Priory marks 20 years

CHESTERTOWN About 20 years ago, Sister Connie Messit had to decide if she wanted to live alone on top of a mountain. She is still there, although no longer alone. The Priory Retreat House in Chestertown is celebrating 20 years as a retreat, under the direction of Messit and Sister Fran Gilchrist, both Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and Pat Mousaw, co-director of the house. All three are certified spiritual directors. They are holding a celebration of the retreats 20 years on May 20, rescheduled from April 21 due to a power outage from a storm. At 3:30 p.m., everyone is invited to gather for a Eucharistic Liturgy to celebrate the 20 years the Priory has been a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Bring a dish to share if you would like and join in gratitude for all God's blessings. The Priory was not always a home for women. Dedicated in 1979, its original mission was to be a monastery for Benedictine monks. The monastic idea never grew, but a group of people formed around them, Messit said. The monks left in 1986, leaving the house vacant but still under the auspices of a board of directors. Meanwhile, Messit was returning home to New York state from Connecticut and looking for spiritual work. The place was empty and the board was looking for a mens group, unsuccessfully, she said. Gilchrist, who was busy with the Wellspring Program in Glens Falls that she helped begin, knew of the house and had the idea that Messit could start a retreat house there, with her as an advisor. The community continued to use the house for liturgies, and Messit came to a service, stayed for a pot luck supper and interviewed with the board of directors. They had to consider a woman instead of a man, and I didnt know if I wanted to be on top of a mountain alone, Messit said. But there were a lot of indications that God was leading me here. Messit became the new spiritual director at the Priory, which continued to hold liturgies until a shortage of priests caused that to cease. It was about that time that Gilchrist became available and soon joined Messit as co-director of the retreat house. Since then, they have been holding many programs, some on spirituality, scripture and prayer and many of general interest to the community. Weve done a lot of community service, Gilchrist said. Weve done programs on anger management, communication skills, gardening, grief and stress. The Priory has offered hiking retreats, artistic expressions, as well as specific scripture and spiritual programs. Were not here just for Catholics, Gilchrist said. The Methodists like to hold programs here and Pat does contemplative prayer and movement in prayer. Messit said the Priory is particularly effective for groups of friends or associates seeking something specific. We have a group called the Seekers that have been coming once a year for the last five or six years, she said. The Priory depends on donations and volunteers to survive and the biggest fundraiser is the annual Priory Garage Sale each July. This years sale is Saturday and Sunday, July 14 and 15. As the Priory looks to the future, Gilchrist said shed like to see a separate building or hermitage where a person can spend time in solitude. We already have the right spot picked out thats best ecologically and for water and light, she said. They are continuing with programs to meet the needs of the area and would like to expand their staff, adding part time office, cooking and cleaning staff. We have lots of volunteers here that help us out immensely, Messit said. We need to replace the windows here, and one of our little miracles occurred when we now have 10 new windows for free. Local Reiki practitioner Nancie Welch is working on a permanent labyrinth on the property, using rocks that are brought to the site from kids throughout the region. For information on the Priory or its programs, visit prioryretreathouse.org or call 494-3733.

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