Following the Mass, Bishop O'Connell greets Francis House of Prayer staff, including Sister of St. Joseph Marcy Springer, director, at right. John Batkowski photo
Following the Mass, Bishop O'Connell greets Francis House of Prayer staff, including Sister of St. Joseph Marcy Springer, director, at right. John Batkowski photo

Victoria Schindler spoke softly as she looked over rolling acres of farmland stretching to the horizon.

“This place is beautiful,” the longtime retreatant said as she attended the official opening of Francis House of Prayer in its new location in Allentown. “I already feel like this will be a very sacred place, and I look forward to coming here many years in the future.”

Photo Gallery: Francis House of Prayer Blessing

The diocesan retreat house – surrounded by a horse farm on one side and a county park on the other – drew about 75 people Oct. 6 as Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., celebrated an outdoor Mass and blessed the new site.

Sister of St. Joseph Marcy Springer, retreat house director, welcomed those in attendance, which also included diocesan staff, volunteers and frequent visitors to Francis House, which operated for 45 years in Rancocas before relocating over the summer to Monmouth County.

“We all seek God,” Sister Marcy reflected. “More importantly and amazingly, God seeks us.” 

During Mass, several dozen horses grazed in the neighboring open fields, seemingly drawn toward the group of worshippers by the soulful music of the small choir. 

In his homily, the Bishop referred to the Mass Readings as an appropriate invitation to the day’s celebration. “The apostles asked our Lord, ‘increase our faith.’ We make the same request today here at Francis House.”

“When we were young,” he continued, “faith was first experienced as a gift, an openness to believe in God and his presence. As we grow older, facing changes in our lives and all the challenges they present, faith becomes a choice we make, a decision to believe in the mysterious embrace of a loving God.” 

The Bishop addressed some of the struggles families face in today’s world. “Things test our faith, and sometimes it seems that God doesn’t answer our prayers. At those times, however, God may be asking us simply to ‘wait’ for his will to be revealed.”  

St. Paul, Bishop O’Connell said, reminds all in his Second Letter to Timothy “to bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God. Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”   

Spiritual writers over the centuries have reminded faithful time and again that “so much of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures is about the necessity to persevere in prayer, without expecting any kind of immediate results,” the Bishop said. “The prayer of faith is an awareness that God is in our lives and actually doing something in our lives. The deeper our faith, the more we pray, the clearer it becomes that faith changes us, opens us to his will. That is the miracle God offers us.”

Following Mass, the Bishop blessed and dedicated Francis House of Prayer with the assistance of Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of Pastoral Life and Mission. 

Schindler, of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Galloway Township, used to be a parishioner in the former Assumption Parish, New Egypt, (now known as St. Isidore the Farmer Parish), when she started attending the retreat house 25 years ago in its Burlington County location.

“It’s been a place of love, joy, hope and inspiration for all of those years. Through Sister Marcy and the environment of Francis House and the volunteers, I’ve come to deepen my relationship with God in a way I never could have imagined,” she said.

Lynda Roberts of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson, agreed. She attended her first retreat 15 years ago.

“I fell in love with Francis House of Prayer,” she said. “I was treated with such tenderness and grace during that retreat that I knew I had found a new home.”

Roberts now serves the retreat house in many capacities, including as a cook for retreats.

Jim and Ann Connolly of Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, have been involved with the Francis House of Prayer since the very beginning. After 45 years, they said, “It’s the beginning of a new era for Francis House and hopefully it will open it up to new people from around this area in addition to bringing the former people coming. It’s a new start for God to work in new people.”

For more information on Francis House of Prayer, visit http://www.fhop.org/. The diocesan retreat house is located at 84 Walnford Road, Allentown, NJ 08501.

Freelance photographer John Batkowski and Managing Editor Jennifer Mauro contributed to this report.