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Christ’s Peace House of Prayer celebrates 50 years

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann speaks to those gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Christ’s Peace House of Prayer on Aug. 19. It was known as Shantivanam in its beginning and had a more interreligious emphasis. Since 2011, the emphasis is more Catholic, eucharistic and Christocentric. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Joe Bollig

EASTON — When Father Ed Hays showed up here in early 1972, he raised more than a few eyebrows.

“I remember nobody knew what the situation was,” said Don Navinsky, a third-generation farmer who lives about six miles west of the property. “What’s he building up there? Is this going to be some kind of cult or something?”

It was nothing like that.

In late 1971, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas bought a former horse farm on an obscure 120-acre tract of rolling pasture and woodlands at 22131 Meagher Road in northwest Leavenworth County, about three miles east of Easton and some 13 miles west of Leavenworth.

Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker had asked Father Ed Hays — who returned from a yearlong sabbatical and pilgrimage to Israel, India and Tibet — to establish an archdiocesan house of prayer on the site.

So, in early 1972, Father Hays moved onto the land and with the help of volunteers began to build. He called his retreat/prayer center “Shantivanam,” “Forest of Peace” in Sanskrit, after a place in India.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann gives Communion to Vince Eimer. Since he became director of Christ’s Peace House of Prayer in 2011, the retreat house has been centered around the Eucharist. Since he LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Since 2011, this archdiocesan center has been called Christ’s Peace House of Prayer, and archdiocesan Catholics gathered on Aug. 19 to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a Mass and open house.

“The original founder, Archbishop Ignatius Strecker, wanted a place of prayer for the archdiocese that prayed for the needs of the archbishop, the ministers and members of the archdiocese, for the church as a whole and the whole world,” said Vince Eimer, director of Christ’s Peace since December 2011.

“The second part of his vision [for the retreat house] was for it to be a place to help people learn how to pray and how to deepen their relationship with the Lord,” he continued. “That’s been the constant throughout the 50 years. There have been changes in emphasis and changes in style, but the mission has always been there.”

Archbishop Naumann celebrates Mass at Christ’s Peace on Aug. 19. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

There are other retreat houses in the United States, but Christ’s Peace is probably unique not only in offering a wide selection of retreat options but also because of the residents who have forged an unbroken chain of daily prayer for 50 years, said director of operations Marie Baranko.

Christ’s Peace/Shantivanam has had 80 resident “prayer” volunteers through its history.

The anniversary day’s schedule included a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, lunch, a rosary, a tour of the shrines and facilities, eucharistic adoration and evening prayer.

“So many have come here and experienced God’s presence in their life, in many ways, [as they] come to this holy space,” said Archbishop Naumann in his homily.

“We’re grateful to Father Ed Hays, who had the vision for this, and Archbishop Strecker, who supported this house of prayer — this special place where men and women come and experience the Lord, and open their hearts to the Lord, and allow the Lord to penetrate them in new ways, in profound ways,” he continued. “And so, we give thanks today for all those miracles of grace that have happened here.”

Deacon John Weist proclaims the Gopsel during the Aug. 19 Mass at Christ’s Peace. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Andrew Salzmann, who teaches theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, visits Christ’s Peace twice a year with his wife Sibitha and their four children, with his marriage enrichment group, and for special events like the feast of St. Isidore.

“The grounds are beautiful,” he said. “They have a lot of beautiful trails and shrines you can walk around and reflect on the presence of God in creation and the beauty of creation as a witness of God.

“The people are very kind. Vince Eimer and Marie Baranko make everyone feel welcome and at home. The food is good. The buildings are rustic but beautiful. And it’s a very prayerful place.”

“They have eucharistic adoration,” he added, “pray the Liturgy of the Hours and [celebrate] Mass. It’s a very special place.”

Archbishop Naumann chats with Marie Baranko, director of operations at Christ’s Peace, before the Mass celebrating its 50th anniversary. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Gary and Susan Friedrichsen, members of Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, have been members of Christ’s Peace advisory board since 2014.

Gary was, happily, pulled into this by Susan, who organized retreats there for the Ignatian Spirituality Center in Kansas City, Missouri, where she is now executive director.

They’ve both fallen in love with Christ’s Peace and have become very close to Eimer and Baranko.

“Through all those years as [Susan] trained to become a spiritual director, she found this property to be wonderful for the ability of people to find Christ in the silence and the nature of these 120 acres,” said Gary.

“It’s so hard to find something like this in the [Greater Kansas City] metro area where people can have that silence with the outside noises and distractions at a minimum.”

Catholics from around the archdiocese gather at Christ’s Peace for its 50th anniversary Mass celebrated by Archbishop Naumann. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

The mission and vision of Christ’s Peace hasn’t changed in 50 years, but the emphasis and programming changed with the renaming and hiring of Eimer as director in 2011, said Baranko.

In its first era as Shantivanam, the house of prayer had a more interreligious emphasis. Since 2011, the emphasis is more Catholic, eucharistic and Christocentric, she said. Guests of all faiths, however, are still welcome.

“We don’t check your ID at the door, but as far as the staff and programs we present to the people, we are more Christocentric,” said Baranko.

Christ’s Peace is open year-round. It has a formal, monthly retreat schedule but retreats can last a couple of hours, days, weekends or weeks. They can be done as a group or individually, directed or undirected. They can be silent, too. Retreatants can stay in the main building’s courtyard rooms or one of the cabins.

The grounds have gardens, paths through fields and trees, a pond, shrines and Stations of the Cross.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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