While there has been a growth of Catholic and Protestant retreat centers, the impact of religious individualism and experiential spirituality is challenging their traditional functions. The National Catholic Reporter (April 27) notes that in the case of the Catholics alone, there are over 600 retreat centers in the U.S. and Canada. But they are facing new competition from Catholic parishes and from a trend of smaller “bed-and-breakfast retreat centers,” many of which are run by Protestants. Parishes are offering a wide variety of programs on spiritual formation. One such parish-based retreat program called Christ Renews His Parish is facilitated by trained fellow-parishioners.
Retreats based around preaching to large groups of mainly priests and nuns are now a thing of the past. Today it is mostly laypeople who are usually looking for “holistic” retreats or spiritual counseling. These can range from Jesuit centers offering popular Ignatian Spiritual Exercises to retreats offering “cutting edge” topics such as feminist, Native American and ecological spirituality, many of which are attended by Protestants. The article cites a 2004 study sampling 128 Catholic retreat houses and found that a key reason for lower attendance is the overwhelming activity options that people have today that they didn’t have in the past, whether social, cultural, religious or spiritual.
The study found a 40-50 percent increase in highly individualized spiritual direction and directed retreats. Only a quarter to a third of the centers reported growth in group retreats. It also found that while prominent retreat houses have closed, the overall number of these centers have increased. The problem is that these centers cater to a small number of so called “early adapters” who embrace innovative programs (usually run by nuns) and bypass the majority of Catholics drawn to more conventional programs.
(National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141)