Catholic Travel: Connecticut Island Hosts Retreats for Families
About 100 yards from the mainland, it seems worlds away. The beautiful gardens, soothing vistas of water and sailboats and Our Lady of the Assumption Chapel create a spiritually enriching, 12-acre oasis off of the southeastern coast of Connecticut. St. Edmund’s Retreat on Enders Island in Mystic, Conn., is a place of such serene beauty that one cannot come away from the island without a sense of refreshment, spiritual and otherwise.
“When people come to Enders Island, they are looking for something. Sometimes they are looking for God; sometimes they’re looking for peace; sometimes they’re looking for something they can’t even articulate,” says Father Thomas Hoar, the director of St. Edmund’s Retreat. “I think when they leave here they discover a sense of peace — they discover a deeper understanding of the mystery of God’s love.”
I know this is true, because I recently spent five days on the island with my family for a family retreat.
Saints and Stillness
The stone exterior of the chapel, with the waters of Fisher’s Island Sound as a backdrop, is reminiscent of Ireland, with its stone churches and ever-present water. Inside, the chapel is filled with magnificent artwork, all of it done by the teachers of the St. Michael Institute of Sacred Art, which is housed on the island.
The Stations of the Cross are especially memorable. When everyone had gone to sleep, I entered the silent chapel — which is always open — and spent quiet time with the Lord, studying the stations and appreciating the detailed work, while feeling secure in the stillness of the night.
The chapel has a first-class relic of St. Edmund of Canterbury, a 13th-century archbishop who died on Nov. 16, 1240. His right hand and arm are enclosed in a special case in a side chapel for veneration. When he died, his body became the source of many miraculous cures. Seven years after his death, when his body was exhumed to be moved to a location that could better accommodate all of the pilgrims flocking to venerate his remains from across England and France, there was no sign of decomposition. Even today, his right hand and arm are well preserved.
The Enders House, an arts-and-crafts-style gem built between 1924 and 1934, is the main building on the island. It is the place for meals (which are excellent) and peer group talks. Peter the Fisherman’s Chapel is also there, which hosts perpetual adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The other rooms on the main floor of the Enders House are available for reading, sitting or talking quietly.
Thomas Enders, a Yale graduate of the Class of 1892 and a distinguished surgeon, purchased the uninhabited island from the Sisters of Charity. His wife, Alys Van Gilder Enders, was the guiding force behind how the house was built and the placement of decorative tiles throughout.
Shortly before her death in 1954, Mrs. Enders contacted Bishop Bernard Flanagan of the Norwich Diocese, the diocese’s first bishop, with the intention of giving the island and buildings to the Church. Bishop Flanagan, in turn, connected Mrs. Enders with the Society of St. Edmund. Soon after the death of Mrs. Enders, the island became a novitiate for the society, and it served this purpose until the 1970s, when the society began to hold retreats on the island.
Family retreats are part of the many offerings at St. Edmund’s. Deacon John and Peggy Scarfi organize each St. Mary Star of the Sea Family Retreat, which is “committed to the teachings of the Catholic Church, following Mary’s mission to bring people closer to Jesus Christ and his Gospel.”
These family retreats include daily Mass and confession and are supplemented by prayer, skits, sports, quiet time, peer group discussion and family sharing. The retreat succeeds in developing each family spiritually by focusing on affirmation, communication, forgiveness and commitment.
There were 66 people on our retreat, 11 families total. My family of five, with Andrew, 6, Mary, 4, and Peter, 14 months, easily fit in with the other families, whose children ranged in age from a few months to 20. The teenagers “adopted” my oldest daughter and son, making them feel welcome during their first retreat. These “big brothers” and “big sisters” were not only good role models for our children, but also kept an eye on them while my wife and I talked with the adults.
Some families have been coming back for years — and even decades — and I can understand why.
There are retreats for deacons, couples, music ministers, as well as guided, preached and directed retreats and recovery retreats and meetings. Sacred art workshops and sunset cruises are also offered.
Now, sitting at my computer, the summer gone, I think back to our time spent on Enders Island. A St. Edmund’s coffee mug sits at my side, and the Enders Island sweatshirt is in the closet. We have plenty of photographs. Families have already contacted us to share pictures and stories. Most of all, though, I have the memories of a fine “vacation” spent near the water, in an inviting refuge for prayer and reflection that resulted in a deeper understanding of the mystery of God’s love.
James Carmody writes from Stratford, Connecticut.
P.O. Box 399
Mystic, CT 06355
Planning Your Visit
Daily Mass is celebrated at 9am Monday-Saturday and at 8:30 and 10am on Sunday all year.
Walking around the island, enjoying the views and visiting the chapels, is encouraged.
See the calendar of events on the website for upcoming activities.
The St. Michael Institute of Sacred Art offers a variety of classes on weekends or in residence.