Sanctum Retreat House near Caroline, Alta., provides an environment to restore one’s spirit. Photo by Chris Miller

Sanctum helps restore weary spirits

By  Chris Miller, Canadian Catholic News
  • September 14, 2014

CAROLINE, ALTA. - Spring tune-ups, regular maintenance. We maintain a multitude of things. We also maintain our minds and bodies. Exercise, diet. But what about our spirit? 

Every now and then, Christians need a spiritual retreat, away from their everyday lives, to reconnect on a deeper level with God. 

In answer to their own calling for a life of Christian service, Kristoph and Mariette Dobrowolski opened Sanctum Retreat, near Caroline, in 2004. Now, a decade later, the couple are seeing the fruits of the struggle and labour they put into turning a dream into a reality. 

Over the last 10 years, they have hosted more than 11,000 guests for weekend, as well as midweek and week-long retreats. 

“When people visit once, they come back again. We have a consistent clientele. There is something unique about Sanctum that keeps them coming back,” said Mariette. 

Launching Sanctum Retreat was not an easy decision for the couple, both lay Catholic theologians. 

“Kristoph had to get the rezoning done, he had to find the money, and he had enormous tasks ahead of him when we started Sanctum. But his biggest task was me. I was the major obstacle,” said Mariette, who was reluctant to take on such a huge endeavour. 

Joshua, their son, was three years old when the project began. Mariette was concerned he would not get their full attention if they took on this venture. As well, she knew they would be scrutinized in ways that a religious community would not. Further, there was a significant financial risk. 

The obstacles, however, did not deter their response to the call. Together they share gifts of spiritual direction, counselling, music, preaching and hospitality. 

So with the generosity of many benefactors, art donations and the blessing of Edmonton’s then- Archbishop Thomas Collins, they forged ahead. 

Mariette said, “We need sacred spaces. We need quiet spaces. Sanctum responds to that need.” 

Sanctum is a truly ecumenical ministry. It has hosted Christians from many churches. Many visitors do not come for an explicitly Christian retreat. 

Mariette explained that many people on retreat are going through a transition, perhaps hit with the question, “Now what?” Maybe they have lost a loved one, been diagnosed with cancer or lost their job. 

“Those kinds of transitions where we have to say ‘goodbye’ to something familiar and ‘hello’ to something new tends to be when people need a space to land in,” she said.

Another aspect of their ministry includes support of those recovering from addiction. 

The retreat is situated on 40 hectares of forested land along the Raven River. When weary, people come to Sanctum to find rest. Guests can wander through the forest and meadows for solitude. 

“What we hear consistently from people is gratitude for a space that is welcoming and safe, and where they can get away to rest, rejuvenate, refocus and go home with a clearer sense of their own vision. It is a very nurturing space,” said Mariette. 

Beyond the serenity and simplicity, there are luxuries to be found. This includes 40 guest rooms with private bathrooms, a solarium-lit dining hall, indoor fireplace lounge and Stations of the Cross set up through the forest. 

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