From 1917 to 1925 men who wanted to make an Ignatian retreat had to travel by boat to Cleveland, Ohio. In 1923 these laymen banded together as “The Laymen’s Retreat League” to establish a Jesuit retreat house in the Detroit area. They raised the funds to purchase property on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Quarton Road. The manor house there was made ready and the first retreat took place from September 23 to 26, 1926. This was the first and perhaps the only retreat house to be established, owned and administered by laymen, who subsequently invited Jesuits to serve as their retreat directors and spiritual guides. When the house burned down in 1934, laymen raised funds in the middle of the Great Depression to build it anew. Since then the house has been expanded six times, and the spiritual programs likewise have been expanded from weekend retreats for men to a vast variety of spiritual offerings and experiences for men and women. In 1960, the laymen turned over full control to the Jesuits, but today a mostly lay Board of Directors continues to oversee the welfare of the house.
The seeds of Manresa were planted by a group of laymen who had their first retreat experiences at St. Stanislaus Retreat House (now Jesuit Retreat House) in Cleveland, Ohio. Their initiative was fostered by two Jesuits, Fr. John Donoher, SJ (from 1921 to 1925) and Fr. William Cogley, SJ (from 1925 to 1945). And God gave the increase.
The original group of men formed an association called “The Laymen’s Retreat League.” Together they purchased land in what is now Grosse Pointe Park and planned to build a retreat house there. After four years of hard work it became clear that the site was less desirable. Fr. Donoher died on May 30, 1925, and Fr. William Cogley was appointed his successor, and the search for a new site continued. In March, 1926, the Edsel Ford Estate offered to purchase the Grosse Pointe property. This gave the Laymen’s Retreat League the opportunity the men had prayed for. They sold the property and in July of that year bought the “Deepdale Estate” of William Murphy on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Quarton Road. This site was more central to a growing Detroit area. Public transportation was available on the Woodward car line between Detroit and Pontiac.
The 39-acre Deepdale Estate had been developed by William Murphy, one of the builders of the Penobscot Building in Detroit. The beautiful, rustic setting, divided by the swiftly flowing main branch of the young Rouge River, was not only an estate but a small farm. Mr. Murphy, in addition to the main house, had built a tile barn for the cattle, a caretaker’s house, and a barn for farm equipment. A pump house powered by a waterwheel fed water into an underground sprinkling system throughout the vast gardens. A special feature of the Deepdale Estate was a silo built in the shape of a lighthouse, which gave him a lofty place to survey his property. In 1926 Mr. Murphy put the property up for sale.
With the approval of the Provincial of the Chicago Province, Fr. Jeremiah O’Callaghan, SJ, the purchase of “Deepdale” was completed in August of 1926. At that time Fr. O’Callaghan stated that the Father General of the Society of Jesus required that complete ownership and management of the property and all the activities of the retreat house be under the control of the Jesuits. But, for the time being, Fr. O’Callaghan preferred that the property and all assets be left under the management of the Laymen’s Retreat League. The actual transfer of the property to the Jesuits took place decades later.
In these early days the Retreat Office was located in the Gabriel Richard Building in downtown Detroit. The manor house on the new property was promptly made ready for retreats and Fr. Cogley directed the first retreat September 23-26, 1926. Sixteen men made this retreat. Initially it was a great struggle to meet the costs and to recruit retreatants. But with Fr. Cogley’s leadership and the enthusiasm of the retreatants the new venture picked up momentum. The full capacity of the house was 23 retreatants. To help make ends meet, Fr. Cogley worked a big garden and raised cattle to keep the table supplied. The outdoor Way of the Cross, the Lourdes shrine, and the handsome gateway at the entrance soon enhanced the property.
When the depression came in the early 1930’s, expenses became almost insupportable. Then disaster struck. On March 22, 1934, the manor house caught fire and burned to the ground. Yet the retreatants, determined to carry on despite the economic situation, raised the funds to build a new structure on the site of the old. The cornerstone was laid in early 1935 and the building, constructed under the guidance of Henry Brennan of the W.E. Wood Co., was completed by August 27, 1936. Fr. Marshall Lochbiler, SJ, directed the first retreat for 31 retreatants, the capacity of the new facility. The house was built in a style that came to be known as Detroit Cotswold, a style inspired by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, completed just a few years earlier.
Growth and Development
Laymen and priests made regular retreats. In these earlier days it was customary for men from a single parish to make a retreat together. Retreats ended with Benediction at 4 PM on Sunday and the diocesan pastor normally participated. Retreatants remembering these days never fail to remark that the heaviest penance for all was the food. One retreatant remembers overcooked lima beans for breakfast! Table waiters were frequently “jugged” boys from the University of Detroit High School, i.e., their punishment for disciplinary infractions was to wait on tables at Manresa. Fr. Cogley, the “founding father” of Manresa, died on July 2, 1945. It was due to his generous twenty years of ministry at Manresa that the apostolate took root and thrived.
In 1945 Fr. Gerald Fitzgibbons, SJ, took over as Director. The number of retreatants grew and in 1951 the present chapel wing was built. This added rooms on the second floor and raised the capacity to 42 retreatants. In 1952 Fr. Clement Singer, SJ, became Director. And as the number of retreatants continued to grow, the possibility of a second retreat house in the Detroit area was considered. Eventually it was decided to increase Manresa’s capacity even more.
