Throughout 2021 the Leader is sharing the amazing story of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada/Pembroke site as they celebrate 100 years of service and witness in the Diocese of Pembroke and beyond. As they tell their story, they would like to express their gratitude, love and prayers to the many who have been with them on this journey. This is the ninth instalment in a 12-part series.
By Helen Russell, csj, (Director)
Sunday July 9, 1989 saw the opening of a five-bedroom House of Prayer on the banks of the Madawaska River, 15 km. southwest of Renfrew. It was the hard work of a diligent team of three Sisters of St. Joseph from Pembroke: Sisters Maria Mousseau, Ruth Wade and Marion Muldoon. The picturesque waterside homestead, known as the former McRea farm, had a long history of being a welcoming place for pioneering portageurs (circa 1838-1854) as they accompanied their logs down the river to market. McCrea Inn was a “Stopping Place” also for the neighbours as they gathered for Mass, a home for the village teacher in Springtown, and a place for the visiting doctor.
When Sisters Maria and Ruth began the new ministry, it was seen as a place and a space where persons of all faiths could withdraw from the demands of daily life to address their spiritual needs, to have “prime time with God”. Stillpoint continues to offer a silent atmosphere, conducive to reflection. Besides the nourishing meals, library, chapel and optional Evening Prayer, each retreatant has his/her own ensuite bath and comfortable bedroom which facilitates private prayer and relaxation. The Diocese of Pembroke, both clergy and laity, has provided moral, financial and spiritual support over the years. The people of the area held yard sales, a pantry shower, and other events, including a raffle, to raise funds for the project.
While at Stillpoint, guests are responsible for their own schedule but everything else is taken care of for them.
“Sometimes all a person needs is someone to talk to,” noted Sr. Maria many years ago.
In commenting on the name for the building, she said, “T.S. Eliot describes God as the stillpoint of our lives and it is our hope that in this natural setting people will be in touch with their own stillpoint and with God.”
In September 1998, Sr. Betty Berrigan accepted the role as the second director of Stillpoint. She brought many years of experience in teaching, ministry in Peru, and congregational leadership to the task. She was joined over the course of her 21-year ministry there by several other Sisters of St. Joseph, lay spiritual directors, amazing cooks and household staff, skilled maintenance personnel and the Holy Spirit. Over the years, many people have come to Stillpoint for spiritual and physical rest and a place to restore harmony and peace to troubled and weary minds and bodies. Betty’s smile and listening ear, her wisdom and welcoming presence drew many people to 3031 Calabogie Road (Highway 508). Many from Ottawa, Kingston, western Quebec and beyond responded to the invitation to “Come apart and rest awhile.”
Stillpoint is open to anyone who wishes to visit it, to singles and couples, and there are facilities for the handicapped. A warm welcome awaits all who seek and desire, for varying periods of time, the opportunity to be quietly with themselves and with their God. Private retreats are still offered and spiritual direction is optional. Both Sisters Pat and Helen, the current residents of Stillpoint, are trained spiritual directors, who like to listen carefully to their directees. Sister Pat Amyot is a Sister of Providence of Kingston and is an avid organic gardener as well, planting her own saved heirloom seeds. It is a delight to the eyes to see her gardening skills, as well as a treat to the palate, truly a work of love.
Throughout its 32 years of ministry, Stillpoint has received some updates: a white cross near the river was erected by the Renfrew Knights of Columbus in 1991; a grotto was built to the east of the main building. In it stands “Our Lady of Stillpoint.” She is set against the backdrop of St. Gabriel’s Church, just up the road. The church is unfortunately no longer used, as Calabogie’s Precious Blood Parish, just 9 km. away, serves the spiritual needs of the area’s Catholic population. Two more accommodations for retreatants have been located in the large old barn on the property; these comfortable one-bedroom apartments are cozy yet adequate for longer retreats.
The idea for Stillpoint from the beginning was to provide a place for quiet prayer, re-examination of life and an opportunity to revitalize and regenerate in an atmosphere of personal tranquility. There is something about Stillpoint, the silence, the beauty, the feel of history in the house and the quiet serene atmosphere of prayer over the years that creates confidence in the guests. The obvious concern and skill of the caring staff as they prepare well-balanced healthy meals and ready the rooms for occupancy make the stay of each guest more comfortable and relaxing.
We believe God’s presence lives in these beautiful surroundings, from the accumulation of prayer through the years to the quiet chapel overlooking the river and the calm serenity of the house itself. Our guests move around the building delighting in the view and peace. Deer have been known to visit the property, as well as beavers, squirrels, otters, herons and other birds including a bald eagle. In winter, people enjoy cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing. In summer white lawn chairs, benches and picnic tables dot the spacious lawns, and people enjoy a swim off the dock.
COVID-19 has been hard on Stillpoint, which has endured two lengthy closures as the virus numbers spiked. COVID protocols are in place as we hope to re-open again in the summer. Visit the website to learn more or to book a retreat experience. Sisters Pat and Helen and our accommodating staff are ready to welcome you when you come; you can also call 613-432-2791. Stillpoint continues to be a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.