Redemptorist Father Bill Maggs has only been the rector at Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua for a few months, but already he’s become very attached to his new surroundings.
“It’s the most beautiful place in the world. I tell (people) that God comes here on his day off,” Father Maggs said with a chuckle.
Although it’s situated on a hill overlooking Canandaigua Lake, Notre Dame Retreat House is a treasure that Catholics from every region of the diocese can enjoy. In fact, since mid-September the retreat house has hosted weekend retreats for parishioners in six of the Diocese of Rochester’s 12 counties. Between January and mid-May 2006, retreat weekends are scheduled for members of parishes and planning groups from all 12 counties.
The retreat house regularly hosts retreats for men, women and parishes, and individuals are always welcome to attend. Certain weekends are occasionally earmarked for couples retreats or for Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekends. Most retreats adhere to a specific theme each year, and the theme for 2005 has been “Forgiven and Forgiving.”
When parish retreats are not being held, the retreat house is available for use by religious communities, educational institutions, hospitals, community or medical support groups and other nonprofit organizations. The facility includes one large conference room, two smaller conference rooms, a dining area and overnight accommodations for 100 people.
Notre Dame Retreat House has been run by Redemptorists — priests from the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer — since its establishment nearly four decades ago. St. Alphonsus Liguori founded the congregation in 1732 to minister to the needs of people who had been abandoned both spiritually and socially, according to Notre Dame Retreat House’s Web site, www.ndretreat.org. Redemptorists also preached the Gospel to these “abandoned” people, and in 1832 they came to North America to spread the Gospel among the Native Americans.
Redemptorists soon settled in Rochester and in 1921 began giving annual retreats at St. Bernard’s Seminary, according to the Web site. In 1926 they opened a retreat house in Geneva, and in 1956 the Redemptorists left that site to open another retreat house within the City of Rochester. Notre Dame Retreat House was opened in 1967 and sits on a hill in the middle of 108 acres, said Redemptorist Father Paul Miller.
Father Miller has been at the retreat house for seven years and is one of three members of his congregation serving there. Father Maggs and Father Tom Siconolfi arrived at the retreat house in early August to take the places of fellow Redemptorists Father John Kingsbury and Father Jack Fiske, who had served as rector and retreat director, respectively.
Father Siconolfi, the new retreat director, became a Redemptorist in 1964 and was ordained in 1970. Shortly after his ordination Father Siconolfi was sent to minister in Brazil, where he remained for 12 years. Since returning to the United States nearly 20 years ago he has held pastorates at two Maryland parishes and one parish in Bethpage, N.Y.
Father Siconolfi leads retreats and, at the request of pastors or pastoral administrators, visits parishes to tell parishioners about Notre Dame’s offerings. Weekends are usually busy times at the retreat house, but Father Siconolfi hopes to eventually open up the retreat house to high-school and college retreats during the week, he said. Teens and college students are always running from one class, job or activity to the next and could use some time to deepen their faith and values while working with and forming relationships with their peers, he added.
“I just see a need for some kind of reflection for college kids,” Father Siconolfi said.
Father Maggs entered a Redemptorist seminary in 1956 and was ordained in 1966. He also was sent to Brazil shortly after his ordination, spending 20 years there. While in Brazil he ran a large parish that spanned 100 miles and included 30,000 Catholics and 35 chapels. Father Maggs would visit each chapel once a month to train the local catechists, who took care of the day-to-day business in the chapel, and to preside over confirmation and baptism celebrations.
“One time I did 113 baptisms by myself in one place. It’s a completely different reality from United States churches,” he said.
Spending 20 years in Brazil changed his outlook on life and prepared him to minister and preach in the United States, he added.
“The Brazil experience is a deep part of my being. You see what’s really important and what’s not important. The most important thing in life is love of God and others,” Father Maggs said.
After returning to the United States, Father Maggs preached at parish missions in Philadelphia for 17 years before becoming rector at Notre Dame Retreat House. The primary work of a Redemptorist priest is to preach missions, mainly about the personal love of God for each person, the need for repentance, and the importance of prayer and family, he said. While in Canandaigua he hopes to “continue the Redemptorist apostolate of preaching good, solid retreats to the people in this area.”
For more information on Notre Dame Retreat House, call 585/394-5700 or visit www.ndretreat.org.