By Anne Marie Amacher
WHEATLAND — Nestled among the prairie grasses and rolling hills of Clinton County is Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat center, which offers individual and group retreat space and overnight stays.
Barb Gross, Our Lady of the Prairie’s co-director, said its beginnings stretch back to the late 1970s.
The Congregation of the Humility of Mary was negotiating the sale of Ottumwa Heights College to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa. Priests in the Ottumwa Deanery were surveyed about how the college could serve their needs in religious education and family life environment. Their responses focused on a need for adult religious education. Also, laity wanted more opportunities for spiritual renewal.
New Horizons of Faith was formed to address those needs. Father Vincent Fabula, OCSO, who taught classes in Ottumwa, and Father Ed Dunn, who served Richland, designed courses to help adults grow in faith and prayer. Parishes throughout the diocese sought the programs. Fr. Fabula and Sister Joann Kuebrich, CHM, began teaching courses in parishes in 1978. By the late 1980s, requests for a retreat center had surfaced.
In 1990, Fr. Fabula purchased 208 acres near Wheatland from the Dierickx family. Over the next few years, a Victorian house on the property was fixed up and an addition was built onto it. Prairie grasses and trees were planted. A pond was constructed. The site became known as Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat.
The first guests began using the new retreat center in 1998. Fr. Fabula died that summer and the property reverted to New Melleray Abbey in Peosta, the religious community to which he belonged.
In 1999 the Sisters of Humility, now based in Davenport, purchased the property with plans to expand the ecumenical retreat center “into a place of solitude and spiritual reflection.”
Retreat programs began growing by 2000, Gross said. The Sisters launched a campaign to build a new addition at the Wheatland site. That addition was dedicated Oct. 4, 2003, by Bishop William Franklin. The main level features a large meeting room for up to 30 people, and a fully functional kitchen and office. The upper level has eight guest rooms with several shared bathrooms. The lower level has a smaller “great room” that can be set up for Mass or adoration, and a small library, Gross said. Outdoor features are a labyrinth, way of the cross, wildlife pond, gazebo and fields of natural prairie grasses.
Retreats are offered generally from June through September. Knit One, Pray Two and “anything with Scripture” draws people, Gross said. Come to the Quiet offers solitude and time to be in the quiet of the prairie. A walking retreat is being offered this year. Spiritual directors are available upon request.
Authors have given talks on their books. “We have offered retreats for caregivers, those who are grieving the loss of a loved one and one for spiritual directors.”
Besides organized retreats, the retreat center is available for groups to rent for day-long to week-long retreats. Those retreats can be scheduled throughout the year, but Gross said fewer retreats occur during the winter months because the rural location can be hard to get to in inclement weather.
Our Lady of the Prairie is a place that “lets you grow deeper in your spiritual path,” she said. “It lets people get in touch with their own energies and connect with God.”
For more information on Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat and its offerings, call Gross at (563) 336-8414 or (563) 323-9466 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.