Something special happens here at St. Anthony’s. We form “community” easily. Staff and residents instinctively draw our guests and volunteers into our world, our hearts. We remember retreatants, and we’re always happy to see them again. Volunteers are our extended families, and we love to get to know them better as they are here to help. Those who share their resources with us are so dear to us. We love to express our gratitude. We never take it for granted when someone has shared a piece of their life with us.
“Relationship” is one of the Core Values set forth by the Board of Directors at St. Anthony’s. “Relationship: Empowering people to realize and respect their own dignity and potential.”
When I tell people that I work at a Franciscan retreat center, they often ask me why it’s Franciscan or how it’s Franciscan. I say the staff is there to serve each and every visitor to the utmost ability. Everyone is greeted with warmth and joy at the door. We take time to be with people when they seem to need someone. And we are a community that loves each other and our mission. That’s pretty darn Franciscan.
“Intake night” is what I call the first night of a retreat when our guests arrive. My role for intake night is to process retreat payments and help the hosts and presenters if there are any glitches in set-up, room assignments, etc. Sounds pretty dull, doesn’t it? It is always my favorite night.
When our guests come through the door, a host is there to greet them warmly, and I can hear the smile and joy in their voices as we say, “Welcome Back!” or “Welcome Home!.” If someone is new or needs help with their luggage, there are always eager hands (sometimes mine) to jump over and take on their burden and show them to their room.
When they come into my office to take care of business, they ask if I’m the one they were emailing, if I’m the one they talked to on the phone. We have a few minutes of conversation, and I always say, “Have a wonderful retreat!” They’ll respond with a thank you, or a “I hope so… I really need this!”
And I inevitably go home glowing with joy, so happy to be working at a place that means so much to so many people. I have called it “tucking in my chicks” for the weekend, because for weeks leading up to a retreat, I’m working with names, addresses, special requests, emails, phone calls, letters… all the while knowing that these aren’t faceless people. These are people who have reached out for something. They become “mine.”
Once my chicks are tucked in and I go home to my family for the weekend, I know without reservation that our guests will be treated as royalty by the staff, residents and volunteers who remain. Special dietary needs? Sandra is wonderful at never making a guest feel like they are an inconvenience (they aren’t). Extra linens or pillows needed? I bet Jain or the host is around somewhere. A tour is requested? Sr. Jolynn loves to show off St. Anthony’s. Plumbing emergency? Aaron’s just a phone call away.
On Monday morning, I come back into work and get to hear stories from my co-workers about their own relationships formed with guests. And I read the evaluations that the guests thoughtfully wrote out before departing, and I get to hear all about how much the retreat meant to them, how gracious and warm everyone was, how peaceful St. Anthony’s feels.
So yes. We are Franciscan to our very core. Relationships are formed here.