Though the Borromeo Prayer Center in Greece has a dedicated group of regulars who make retreats there year after year, the facility will close its doors at the end of June.
Prayer center staff said the decision was made due to the steady increase in utility costs and other expenses. The facility, one of two Catholic prayer centers in the county, has been subsidized by St. Charles Borromeo Parish since it opened in 1992.
“Yes, we could raise our pricing, but we would have to raise it pretty drastically,” said Patricia Scouten, the prayer center’s administrator and only paid, full-time staff person.
Scouten has served the prayer center for 15 years — nearly as long as the center has been in existence. Scouten, who will retire when the prayer center closes, said she’ll miss the regulars she has met over the years, but is looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren, traveling, gardening and joining a health club.
A closing Mass is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday, June 27, at St. Charles Borromeo, followed by a reception in the prayer center, which had formerly served as a convent for the Sisters of Mercy. Scouten said former parochial-school students are welcome at the reception; many took music lessons in the convent over the years.
The prayer center hosted a book sale in April to sell off its library of works on religion and spirituality. Scouten said she is working to either return or donate the beds and other furnishings that from the prayer center’s 20 bedrooms.
Father James Lawlor, St. Charles Borromeo’s temporary parochial administrator, said the parish plans to raze the building due to such issues as the presence of asbestos and structural problems with the roof.
“There are so many problems with the building, structurally speaking, that the cost would be prohibitive to bring it back to the code’s standard,” Father Lawlor said.
The convent was built in 1931 and remodeled in 1950. After the building was no longer needed as a convent in the early 1990s, parishioners asked Father Francis Blighton, formerly of the Glens Falls Spirituality Center, if he would start a prayer center in the building, Scouten said. Volunteers began to renovate the building to make it more up to date.
“We papered, and painted and sanded,” said Scouten, who in July 1993 was brought on board as an administrator to assist Father Blighton.
The prayer center’s official dedication in the fall of 1995 was followed several weeks later by a concert there by Elisabeth von Trapp, granddaughter of Maria von Trapp, made famous by the “Sound of Music” movie and musical.
After Father Blighton’s fatal heart attack in January 2000, Scouten took over the prayer center’s management. In addition to programming, one of her jobs is to make sure the many bedrooms, the tranquil sunroom and meeting rooms, and the two kitchens — including one outfitted with 1950s furnishings — are spotless, thanks to weekly cleanings she and volunteers perform after each retreat.
The parish’s rosary, Bible study, prayer groups and such community groups such as the Rochester chapter of the Woodstock Business Group, a business ethics organization, meet regularly in the prayer center. Plans are being made to relocate parish groups to other spaces in the parish rectory or in St. Charles Borromeo School. The prayer center’s massage therapist and pastoral counselor also will continue their work at other locations, Scouten said.
On weekends, the prayer center has opened its doors to groups of many different faiths for spiritual retreats, Scouten said.
“Because there were so many different denominations here, it was a chance for them to learn a little bit more about Roman Catholicism and for us to learn about them and to find we have so much more in common than different,” she observed.
The prayer center also has hosted Christian concerts, an annual Seder supper and a sale to benefit relief efforts in developing nations. Other programs have included Lenten soup suppers, and viewings and discussions of contemporary movies.
St. Charles Borromeo parishioner Dorothy Lindsay said the prayer center introduced her to the long history of Catholic spiritual direction, and it is something she remains involved in today. For example, she has assisted the center in teaching Roberts Wesleyan College students about spiritual direction.
“My experience with the Borromeo Prayer Center sent me to look for other kinds of retreats and spiritual-growth opportunities, and I think that happened for a lot of us,” Lindsay said.
Scouten said one of the most difficult transitions will have to be made for the groups who have come back year after year.
“Once they came here for a weekend, they’d repeat,” she said. “It’s like losing a family member.”
Deacon Dick Lombard said the prayer center each year hosted Phoebe’s Friends, the organization for the wives of permanent deacons. He said it was always a joy to prepare a lunch for the women in the center’s well-stocked kitchens.
Deacon Lombard said other programs he has attended and hosted at the center have included meetings of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults groups, programs for the permanent diaconate community, and meetings of Greece ministers and clergy.
“I have developed a great affection for the people and for the center,” he said. “It’s really a great place, and it’s so sad to see it closing down.”
It was fitting, therefore, that one of the books in the prayer center’s office on a recent day bore the title, Praying Our Goodbyes.