At work, Fridays would always drag on; but, this particular Friday was everlasting. Driving home, the expressway seemed endless. It was the summer of 1974. The weather was hot. The traffic was stop-and-go. I was thinking about the retreat which I had booked for this weekend.
I had been on a silent retreat once before, many years earlier. However, since then, I had put on hold all but my core spiritual devotions as I was working at several jobs to make a down payment for a home. I had also been working with my friend, John Rooney, to establish in Canada “The Right To Life Committee”.
As a result, there had been no time for such spiritual luxuries as a weekend retreat let alone a day alone to pray and reflect. Now having achieved these goals, I sought to re-establish my normal spiritual practices. This retreat would be a welcome opportunity to rekindle those devotions and to reflect on the path ahead.
Arriving home, I quickly showered and dressed. I grabbed the suitcase which I had packed the night before. Bidding my wife and kids goodbye, I jumped back into the car again and set off toward Manresa Retreat Centre in Pickering, Ontario. The road leading to Manresa was natural and inviting.
There ahead, at the end of that road, was my refuge of truth. In the reception area, I was greeted by the retreat master. There with him were some people from my parish and my best friend, John Rooney. During our chat over coffee, I told John about how deeply I had missed my formal Marian devotions and how much I was looking forward to a public Rosary planned for the next day.
John talked about his affiliation with the Legion of Mary and how glad he was to see that I had taken the time to come and to touch base with him. A few jokes and our expectations of the weekend was our last chance to talk until the end of the retreat.
We said good night and retired to our respective rooms. The room was small but, it had an inviting aura to it, austere but neat: a single bed beside the window, a small writing desk and chair, a lamp, and a washbasin. On the desk was a copy of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis and on the wall hung a small carved wooden crucifix. . I had an extremely good and refreshing sleep. Having been used to four hours or less for the past several years, even eight hours would have been heaven. Those ten hours were bliss.
The bells awakened me - those same bells which were to signal the beginning of each segment of each days' itinerary. One by one the doors of our rooms opened and each of us in our own time strolled down toward the Chapel. After prayers, it was on to the dining hall. Like seasoned monks, we silently ate breakfast - passing condiments from one to another whether needed or not. Words were spoken only in response to prayer. Then the bells led us to prayers and then to the public Rosary.
Everyone gathered for the Rosary outside on the beautiful lawns which graced the grounds. I was at the rear with John beside me. As the leader began to recite the prayers, he began to walk. We each followed behind him in single file. The leader recited the first part of each prayer and we completed the lost port in unison. To my horror, each man began to race verbally through the response as though there were a prize for the first to finish.
Shattered and disillusioned, I left the group. I was left wondering: wondering about what value there was in haste when thoughtful meditation was the goal; wondering about how gravely we had wounded our Holy Mother by such superficiality? The nuns at St. Patrick's School, in Toronto, had taught us as students to pray the Rosary with a reverent and patient cadence. The idea was to meditate. How could that be done hurriedly? My mind reeling, I went back to my room. There, I sat at the desk for a short time, absently flipping through A Kempis' book. Unable to fix my mind on anything, I laid down. Praying to our Holy Mother. I drifted off to sleep even though I had been awake for only few hours.
And what a sleep! I found myself back on the retreat grounds, but I wasn't alone, and I wasn't walking. Standing erect, I was suspended about four feet above the ground gliding along at the pace of a stroll. Our Lady was beside me, walking with me as though we were the closest of friends. As one would walk in conversation with friend, there was no need to look at each other.
Our Lady spoke to me in earnest as though She had complete conviction that I would understand Her request and comply with it. When I say that She spoke, there was no audible conversation; but it was clearer than conversation. She made it known to me that She wished me to build a Rosary: not to 'make' one but to sculpt one. She also made it known that She felt there was a great need to design and build an environment which would encourage prayerful meditation upon the mysteries of the Rosary.
As we 'walked', She 'spoke' very softly, completely explaining, to the last detail, the design and layout of the Rosary and its Path. The beauty of the sculpture and its natural environment together with the requirement of walking though the Rosary would encourage pilgrims to slow their recitation to a proper cadence for meditation. "Only then will people learn the lessons of His life which are revealed through the recitation of the Rosary."
As She ‘spoke’, we were in fact travelling its' Path. It was there before us just as She had explained. The magnitude of the work was awesome. I remember the tremendous. Overwhelming feeling of peace and serenity which surrounded this place. It stood on about one hundred acres of land filled with rolling hilIs, beautiful trees, a running stream, and wildlife in abundance.
As you might randomly cast a conventional Rosary on the ground, so this Rosary wound through the countryside. This was not a man-made, manicured garden. Rather. it was natural landscape: very simple in its beauty, as you would find when walking through a wooded countryside. Simplicity was the keynote. Other than the sculptures, the only landscaped feature was the neat Pathway which was the Rosary - sufficiently wide to accommodate battery-powered vehicles for the handicapped two abreast. The Path was neither levelled nor built up but followed the natural terrain with simple wooden bridges in places where the Rosary Path crossed the stream or culvert.