The Coastal Star

Lantana: Closing set, sisters say goodbye to local Cenacle

Sisters pose outside the original Florida Cenacle, in Manalapan.

Courtesy of the North American Province of the Cenacle

The entrance to the chapel at The Cenacle in Lantana. Ground was broken on the site in 1961.

The interior of the chapel at the Cenacle, which hosted its first retreat in 1963.

Photos courtesy of the North American Province of the Cenacle

By Mary Thurwachter

    After five decades in Lantana, the Cenacle Sisters are saying farewell.
    The Catholic sisters have sold their prime waterfront property to developers for a high-end apartment complex called Aura Seaside.
    Soon the chapel, meeting rooms and cottages on 10 acres stretching from the Intracoastal Waterway to Dixie Highway will be bulldozed. The labyrinth already has been dismantled and moved to another retreat center, courtesy of the local Boy Scouts.
    It’s been a good run for the nuns, who have guided thousands of souls over the years.
    A lack of nuns and money forced the sisters to close up shop. The remaining nuns will move to other places with a Cenacle presence, likely Chicago and Atlanta.
    The donations of those who utilized the spiritual center helped, but were not nearly enough, said Cenacle spokeswoman Sister Mary Sharon Riley.  
    Over the years, 63 nuns served in Lantana and some “were called more than once,” Riley said. She spent three or four years in Lantana, but more recently, flew back and forth from Chicago to advocate for needed zoning changes as well as the site plan, which won the Town Council’s approval in November.  
    The closing date on the property, at 1400 S. Dixie Highway, is Jan. 12.

    Aura Seaside, with 244 units, will be gated, have a pool and a hot tub, a clubhouse and a gym, as well as an 8-foot-wide promenade.

The Cenacle hosts a Taize service that included folk instruments.

Retreats, meditation
    The center offered nondenominational retreats (including silent retreats), prayer, meditation and a labyrinth. It was well-known for its 12-step retreats.
    Riley said that from 2000 to 2007, the Cenacle averaged 7,836 visitors a year — not all for retreats.
    Before the Cenacle was built in Lantana, it operated from a home on A1A in Manalapan. The Diocese of Miami donated the house.
    “That house was lovely, but too small,” Riley said. “There was only room for 15 people.” The Lantana Cenacle could sleep about 60.
    Groundbreaking at the present site was in 1961, she said. The diocese helped fund it. The first retreat was held in January 1963.

Visitors walk the Cenacle labyrinth in 1999. Boy Scouts already have removed the pavers

that formed the maze for installation elsewhere.

Sacred space
    The Cenacle (the name for the upper room site of Christ’s Last Supper) is sacred space to those who know it.
    Lisa Windel, 48, a massage therapist from Greenacres, said for her it was a place to rest and heal. She attended her first retreat when she was 23 and continued going to them for 24 years.
    “The Cenacle is a place to find yourself again,” she said. “It changed me. It helped me go deeper inside myself and to grow spiritually. It inspired me to convert to Catholicism.”
    In fact, Windel was so moved by the experiences she had at the spiritual center, she became a companion — a lay member of the Cenacle. Companions, she explained, bring spirituality into the community and work with the sisters. But they don’t do retreats.  
    She and 23 other Cenacle Companions will continue. They hold monthly meetings at St. Mark Catholic Church in Boynton Beach.
    The Cenacle Sisters were founded in France in the late 1800s by Sister Thérèse Couderc, who became a saint in 1970.
    There are about five Cenacle retreat houses in the United States and others around the world, including in Australia, Italy, Belgium, Madagascar, Brazil, the Netherlands, Singapore, the Philippines and Canada.
    While she enjoyed the warmer weather  — it was a welcome escape from Chicago’s frigid winter temps — Riley said she was never much of a beach person.
    “I’m very fair-skinned and I have been sunburned,” she said. “No sense in burning again.”
    She will miss the people and the gift of seeing the difference “an awake and alive faith means for  them,” she said.  
    Beyond that, she said, the sisters occasionally enjoyed the Ice Cream Club in Plaza del Mar.
    “But I will not miss the palmetto bugs,” she said.

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