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St. Joseph Christian Life Center in the middle of one nun’s journey

It was the custom for the seniors at St. Joseph Academy, Rocky River Drive to make a 3 day silent “closed” retreat between the 2 semesters at the Retreat House on Lake Shore Blvd. While, I did a lot of praying and listening to talks by Mgr. Johns in the chapel, I also got involved in some not so holy antics in the evening with my classmates, i.e., smoking in the bathrooms, etc. I made up for my bad behavior the following year when as a freshman at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, I chose The Retreat House as the topic of my “term paper.” I researched the history of the House and my boyfriend gave me materials from his Dad who had organized men’s retreats from St. Vitus Parish. Yes, I got an “A!” I also got involved in CANSU: The College Alumnae Sodality Union which was made up of the students and graduates from Ursuline, John Carroll, St. John’s and Notre Dame College. We had our own monthly “Days of Recollection” mostly at John Carroll, but also at the old St. Peter’s High School. NDC’s Sodality sponsored a retreat in 1958 during Holy Week of my freshman year. There were about 20 of us college girls there from Tuesday of Holy Week until the afternoon of Holy Saturday. My attitude and behavior had improved remarkably in a year: I really entered into the meditations based on the talks by a saintly elderly Jesuit. I was trying to discern whether I was being called to religious life and if “yes,” to which community? Sisters of Charity where my good friend had entered in January, the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught me for 12 years,…or to Notre Dame. Easter Monday after morning Mass at St. Clement, Lakewood, my family parish for 71 years, I stopped into the rectory to talk with Fr. Hackman who had been our youth group moderator. As you can see by the initials after my name, I felt called to the Sisters of Notre Dame where I will celebrate my Golden Jubilee in July, 2011. In the pre-Vatican II era, most nuns did not get out much, except for meetings or doctor visits. However, by the late 60′s and beyond, there was a Charismatic Mass in the newly remodeled CLC chapel once a month on a Friday evening. The enthusiastic singing and praying were very meaningful. An amazing thing happened in 1979: I became involved in our community Vocation Awareness Ministry. By 1982, I was sent to live at Regina High School and to work full time with the Diocesan Vocation Council on encouraging all Church vocations, but of course, focusing on calls to vowed life in community. I would get tired of sitting in my office, so on occasion; I would pack a bag lunch and drive over to the CLC (Christian Life Center)…its latest name. There, I would sit on the bench by Lake Erie, pray, read and just sit in breath in the peace of the place. Another amazing thing happened. In the early 90′s. I was going through a rough time and felt that I needed to get away for a short retreat, but I was hesitant the request funds from my community for one. There was a big gathering in downtown Cleveland sponsored by the Diocese. Sr. Thea Bowman was the keynote speaker. There were many tables set by the various diocesan entities, including the Christian Life Center. When I approached, I saw that they were actually raffling off a “retreat!” “Oh, Dear God, let it be me who wins” And God said YES! I was the winner and I scheduled my “free” retreat at the CLC during Lent. On a sadder note, I remember well the terrible storm which hit the Cleveland area, especially along the Lake the early evening of July 28. The storm destroyed almost all the beautiful trees behind the Life Center. I’ll never forget being there after the devastation and seeing the piles of tree trunks and branches. It’s easy for me to remember the date since that was the night that we had calling hours for my 84 year old Mom who died on the feast of St. Ann. I always loved the Solarium at the CLC. I took a course in Pastoral Counseling in that space along with 40 others who were involved. We had an excellent instructor from Ursuline College. I still remember her walking from one round table to the other repeating her mantra: “Facts and Feelings!” My cousin’s wife was very involved at the CLC, mostly as a volunteer. In later years, I would see her name on brochures for upcoming events. She was often listed as the presenter. I remember when the early FESTs were held at the CLC. I went to one with a Nigerian man and his wife who were parishioners at St. Patrick, Kent. They were very impressed at all the CLC provided for the people of the diocese. We especially loved the outdoor Mass with all of us facing Lake Erie with the sun setting. I always remember the great Parish Mission which Fr. Wally led at St. Sebastian Parish when I was Director of Religious Ed there in the late 90′s. The entire plan for the parishes to follow was a work of genius. I have been missioned to St. Joseph Church in Zephyrhills FL for the past five years. Although I miss my family and friends in Cleveland, I don’t miss the winters and driving on ice! Thank you for giving me this stroll down memory lane to realize how important the Christian Life Center has been in my life for 5 decades.

Story shared by: Sr. Kathleen Lyons SND

Photos courtesy of: Cleveland Memory Project