By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

NORTHAMPTON, Pa. – Mary Immaculate Center, a retreat house in Northampton, Pa., will close July 24, the Archdiocese has announced.

Originally opened in 1939 as a seminary for the Congregation of the Missions (Vincentian Fathers), in more recent years (1991-2005) it served as the site of the Spirituality Year program of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. After the end of that program until the present it has continued as a retreat center for both Catholic and non-Catholic groups.

“The Mary Immaculate Retreat Center has helped thousands of people to deepen their faith,” said Bishop-designate Joseph R. Cistone. “That was the intent at the time the Archdiocese purchased the property and for that we are grateful. The center, however, has a substantial deficit each year. The ongoing costs of upkeep make it prohibitive for the Archdiocese to continue its operation.”

Although the 460-acre property is within the Allentown diocese, at the time the Vincentians built their seminary it was still part of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Over the years some seminarians for the Allentown, Scranton and Harrisburg dioceses studied there as well as men studying for the Barnabite Fathers and the Byzantine Franciscans. In total, nearly 500 future priests attended, with the final two ordinations in 1990.

The following year the Archdiocese of Philadelphia opened its Spirituality Year program at Mary Immaculate and in 1996 purchased the property from the Vincentians.

“It was a wonderful place for the Spirituality Year program. It was a quiet and serene place where the seminarians could enter into reflective solitude,” said Msgr. Joseph G. Prior, rector of St. Charles Seminary.

The program, which was somewhat akin to a year-long retreat, was discontinued in 2005 because of changes in requirements for American seminaries which called for a second year of pre-theology. To continue the program would have meant extending the seminary formation another year, the rector explained.

The men who experienced the Spirituality Year at Mary Immaculate developed a great love for the campus, and especially the chapel built in 1954.

“It is a beautiful chapel in French Gothic style. You could just look at the (stained glass) windows and reflect on the lives of the saints,” Msgr. Prior said.

Even after the close of the Spirituality Year program the seminary continued to utilize Mary Immaculate for such occasions as pre-ordination retreats for deacons and priests, the rector said.

“The architecture is a blend of East and West – Byzantine and Romanesque,” said Michael Six, who has been Mary Immaculate’s director for the past three years.

“At least 300 men went through the Spirituality Year here and tens of thousands have attended retreats. Many have been greatly touched by the experience,” he said.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.