MAGGIE VALLEY — Wolves, friendly. Retreatants, captivated.
Rob Gudger, a local wildlife biologist, and his assistant Robert Edwards brought hybrid wolves (up to 97 percent wolf, 3 percent husky) to the beginning of a nature retreat at Living Waters Catholic Reflection Center in July. The event was just one of many programs and retreats held at Living Waters – located in picturesque Maggie Valley and staffed by a new team of women religious who took over earlier this year from the departing Augustinian friars.
For an hour, in a grassy area beside Jonathan Creek, which flows past Living Waters, the biologists presented facts and debunked misinformation about wolves. The wolves, held firmly on chain leashes, were content to have their soft, coarse fur stroked. Occasionally they flopped down on someone’s feet.
Pictured: Sister Carol McKean, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth, Ky., enjoys a moment with an arctic wolf hybrid July 21 during a nature retreat at Living Waters Catholic Reflection Center in Maggie Valley. The retreat center is under new leadership and planning to expand its program offerings. (Joanita M. Nellenbach, Catholic News Herald)
The rest of the week, the retreatants, mostly Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Ky., and Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph, Bardstown, Ky., prayed and reflected during days spent in the natural beauty of the western North Carolina mountains.
“I love it because it really gives you a chance to be outside,” said Sister of Charity of Nazareth Carol McKean. “We even had some of our conferences outside.”
The retreat featured a different theme each day.
“One day the theme was water,” Sister McKean said. “Water relaxes and refreshes you, and all these also apply to prayer.”
Though the Augustinian friars who staffed Living Waters and the adjacent St. Margaret of Scotland Church for 12 years have departed, the church and the center remain in full operation.
Sister Fran Grady, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, is the center’s director. Three more Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth arrived at Living Waters in mid-July. Sisters Bonnie Backle and Susan Newland are on staff; Sister Eileen Sheehy is in residence.
Sister Grady has been associated with Living Waters since the early 1990s, when she began traveling from Texas to give several retreats each year. In 2003, she became the center’s full-time sabbatical coordinator.
Now, she succeeds well-remembered directors Augustinian Brother William C. Harkin, Augustinian Father Terrance W. Hyland, and Sister Jane Schmenk, a Franciscan sister from Tiffin, Ohio. Also still present is the memory of Father Michael William Murphy, ordained at St. Margaret of Scotland in 1972 at age 81 and pastor there until he died in 1990.
This year’s retreats at Living Waters are on schedule, and there are plans to increase what will be offered in the future, Sister Grady said.
“We’re going to try to make the mission of Father Murphy and Sister Jane more visible,” Sister Grady said. “We’re going to reach out to young adults. People are asking for retreats for married couples, and we’re going to work on that. We’re trying to increase and diversify retreat opportunities, especially directed, private and guided retreats.”
Plus, they plan to host groups retreats such as RCIA, parish councils and staffs, men’s and women’s groups, and parish days of recollection.
There are also plans for retreats on prayer methods and vocational discernment. Monthly prayer days have been offered for several years during the winter, but Sister Grady hopes to organize a sabbatical program, increase wintertime retreats, and add more structure to the Holy Week retreat.
She would like to start a volunteer group to help at the center and to develop more quiet places of prayer on the property. Retreatants, however, already find Living Waters a contemplative place.
“I just love it,” said Sister of Charity of Nazareth Mary Ninette Manning, near the end of her nature retreat. “[Living Waters] is a special place in God’s universe. The mountains, the quiet. It’s just a holy place. Jonathan Creek is so soothing, ever present.”
— Joanita M. Nellenbach, correspondent