The Twenty-Five Year Story of the ABRC

In the beginning . . . 

 January 1998

The seed for this organization grew out of a conversation between Sr. Mary Agnes Zinni, OSB, Prioress of St. Scholastica Monastery in Boerne, TX and Sr. Barbara C. Schmitz, OSB, then Director of Kordes Renewal Center in Ferdinand, IN.  An initial letter was sent to all Benedictine Houses in the United States and Canada. The letter was addressed to the prioresses, abbots and retreat house directors. The letter asked if there would be an interest in a meeting of Benedictine Retreat Centers to explore the mission of Benedictine Retreat Houses in today’s society. Over half of the Benedictine Communities that received the inquiry letter replied in the affirmative. In light of the positive response, planning for the first conference began.

August 27 – 30, 1998

The first conference was held at Kordes Retreat Center with twenty-eight participants. Participants represented nineteen centers. The conference focus was hospitality, prayer, programming and administration. Presenters included Sisters Carol Falkner, Betty Drewes, Joella Kidwell, Barbara Lynn Schmitz, Archabbot Lambert Reilly and Sue Ellspermann, facilitator. At the conclusion of the first conference participants stated they were interested in continuing to hold a conference, every two years. Other items of interest discussed were: 1) posting members websites, 2) holding a conference every two years, 3) asking for volunteers to plan the 2000 conference and 4) viewing this group as a resource for all Benedictine Retreat Centers.

May 28 – 29, 1999

The Planning Committee for the 2000 Conference (Alexander Plasker, OSB; Kate Casper, OSB; Andrew Anderson, ObOSB; Jan Ginzkey, OSB and Barbara Schmitz, OSB) met in Colorado Springs to plan the next ABRC Conference.

August 17 – 20, 2000

The second conference met at Kordes Retreat Center. The focus of this conference was exploring the following issues:

  • What does it mean to be a Benedictine Retreat House?
  • What do we offer different from non-Benedictine Retreat Centers?
  • What Contributions do we make as Benedictine Retreat Centers?
  • How do we minister out of our charism?
Thirty-three participants attended this conference

January 2001

The planning committee for the 2002 conference met in San Antonio, Texas Date. Andrew Anderson, OblOSB and the Omega Center graciously hosted the committee.

August 21 – 25, 2002

ABRC met at St. Benedict’s Retreat and Conference Center in Winnipeg, Canada. There were twenty-nine participants at this conference. Rev. Eugene Hensell was guest speaker. Eugene’s conferences focused on our retreat centers as places of Benedictine Hospitality. Other activities of the conference included: Participants shared something that was successful in their centers, process time using Open Technology format, a short business meeting. The following participants agreed to plan the next conference: Chair- Andrew Anderson ObOSB, Mary Luke Jones, OSB, Jeanne Ranek, OSB, Mel Stinson, OSB and Barbara C. Schimtz, OSB. The conference ended with a dinner cruise on the Red River.

August 2003

The planning team met at Subiaco, Arkansas to plan the 2004 conference. Br. Mel Stinson hosted the planning committee.

Winter 2003

First Newsletter was published.

August 26 – 29, 2004

The fourth biennial conference was held at the Coury Retreat House Center Subiaco Abbey, Subiaco, Arkansas. Out keynote speaker was Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB. Abbot Kodell gave three presentations on Treating Guests as Christ, Opening a Door to Interior Freedom. Other activities of the conference included, several breakout sessions, sharing best Benedictine idea, a short business meeting. The conference concluded with a tour of some of the local attractions and dinner at Wiederkehr’s Winery Restaurant. There were twenty-three participants in attendance at this conference.

The membership decided to have our conferences on odd years. Consequently, we met in 2005 to avoid waiting three years hold our biennal conference.

Hurricanes and other Happenings

January 2005

The Leadership Team met at the Christian Life Center, St. Joseph’s Abbey to plan the August conference. Fr. Thomas Perrier OSB, hosted the meeting.

August 18 – 21, 2005

The fifth biennial conference was held at the Christian Life Center, St. Joseph’s Abbey, Saint Benedict, Louisiana. Our keynote speaker was Sister Joan Ridley, OSB. Her presentations were about Fostering Benedictine Peace in Retreat Ministry. Other activities included discussions of policies and procedures for guests and staff, and marketing and technology. On Saturday afternoon, the attendees were treated to a paddle wheel cruise on the Mississippi, Mass at the historical St. Louis Cathedral, and dinner at Brennan’s Restaurant. Twenty participants attended the conference.

The weekend after the conference, Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area. Fortunately, their were no injuries at the Christian Life Center or Abbey. And, they only had minor damage to their buildings. They were without electricity and phone service for approximately four weeks.