Fr. Bernard Wernert, SJ, was named Director in 1963. He moved the offices from downtown Detroit to the Manresa facility and formed a building committee which began to plan for a new addition. On Palm Sunday, April 3, 1966, ground was broken for the substantial new wing which included a basement assembly room. On May 21, 1967, 1400 people celebrated the dedication of this extension which brought the number of retreat rooms up to 70. Funds saved by Fr. Singer and his predecessors covered the cost of the building and all its furnishings.
Youth / Funding / Women
When he came to Manresa, Fr. Wernert found youth retreats flourishing under the guidance of Fr. Paul Cavanaugh, SJ. From 1961 to 1969 these midweek and evening retreats filled the house. As the new wing was finished, Manresa’s retreatants initiated a fundraising campaign to build a separate youth retreat house on the property. Changes in the Church and society called into doubt the wisdom of having a separate facility for boys. The many donors who had contributed to the campaign, all but six, decided to leave the money with Manresa, thereby providing a fund that has helped sustain Manresa in the years that followed. Youth retreats, however, have continued to flourish at Manresa particularly through high school “Kairos” retreats. The Second Vatican Council brought about several changes at Manresa. The most noticeable of these at Manresa has been the offering of retreats for women.
Golden Jubilee/New Leadership
On September 12, 1976, Manresa celebrated its Golden Jubilee with an outdoor Mass, presided over by Bishop Walter Schoenherr. Over 1200 people attended. All of this was reminiscent of the grand Corpus Christi celebrations held by Frs. Cogley and Fitzgibbons in the early days of Manresa.
In 1977 for reasons of health Fr. Wernert retired from his 14 years of service to Manresa and Fr. Eugene Simon, SJ, became the new Director. In 1979 the dining room was enlarged and joined to the new wing. The chapel was air-conditioned. A “cave” chapel was built on the second floor in an area designated for a future elevator shaft. The kitchen and store rooms were enlarged. In 1980 the Jesuits received a new dining room, and Our Lady of Manresa, a one-of-a-kind statue donated by Peter Grande, came to the Manresa grounds.
In 1981 the Sacred Heart Court was added, and the Board initiated a campaign to build the Administration Wing. The next year the new wing, with its Wernert Lounge and administrative offices, was dedicated by Archbishop Szoka. The new main entrance is graced with a statue to the Holy Spirit, the gift of a Jewish family. In 1987 the chapel was enlarged and enhanced with new sanctuary furnishings.
More Recent Developments / Manresa 2000
In 1990, Fr. Simon was assigned to work with the Jesuit Province Office, Fr. John McGrail, SJ, took the position of Director for a year, and then Fr. James Riley, SJ, became Director for four years. During this time the lay Advisory Board became a full Board of Directors. In 1995 the two-year Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, which had been functioning at Colombiere Center in Clarkston for 15 years, became an intrinsic part of the Manresa apostolate. This has now become the Seminar in Ignatian Spirituality and the Internship in Spiritual Companionship.
Fr. Riley was called to serve in Rome in 1995, and Fr. James Serrick, SJ became Manresa’s new Director. The Board of Directors then initiated a study of the whole physical plant with special attention to current fire and safety codes, and launched a campaign called “Manresa 2000,” which raised funds for the improvement and upgrading of the whole retreat house facility during the summer of 1997. This work included a new kitchen, an integrated fire and smoke alarm system, fire escapes from the second floor, a new elevator to all floors, new heat controls in all the rooms, air-conditioning of the whole building, and rooms for the physically disabled. The former pump house, which was powered by a waterwheel, was converted to a small, rustic chapel. On the first floor of the main building, a statue of Our Lady of Montserrat has become the focal point of a chapel, while a “cave chapel” is located on the second floor. With all this work now accomplished, Manresa is well situated to serve long into the 21st century.
Manresa is the home for many different types of Ignatian ministries. Fifty-two conference retreats, with a capacity of 72 persons per retreat, bring in a total of 1,800 men and women each year. Individually directed retreats take place throughout the year. Cottages on the property frequently house these retreatants. A. A. groups meet regularly at Manresa. These had been fostered by Fr. Jack Schuett, SJ, who ministered to our A. A. constituency for 21 years. The Manresa staff gives ongoing spiritual direction to many people. Each year the Seminar on Ignatian Spirituality, the Internship in Spiritual Companionship, and other educational programs train people of various Christian faiths and backgrounds. Days of Recollection take place throughout the year.
As the new millennium unfolds, God continues to bless the retreat apostolate at Manresa. With the help of retreat Captains and Lieutenants we maintain our conference retreat program, encourage the participation of younger retreatants, and strive to fill each retreat so that as many people as possible may take advantage of the graces to be found here.
People may continue to make individually directed retreats during our special summer sessions and at other times most convenient to them. The Internship continues to foster the growth and formation of persons in their call to minister to God’s people. Manresa’s facilities are available during the week for use by groups desiring to “get away” to a quiet place for various types of meetings, seminars,and workshops.
To enrich the ministries of Manresa lay and religious people trained and nurtured in the Ignatian charism have been welcomed as colleagues in ministry with the Jesuits, and together we will work for Manresa’s goals. Together we can strive to live the motto of St. Ignatius, “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” (For the Greater Glory of God) and with God’s grace Manresa will thrive.
In 2014 Mary Andrecovich’s history of Manresa was published, telling the story of Manresa in even greater detail.