from the summer sun is much like the retreat house itself — an oasis away from the chaos of everyday life.
“For 50 years, we’ve been here, and people have been praying on these grounds,” said Marie Baranko, director of operations. “It’s a holy place.
“It’s here for the parishioners of the archdiocese to come and encounter Christ. It’s a place of beauty. It’s waiting for them.”
A place of nourishment
Christ’s Peace spans 120 acres of rolling hills and woodland, and in recent years, it’s renovated and expanded its offerings.
The late Father Ed Hays created Christ’s Peace, originally called Shantivanam (the Forest of Peace), under the instruction of Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker, said Vince Eimer, director.
“Father Ed said when he first came to this place, he could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in a very strong way,” said Eimer. “He felt the Holy Spirit was powerfully alive here.”
It was 50 years ago that the property was purchased, Eimer explained, but Christ’s Peace will celebrate its golden anniversary in 2023 to honor the year its chapel was dedicated.
“That’s the heart of this place,” said Eimer. “The whole place is coming [together] because of that heart.”
Eimer, who in 2011 converted Christ’s Peace from an interfaith house to one with a fully Catholic identity, attributes the addition of eucharistic adoration to its continuous growth.
Once that was added, he said, everything else started to fall into place.
Most recently, the landscaping was beautified, outdoor Stations of the Cross were set up, gravel paths were laid to the guest cabins and the St. Joseph shrine, funded by a board member and her husband, was added.
Office spaces were transformed into guest rooms to create space for more guests — especially small groups — to visit Christ’s Peace.
Baranko and Eimer hope the renovations will offer an even more accommodating experience for their guests.
“Because it’ll be so well-kept and because there will be various spaces, like outdoor shrines they can go to, they’ll find this a place that nourishes their interior lives,” said Eimer.
“Not only do they get away and rest from the busyness of life,” he added, “but here they find rest centered [in] Christ, and here they find him, so they can discover his peace.”
A mover and a shaker
Baranko’s input has been critical to the retreat house’s continued development, said Eimer.
“God sent St. Joseph in female form,” he said with a smile.
Baranko started four years ago, and her background in construction management guides her vision.
“That’s what my eyes see — facilities and improvements that need to get made,” she said. “Having that background gives me the knowledge base to get those kinds of things done.”
Baranko utilizes her artistic talent by creating icons for sale, and she leads a weekly lectio divina prayer group open to guests of Christ’s Peace.
One of her latest projects was setting up a volunteer program, which has brought many high school and college students to the retreat house to help with various projects.
“If you ask people, they want to help,” said Eimer, “and they come through.”
Christ’s Peace flourished this past year despite COVID-19 restrictions thanks to its individual rooms and cabins, large kitchen space and vast network of outdoor trails.
“That was a real blessing where people could come here throughout this past year and feel safe,” said Baranko. “You saw that there was a great craving to come here on retreat.”
Now, Baranko and Eimer aim to welcome more groups, as well as individuals hoping to grow in faith.
“If you really believe in who Jesus is,” said Eimer, “and that the Holy Spirit is alive in you, and you’re having a hard time finding that in your life, this is the kind of place where you can experience that reality.
“This is the kind of place that can teach you [tools] that you can take home with you to reconnect with the Lord daily.”
“This isn’t unattainable. This is within the reach of all people,” he continued. “And God wants all people to know this. God wants to help you, and we’re one of the ways you can get fed.”
For more information on Christ’s Peace, to sign up for a retreat or donate your time or financial help, visit the website at: archkck.org/cpp/home.
Types of retreats
Christ’s Peace can host 17 individuals or up to about 25 people with married couples. It offers a variety of retreats, including:
Individual private: Come for the day, an overnight, the weekend or longer. Seek total solitude or join the staff for prayer and meals.
Guided: Meet with a director for help in structuring your retreat.
Group: Come with a group and be guided by a leader during your stay.
Sabbatical: Get away for one month or even a year.
Preached: Experience eucharistic adoration, Mass, confession, time for private prayer and walking the grounds while also hearing from speakers on particular topics.
For more information, visit the website at: archkck.org/cpp/retreats/retreat-options.