The Tree on the Hill

Celebrating More Than 20 Years at Mt. Calvary Retreat - Mandeville, Jamaica

pine tree at Mt. Calvary Retreat

text by Paul Zilonka, C.P.

This is a story of a tree on a hill, a tree once planted in the red earth of a Mandeville hillside. That day in May 1973 was sunny and full and promise. New things were happening in the Church worldwide and here on Manchester road. In the shadow of an old bungalow with sagging porches, a few young altar servers of St Elizabeth Church in Kingston and two Passionist priests planted a little pine tree. It was meant to be a small gesture of remembrance for the first weekend retreat of the newly-named Mt. Calvary Retreat House.

Only God can make a tree, but we can all plant one. That gesture of more than twenty years ago has come to maturity in many ways. The original shoot took root and in the course of these decades it has grown into a vibrant evergreen. Some years ago, the trunk split in such a way that now two sturdy trunks soar toward the sky like twin spires of a cathedral towering twenty-five feet above the second story retreat house roof.

That flourishing tree aptly symbolizes what has happened within the walls of Mt. Calvary Retreat House and around the beautifully landscaped grounds for the past two decades. The original homestead could accommodate 16 retreatants, but the addition of the new wing in 1984 has made it possible for as many as 45 retreatants to visit at the same time.

Long before May 1973, there was another tree on another hillside, outside Jerusalem. the soldiers who planted that rough-hewn wooden base in the dusty nob of land nicknamed "skullplace" were not retreatants, but executioners. Unwittingly, they were setting up a memorial to the ingenious love of God who did not spare his own Son but handed him over that we might have life.

The killing has continued for centuries, but the tree of Jesus of Nazareth has never been forgotten. It has come to symbolize both the worst and the best of what it means to be human. Most of all it has spoken forever of the love of the Father who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son that all who believe in him might have life" (John 3:16).

The tree on Golgotha and the tree in Mandeville have one thing in common. Both are signs of God's love which we have experienced on earth.

Programs | Ecumenical Ministry | Directors | Towards the Future

Programs and Participants at Mt. Calvary Retreat

At the only full-time Catholic retreat house in Jamaica, about 2,000 people participate each year in a variety of programs. Our full range of programs seeks to meet the many different needs of our retreatants. The movements of the Lord in the loves of his people take different directions at one moment or the other. We at Mt. Calvary strive to help in fostering that mysterious and wondrous experience.

Weekend Retreats | Directed Retreats | Days of Recollection | MBTI | Bible Institute | Guest Lecturers

Weekend Retreats begin Friday evening and end Sunday afternoon. A preached retreat is based on Bible themes; it includes group conferences, private reflection, sharing and worhsip together. Specific needs of each different group receive attention during the weekend.

Both young adults and older retreatants tell us about the impact of the programs.

"We are all very touched and benefitted from your deep spirituality, the talks, the music and singing."
"On departing, we all reflected on the wonderful experience it had been, regretting that it could not have been longer, and looking forward to relating our experience and sharing our new-found peace with others. We left a closer-knit group."

Directed Retreats, which are personalized, are offered year-round. Spiritual Direction is an important dimension of ministry at Mt. Calvary. Priests, religious and laity avail themselves of on-going spiritual direction through regular visits. This reflective process helps each individual respond to Christ creatively by integrating life with personal prayer.

Recollection Days Mt. Calvary welcomes senior citizens each month for a day of recollection and fellowship. The fact that this group of men and women has been meeting monthly for almost nine years has lead to the growth of strong bonds of care for one another.

Group meeting at Mt. CalvaryMBTI Many groups wishing to grow in understanding and communication skills choose a program which includes an experiences of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for self-awareness.

"The participants found MBTI stimulating, revealing, and a source of deeper reflection on themselves and their interaction with others."

Bible Institute Each year several weekends are reserved for the Bible Institute. This special program provides a unique opportunity for Bible study through a process of immersion in particular books of the Bible under the direction of the "evangelist" or other author responsible for the original composition of the Scriptural book under consideration. We are encouraged very much by the appreciation expressed for this in-depth adult approach to Scripture.

