A group photo from the retreat

Blue skies and warm sunshine in a beautiful setting between the mountains and the ocean provided inspiration and unity during a gathering of more than 30 friars from various provinces at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, Calif., from Feb. 7 to 11.


Bishop Ferd Cheri addresses retreatants.

Among those present for the retreat were Bob Bruno, Carl Langenderfer, Joe Nelson, Juniper Crouch and Pat McCloskey, with Charlie Smiech as host. Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans Ferd Cheri, OFM, served as retreat director. Activities included daily morning and evening prayer; Mass each day with the main celebrant from a different province and Bishop Cheri as the homilist; morning and afternoon presentations; time for rest and meditation; a social gathering each evening; and many meaningful conversations.

Such retreats are nothing new for the friars, Charlie explained, and are held twice yearly in different locales. What made this one special, he noted, was the large number of participants and the very spirit of the gathering. “The number of people there and interaction between the friars as we move toward becoming one province was extraordinary,” he said. “It was a very soul-filled retreat, with the friars sharing their hopes and fears about the new province.”

Those in attendance appreciated Bishop Cheri’s straightforward approach as they reflected upon and shared about what the future holds.

He spoke of having “courage and patience in the face of the unification of the six provinces,” Carl said. “He used many Old Testament passages during the first days of the retreat, as well as some lines from traditional black spirituals. These quotes helped to develop his theme of deepening our prayer and relying on God for the grace and courage we need to face the future as our provinces come together.”

retreat center

Serra Retreat Center

“On the fourth day, he did turn to the New Testament for inspiration and examples of how we should face the future with sensitivity and compassion for our people and for each other,” Carl added. “As disciples of Jesus, we should be like sheep in the midst of wolves, like serpents in the midst of doves, as we follow the Lord and His example of love. He also made reference to James and John wanting to sit at the right and left of Jesus in His Kingdom. In our desire to enhance our servanthood, we should examine our motives, expect to suffer like Jesus did, and model ourselves after Jesus, ‘who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life for His followers.’ He encouraged us to be understanding and compassionate toward all people and
their needs.”

“Bishop Cheri was very candid about the challenges for us as friars in a new province, but he was even stronger about the need to seek and accept God’s help in this process,” added Pat.

statues outside

Statues in the garden of the Serra Retreat Center

“It was an experience in which all of the elements of a successful retreat came together so well,” Bob said. “The schedule was balanced, the pace was perfect and nothing was rushed. Our friar bishop Ferd Cheri spoke to our hearts with a seasoned pastoral wisdom. The mix of friars from five of the six provinces was a rich exchange of dialogue with new brothers. And, last, but not least, our Charlie Smiech was the maestro facilitator who brought it all together like a skilled conductor of a world class symphony orchestra.”

Especially significant for Pat was the sense of brotherhood present at the retreat. “Years ago, Ignatius Brady, OFM, introduced me to Proverbs 18:19: ‘A brother supported by a brother is like a high, strong city. They hold each other up like the bars of a fortress.’ I would have felt that anyway during this retreat, but David Kohut’s stroke and the concern shown for him by other retreatants emphasized this unmistakably,” Pat said.

“I think everyone went away from the retreat feeling nourished,” Charlie said. “It was such a great experience of coming together in prayer, and now the friars that were there are moving forward in prayer.”

retreat center and blue skies

A beautiful blue sky over the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, Calif.