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Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for us who have Recourse to Thee

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for us who have Recourse to Thee

Immaculate Heart Retreat Center transforms from retreat house to COVID-19 quarantine center

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the world and into our region this spring, many organizations felt the impact. Our parishes closed their doors for a period, schools went remote, many businesses focused on curbside pickup, and everyone began donning masks.

Bringing people from throughout the region together for spiritual retreats is Immaculate Heart Retreat Center’s bread and butter. In normal times, bringing Catholics and non-Catholics alike together for retreats, days of prayer, and time away from the busyness of life to grow in faith is a valued ministry. Now, gathering sizes are limited and many people are avoiding traveling, and certainly avoiding unnecessary gatherings. While the retreat center is a ministry, it is also a business, and the halting of all retreats has been difficult. During the spring and summer, Deacon John Ruscheinsky, the director of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, has held strategic planning meetings with the center's stakeholders, looking for ways to keep the doors of IHRC open. In July, an unexpected offer was made. Dr. Bob Lutz, clinical director for the Spokane Regional Health District, reached out to Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington hoping to collaborate with Catholic Charities on a COVID-19 quarantine facility. Dr. Lutz asked Catholic Charities to help identify a location where the facility could be set up, and CCEW suggested the retreat center.

After discussions between the diocese, the retreat center, and the regional health district, a plan was approved, and Bishop Thomas Daly announced the collaboration on July 29. He thanked all involved in the new collaboration, saying: “I wish to thank all parties involved for the professional manner in which they have addressed this temporary transition of IHRC from retreat center to a quarantine facility. Please join me in prayer for its success. May Our Lady of Lourdes guide our efforts in helping others in need.”

On Aug. 1, all retreat programs were put on hold, and Immaculate Heart Retreat Center officially became licensed to serve as a COVID-19 quarantine center. Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington has been contracted by Spokane Regional Health District to provide social services to those staying at the retreat center, and the Health District will provide medical care. The initial contract runs through Dec. 31, with an option to extend on a month-to-month basis based on the needs of the county.

According to Mike Pallardy, development director of IHRC, the arrangement still allows for the Queen of Peace Cemetery—located adjacent to the retreat center and sharing a driveway—to operate normally. The outdoor space of the retreat center will be fenced off to allow those quarantined to be outside, but in designated areas to maintain healthy distancing.

“Immaculate Heart’s three pillars are hope, peace, and healing,” according to Pallardy. “Though we cannot conduct retreats right now—because people are fearful of gathering together to experience a retreat, day of prayer or other programs—were still able to serve giving people hope, giving people peace they can experience on those grounds. But, most importantly, we can provide an opportunity for them to heal. And what better place to do that?”

The retreat center will be open to those who cannot quarantine at home for a variety of reasons. Eligibility will be determined by the regional health district, but many who stay there could be homeless, or with living arrangements that cannot allow them to safely isolate from family at home.

This new phase of life for the retreat center is not an end to retreat ministry. The staff will continue to work remotely, preparing for the day IHRC reopens to the public. Over the next serveral months, the staff, under the leadership of Deacon John Ruscheinsky, will be planning what retreat ministry will look like in a post-COVID world. According to Pallardy, “Deacon John will be getting together with other retreat center directors from Region XII (the dioceses in the northwest U.S.) to brainstorm for the future.”

The Church's effort to care for the sick in a time of need is not without precedent; during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, many parishes in the U.S. temporarily were converted to serve as hospital wards. The ability of the Church to respond creatively during this pandemic is a testimony to its commitment to serve the poor, the sick, and vulnerable.

When the pandemic eases, the retreat center plans to return to normal operation, and the staff are actively planning for new retreats in 2021, with renewed programing. “We are going to be moving forward,” Pallardy said. “And as soon as we can move back into the building, we again will be offering spiritual retreats, days of prayer, and other programs for the people of God.”