"This weekend has helped me to look at the Bible in a new way. It has given me deeper understanding of the Gospels and the Book of Revelation. Now I know that I will be able to answer bible questions more confidently."
"I found the Bible Institute to be a very prayerful experience. Even familiar Gospel stories took on a deeper personal meaning for me. My prayer life will be enriched by it."

At various times, presenters are asked to conduct special programs at other locations in Jamaica and abroad. These "Programs on Wheels" extend the ministry of Mt. Calvary Retreat beyond its walls for the sake of some groups who cannot actually come to Mandeville. In this way, local church communities throughout Jamaica and overseas are helped in their own pastoral renewal and spiritual development.

Guest Lecturers In recent years, Mt. Calvary has also sponsored visits of distinguished lecturers, including Abbot Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., and Passionists Rev. Donald Senior, Rev. Carroll Stuhlmueller and Rev. Paul Wadell. Their presentations in the fields of Centering Prayer, Scripture and Moral Theology were well received and have enabled Mt. Calvary to play a significant role in church renewal.

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Ecumenical Ministry

St. Paul of the Cross cherished a conviction that Passionists after him would carry on ecumenical ministry. Here at Mt. Calvary, the inspired prayer and hope of St. Paul of the Cross has constantly motivated our hospitality to Christians of many denominations who seek spiritual renewal within their own traditions. Throughout these past two decades, the bonds of spiritual fraternity have matured through retreats for clergy and laity, international conferences of ecumenical dialogue, episcopal synods, meetings of local ministers, and programs of interdenominational Bible study.

A glance at our record of ecumenical events over more than two decades includes a panorama of Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, The United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman, The Church of God, The Holiness Church, The Church of the Nazarene, as well as other independent churches of Evangelical tradition.

Anglican Bishop William Murray speaks for many when he writes:

"We have come to look on Mt. Calvary as a second home. The retreat apostolate is a beautiful ecumenical effort for all of us to appreciate the faith we have in common, the ministerial hopes we share and the Christian love we possess.

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Directors Over the Years

Fr. Paul Zilonka, C.P. and Sr. Bernadette Hughes, C.P.The gracious atmosphere which from its beginning has characterized Mt. Calvary is the lasting gift of the first Retreat Director, Fr. Martin Joseph Tooker, C.P. His example of service at table was a silent but convincing sermon about Christian service as the hallmark of discipleship. Fr. Martin served as Director from May 1973 to October, 1978. Fr. Thomas Brislin, C.P. ably took over direction until May 1980, when Fr. Martin again returned to Mt. Calvary.

In September 1985, Fr. Martin welcomed Sr. Bernadette Hughes, C.P. to the staff. Sr. Bernadette's background in retreat ministry and spiritual direction has provided more opportunities for directed retreats and other specialized programs. When Fr. Martin moved to Balaclava in February 1987, Fr. Paul Zilonka, C.P., professor of Sacred Scripture at St. Michael's Seminary in Kingston, joined Sr. Bernadette as Co-director. Since Fr. Paul's departure, Sr. Bernadette has served as Director. Passionist priests from the United States regularly participate with her in weekend retreats.

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Towards the Future

At Mt. Calvary, we never forget our absolute dependence on the free-will donations of our retreatants and other benefactors, both in Jamaica and abroad. We try to keep the retreat experience accessible to as many as possible. Given the extreme economic burden of Jamaica, we ask only a small stipend for a weekend program. Thanks to regular support of our Passionist Community and other personal donations, we go forward in faith, assured that God will provide for those who seek the face of the Lord.

The pine tree planted with great hope in 1973 has grown and prospered. While taller and stronger trees fell to the earth in the midst of Hurricane Gilbert in September 1988, our special tree on this hill was flexible enough to hold its ground.

As this tree matures, the hope that it symbolizes continues to shape our plans for the future of Mt. Calvary. God's fidelity in the past inspires lively faith as we walk forward together with the people of God.

"For this we toil and struggle, because we have set out hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who believe. I Timothy 4:10




Compassion Magazine articles about the Passionists in Jamaica include Reflections of a Missionary by Richard Award, C.P., Funerals in Jamaica and Walking with God both by Richard Leary, C.P.

Revised November 25, 1997 at 19:25 GMT - launched on the World Wide Web on February 27, 1997 at 20:00 GMT.
Please send questions or comments about the page to Sister Bernadette Hughes,C.P.

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