January 9-11, 2006

The Leadership Team met at the Benet Lake Retreat Center, St. Benedict’s Abbey to plan the August Conference. George Freeman, Retreat Center Director hosted the meeting.

August 16-19, 2007

Abbot Leo Ryska graciously hosted the 2007 ABRC Conference at the Saint Benedict’s Abbey Retreat Center in Benet Lake, WI. Following a retreat day on “Humility & Greatness” led by Father John Kelleher, dialogue with Father Dan Ward addressed “Policies, Procedures & Legal Issues.” Breakout sessions addressed topics of interest to retreat center administrators. The business meeting and recreation/informal interaction time rounded out the agenda. The meeting was marked by enthusiasm for fostering the Benedictine charism in our retreat ministry, fresh ideas, and supportive friendships among directors and staff from the centers represented. Andrew Anderson stepped down as Executive Secretary; Sister Jeanne Ranek was elected to lead the organization.

May 6-8, 2008

Plans for the August, 2009, ABRC Conference headed the agenda for the Leadership Team meeting at Benedict Inn, Beech Grove, IN. Other business included a progress report on a printed ABRC directory, other publicity opportunities, a proposal to involve ABRC membership in the selection of Leadership Team members in the future, and the adoption of a set of stipend/benefit guidelines for presenters.

August 20—23, 2009

The Biennial Conference 2009, hosted by Benedict Inn, Beech Grove, IN, was keynoted by Fr. Terrence Kardong, OSB with reflections on contemporary culture and implications for retreat ministry following a half-day retreat led by Sr. Julianne Babcock, OSB, utilizing illuminations from the Saint John’s Bible.  Another highlight of the gathering came from members’ sharing their best Benedictine ideas and interaction over issues of concern in the retreat ministry endeavor.

Leadership Team members for the next term include newly-elected Sr. Dorothy Manuel, OSB, and Sam Rahberg, OblSB joining ongoing team members—Abbot Leo Ryska, OSB, Sr. Jean Maher, OSB, Sr. Michaela Randoph, OSB, and Executive Director Sr. Jeanne Ranek, OSB.

August 18-21, 2011

This gathering was keynoted by Sr. Irene Nowell, OSB and Sr. Mary Collins, OSB who explored respectively “Fidelity to the Word of God in a Divided Church” and “Discovering Hope from a Dim Horizon”. Each presentation was followed by time for private reflection and facilitated dialogue. Break-out sessions explored other aspects of Sharing Benedictine Peace in a Divided Church, including “It’s So Peaceful Here–Really?”, “Keeping Peace: Monasteries and Retreat Centers Relating”, and “Risk Management and Safety Issues.”

Sr. Jeanne Ranek,OSB was recognized for her long service as executive director of the ABRC and a new Leadership Team members were elected to replace outgoing members Sr. Michaela Randolph, OSB (with thanks for a full term and additional hosting term); and Sr. Dorothy Manuel, OSB: Sr. Carol Falkner, OSB (Co-Director); Sr. Eleanor Suther, OSB; and Sr. Marilyn Schroering, OSB; joining ongoing members—Abbot Leo Ryska, OSB; Sr. Jean Maher, OSB; and Co-Director Sam Rahberg. OblOSB. 

Dates and site for the next biennial conference are August 22-25, 2011, at St. Benedict’s Monastery, Benet Lake, WI.

More Recent Happenings . . .


The Leadership Team met to prepare for the 2013 conference, The team members were Sam Rahberg OblOsb, Chair; Sr. Carol Falkner, OSB, Co-chair; Sr. Jean Maher, OSB; Sr. Eleanor Suther, OSB; Fr. Leo Ryska, OSB, site liaison; and  Sr. Marilyn Schroering OSB, Treasurer.

2013 Conference

St. Benedict’s Retreat Center in Benet Lake, WI was the site of the 2013 Conference, held August 22-25. The theme was All Are Welcome: Extending Hospitality to Those on the Margins.” Prof. Sheila Nelson gave participants the image of retreat centers as wildlife sanctuaries.  Other keynote speakers addressed ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics (Fr. Bob Pierson) and divorced Catholics (Rev. Charles Schramm), while workshop presenters shared ideas from prison ministry (Sr. Kathleen Atkinson, OSB) Taize prayer and ministry (Sam Rahberg) and the experience of families with a gay child (Carol and Fred Weber with Michael John Weber). 

April 27 – 30, 2014

The Leadership team met in Cullman, AL to prepare for the 2015 Conference.  Members of the team were Sr. Carol Falkner, OSB, Chair; Sr. Therese Haydel, OSB, Co-chair; Sr. Marilyn Schroering, OSB; Sr. Elisabeth Meadows, OSB, Site Liaison; Sr. Eleanor Suther, OSB, Sr. Betty Drewes, OSB; and Kelly Czajka.

