My Retreat at Gloucester

I just got back from making a retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  The retreat house, owned and operated by the Jesuits, is located on a piece of rocky land that juts out into the Atlantic. It is a historic spot. The first European to see Gloucester Bay was the French explorer Samuel de Champlain. In about 1606 he spotted the bay as he sailed down the coast and, in his log, described the huge boulder that still sits at the end of Eastern Point. Champlain didn’t enter the bay for fear of “disturbing the natives.”  In time, Gloucester became a great fishing port. Today it is still the home of the Gorton Fish Company. Another local resident who achieved fame and fortune was Clarence Birdseye, who perfected the quick-freezing method for fish and vegetables.

The retreat house itself is a lovely, huge mansion built by John and Marie Prentiss in 1921. (See It was constructed of stone from the quarry on the property. The floor in the lobby is alternating black and white marble from western Vermont.  Most of the rooms have beautiful fire places and large windows that look out upon the ocean. The spacious back yard offers many places to just sit and behold the sun rising, the tide coming in and out, or the waves crashing against the rocky shore. Or you can venture out onto the rocks and sit and pray as you watch the fishing trawlers or sail boats go by.

Over 40 people made the week long retreat—about eight sisters, one bishop, three ordained ministers of other denominations, two married couples, and other lay men and women from all walks of life. Each of us was assigned a director (a Jesuit, a sister, or a lay person) with whom we met each day for 30-45 minutes. The rest of the day was filled with silence, prayer, and solitude. Mass was at 5:00 each evening in the “great room” of the house.

The retreat was a wonderful experience for me. During the course of the week I even wrote a few poems. I’ll share one with you now.

“The Rocks and the Sea”

I say to the rocks and the sea: Who’s winning?

Who’s winning the contest?

You, Rocks? Hard, immovable, impenetrable?

Or you, Sea? Soft, undulating, splashing and crashing

   against everything in your way?

Though today the contest looks like a draw,

I know in time the Sea will win.

I’ve seen the cracks in the rocks

and the pools of water in the fissures.

I’ve seen the huge boulders worn round and smooth

like an elephant’s rump

all by the sheer persistency of the waves.


I say to God:

O Sea Beatific,

keep splashing and crashing over me,

your stubborn little rock.


I prayed for all of you while I was on retreat. My reflective question for you today is this: Have you had any “spiritual experiences” with water–a pond, a lake, a waterfalls, the ocean?



  1. Helen Larkins on September 10, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I enjoy all your books, especially “In Steadfast Love”. I
    re-read it all the time.
    You spoke at our parish Espiritu Santo in Safety Harbor, FL.
    We hope you will return soon. Sr. Paula is our sister of ND.
    God Bless You,
    Helen Larkins

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      Thank you, Helen! I remember well my times in your wonderful parish! Sr. Melannie

  2. Annie on September 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks, Melannie! I love your poem!

  3. Pat on September 10, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    How calming the sea can be to open your mind to the spirit within.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      Amen to that! No wonder Jesus frequently went to the Sea of Galilee! Thank you for responding! Sr. Melannie

  4. pjnoga on September 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Melannie , my love is swimming in water, preferably a pool. When it’s quiet and only a few folks are in the water, it feels like God’s water is hugging and surrounding me with His love and care. Good to have you


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks for your response, PJ. Your description of swimming is beautiful. It reminds me of the fact that we all began in water–in our mother’s warm womb. No wonder we love the feel of being in the water. Melannie

  5. Mary Fran on September 10, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Dear Mel,
    Having made retreat there your reflection meant sooo much. Thanks for linking history-the beauty inside and outside as the ocean shapes rocks and land with the retreat experience. Love the poem.
    Just me -Mary Fran

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      And thank you, Mary Fran, for recommending this place to me. You’re “just” great! Melannie

  6. Sister Miriam Denis on September 11, 2012 at 6:05 am

    Your poem really struck my heart. I know I’ll be thinking of it all day.
    Am running it off to include it in my Retreat/Spiritual Sayings Book.
    Were you on Retreat on your birthday? If so, what a wonderful way to spend such a special day.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Dear Miriam, I’m honored that you’re including my little poem in your spiritual sayings book…And no, I wasn’t on retreat for my birthday. My birthdsay is coming up in a few days….Thanks again for writing. Melannie

  7. Joan on September 11, 2012 at 8:58 am

    I so enjoy reading your reflections! Large bodies of water have always been places of prayer for me. The immensity of it all speaks to me of our immeasurable and unlimited God whose grandeur is so evident in all natural settings. Thank you for your poem. I, too, am a stubborn little rock who needs to have my rough edges smoothed out by God’s persistent waves of love.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 11, 2012 at 9:27 am

      Thank you, Joan, for describing so beautifully why large bodies of water speak to us of God! Sr. Melannie

  8. Maggie Moore,ssj on September 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Melannie, no one else but you could describe God’s Grandeur of waves and boulders– splashing and crashing to smooth out his stubborn little
    rocks….and still be able to mention an “elephant’s rump” in the same
    sentence! GOD BLESS YOUR GIFTED-NESS. LUV Maggie

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on September 11, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      But the main boulder did look like an elephant’s rump, Maggie. Honest! Thanks for your response! Melannie

  9. Jill Trepoy Galloway on September 13, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Peace, Melannie! I wrote a poem what feels like eons ago when I was sitting at the lake.
    A wave a clear water covers the rocks below.
    Unseen by man is the polishing being done,
    A miracle of nature to behold.
    Although we are blind to see.
    The rock that lies below,
    Will be a rare and precious stone,
    Found by a Child on the shore of the sea.
    May you have a wonderful weekend!

  10. Dianna on February 3, 2014 at 11:39 am

    I seem to find solace @ the waters edge or away from shore, God has spoken to me on a number of occassions with wise impressions of life solutions when I have taken the time to sit and listen and bodies of water seem to be the beckoning places that give this result. Oh that I would do so more often and how I would love to go to such a retreat.
    I do think I would probably be bursting @ the seams to talk after attending a week of quietness, but it sounds like healing for my soul in the time pocket chaos that seems to have become routine. Thank You for sharing the experience, insight and poem…Blessings Dianna

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