Special to The Message
In October 2022, Bishop Joseph M. Siegel convened an ad hoc committee made up of diocesan staff, clergy, Diocesan Building Commission, Diocesan Finance Council, and volunteer retreat coordinating representatives to study the Sarto Retreat Facility on the Catholic Center Campus of the Diocese of Evansville.
The Sarto Retreat facility has had a significant role in the life of the Diocese, hosting countless retreat and formation opportunities for our Catholic people and others. However, with the building now over 60 years old (built in 1960) and facing ongoing operating issues, Bishop Siegel believes that this is an appropriate time to assess the remaining useful life of the facility and whether it still offers the appropriate space for retreat, reflection, and faith formation.
With this in mind, the ad hoc committee was formed to conduct this study and provide findings and recommendations to Bishop Siegel for his further consideration. The committee concluded its work in June 2023 providing a report of findings and recommendations. Over the last several months, this report has been reviewed and discussed with various consultative bodies of the Diocese including the Council of Priests, the full Presbyterate, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and the Diocesan Finance Council.
The additional discussions with these groups have provided valuable feedback and general support for the results of the study. The Bishop would now like to share the primary elements of that same report with our Catholic faithful as we continue to discern the possible next steps in evaluating options for maintaining a vibrant retreat center in our diocese.
The following summarizes the primary elements of the ad committee’s assignment, findings, and recommendations.
The committee was assigned the task to assess and study a number of key items, including:
- Determine whether we still want or need a retreat facility by assessing its use and impact in our Diocese.
- Determine whether the Sarto Retreat House currently provides the best possible environment and facilities for the various groups that are hosted there.
- Evaluate the level and feasibility of repair and maintenance required to sustain and extend the useful life of the existing building.
- Evaluate and assess the existing Catholic Center campus land and layout.
- Assess the possibilities/value of a new retreat house build on campus.
- Assess other retreat facility options off-campus.
- Recommend best options: Update & Expand? New Build? Other?
Actions Taken by the Committee
The Ad Hoc Committee conducted a series of meetings between October 2022 and June 2023, and accomplished the following:
- Discussed facility specifications and current uses
- Conducted whiteboard Discussions – What works and what doesn’t: Needs, Wants, Dreams
- Conducted a full facility walkthrough and evaluation
- Conducted Building Inspection by engineer & architect
- Prepared a report of existing facility issues
- Prepared preliminary drawings and proposals that might address existing facility issues
- Commissioned a Geo-Technical Land Survey across the campus to determine feasibility of building on campus
- Developed multiple potential drawings/models and high-level budgetary estimates associated with a remodel and a new-build
- Discussed off-campus retreat facility options
The Ad Hoc Committee determined the following:
- Maintaining a Retreat facility is a priority – The facility is currently used 85-90% of the available weekends of the year (42-45 events per year).
- Due to age, frequent on-call plumbing, HVAC, and other service calls are needed during retreat weekends to address issues while retreats are in progress.
- The facility needs to be more functional and welcoming.
- Top Priorities include:
- Providing a dependable and functioning facility
- Enhanced Entrance/Welcome space
- Larger Guest rooms with improved bathrooms
- More meeting space
- More private reflection space – indoors and outdoors
- Enhanced kitchen and dining space
- An On-Campus Facility is preferred
- Leverages the Catholic Center presence and the natural surroundings of the campus
- Leverages facility and maintenance staff to prepare and maintain facilities and serve retreatants without requiring additional staff in a location off-campus at additional labor costs
- Any retreat location would require travel for some portion of the diocese and travel is generally a component of “going on retreat”
- The Geo-Technical Land survey was favorable for maintaining or building facilities on the campus
- High-level budgetary estimate for remodel and expansion of existing space represents at least 70% or more of the budgetary estimates of a new-build
- While there is a strong connection by our Catholic faithful to the existing facility, especially the Sarto Chapel (and we must be respectful of that history and connection), a remodel and expansion of the existing space has a number of significant drawbacks:
- It does not fully address the issues, needs, wants;
- A general estimate of life expectancy of a remodel/expansion is at best half of the useful life of a new-build;
- The estimated, ongoing maintenance costs on the existing building (60+ years old), even after remodel, is anticipated to greatly exceed the ongoing, annual maintenance costs of a new build;
- There are a number of unknown, contingent building issues and potential costs of a remodel for a building of this age and this construction style that can’t be known until the remodel begins making it not just an estimated 70% of a new-build cost, but possibly more.
- When deemed appropriate and feasible, construct a new retreat facility on the Catholic Center campus.
- Locate the facility northwest of existing facility, adjacent to the athletic field.
- Continue use of existing facility until new build is complete
- Upon completion of the new building, demolish the current facility for parking and outdoor retreat and reflection space
- Consider methods to preserve or utilize elements of the existing building in the new building
Following consultation with and reception of a positive response from the Diocesan Finance Council, Council of Priests, Presbyterate and Diocesan Pastoral Council and sharing information with the Catholic faithful of the Diocese, the following are possible next steps:
- Consideration of a firm to provide formal design and renderings of a proposed new building;
- Consideration of a capital campaign feasibility study.
Bishop Siegel and his advisory groups will continue to study the Ad Hoc Committee report and feedback in determining what next steps would be most appropriate. We recognize the working of the Holy Spirit in our Diocese that prompts the many opportunities for faith formation, prayer, community, and fellowship activities hosted at the Sarto Retreat House each year and ask His guidance on how we can most prudently provide a welcoming and sustainable facility for that ongoing spiritual growth in our Diocese.