2015 Conference

“In a Single Ray of Light: Creating a Community within a Kaleidoscope of Cultures” was the theme of the 2015 Conference, held at the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center in Cullman, AL, August 27-30, 2015.  Father Hector J. Madrigal addressed issues of multiculturalism, especially sharing from his Hispanic heritage.  Peter Denio spoke on spiritual ministry to the millennials and the ABRC membership shares their wisdom on a number of relevant topics.

March 7 – 10, 2016

Sr. Roberta Bussan, OSB, Chair; S. Betty Drewes, OSB, Treasurer; Sr. Carol Falkner, OSB;  Sr. Elisabeth Meadows, OSB; and Kathy Schmelzer, Site Liaison, met at Subiaco to plan the 2017 conference.

2017 Conference

The 2017 ABRC Conference, “Inside Out: Communicating the Mission at Our  Retreat Centers,” was held August 21 – 24, 2017 at Khoury House at Subiaco Abbey, Subiaco, AR.  We enjoyed lively presentations from Sr. Lisa Maurer OSB, Mission Integration Director for Benedictine Health System in Duluth, MN, who reminded us of the gift of our mission and gave us ideas to help share our enthusiasm for it with employees and volunteers.  At the business meeting, we voted to amend Section 4 of our organizational guidelines, to decrease the size of our leadership team.   Sr. Roberta Bussan (Rock Island), who has been completing a vacant term, was elected for a 4-year term; Sr. Mary Jo Polak (Yankton) was also elected for a 4-year term.  They will serve as co-chairs; Sr. Betty Drewes (Ferdinand) remains on as Treasurer and Sr. Carol Falkner will be Site Liaison for our next conference in Beech Grove.

May 21-24, 2018

Enjoying the great hospitality at the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center in Beech Grove, Indiana were the leadership team members, Sr. Roberta Bussan, OSB, Co-Chair; Sr. Mary Jo Polak, OSB, Co-Chair; Sr. Betty Drewes, OSB, Treasurer; and Sr. Carol Falkner, OSB, Site Liaison.  We made plans for the 2019 Conference, “Sustaining the Gift: Benedictine Retreat Ministry,”  and have engaged Father Patrick Caveglia, OSB as our speaker.  Additionally, we discussed ways of engaging our membership through this website and occasional newsletters.

2019 Conference

Our 2019 Conference, “Sustaining the Gift: Benedictine Retreat Ministry” was held August 19-22, 2019, at Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove, IN.  Our speaker was Father Patrick Caveglia, and at the business meeting, we elected Father Patrick Caveglia (Benet Lake) and Karen Ceckowski (Abbey Guest Center, Conception, MO) to our Core Team.

2021 Conference

COVID happened!   Sister Roberta kept in touch with membership by newsletters, and we began occasional Zoom calls for mutual support.  Many centers had to halt residential retreats for a period, but we discovered Zoom and other online technology.   So our 2021 Conference was also on Zoom on August 23-24, 2021.   Sister Linda Romey of Erie led us in a stimulating discussion of “Hospitality and Conversatio — Welcoming Diversity in Retreat Ministry.”  Since travel expenses were not an issue, we were able to extend the conversation to our auxiliary staff members who had the chance to connect with one another in breakout sessions.  The current core team will stay on for another two years.

August 16-18, 2022

Karen Ceckowski hosted Sister Mary Jo at the Abbey Guest Center, Conception, MO and connected with Sister Roberta and Father Patrick by Zoom and phone.  We planned the 2023 Conference, building on the image of the Rule as guideposts or trellis on which we “grow” our retreat ministry.


Launching the Next Twenty-five

August 21-24, 2023

“Embracing the Rule as a Framework for Ministry”
We enjoyed fantastic hospitality at the Abbey Guest Center of Conception Abbey,  Conception, Missouri, welcomed by Karen Ceckowski and her staff, with Core Team Fr. Patrick Caveglia, Sr. Roberta Bussan and Sr.  Mary Jo Polak.  We begin Monday evening with an introduction to the theme of the weekend:  how the “trellis” of the Rule can guide our growth as Benedictine spirituality centers, symbolized by the leaves added to our trellis, the prayer card of the Sower, and the seed balls we took home to plant.  Sr. Judith Sutera, OSB began with a presentation on hospitality in the Rule, and continued on Tuesday to challenge us to welcome the needs of our increasingly diverse world, guided by  Chapters 53 and 66.  The business meeting began with a review of our 25 years of history by Sr. Jeanne Ranek as we reaffirmed our course for the future.  New Core Team members Sr. Carol Ann Petersen and Corinna Waggoner join Sr. Mary Jo Polak and Karen Ceckowski in keeping us connected till we meet in 2025.