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San Damiano, a Franciscan Retreat Center
in the East Bay (in Northern California)

San Damiano a Franciscan retreat center in San Ramon CA

Arriving in San Damiano

In early January 2017, I went to San Damiano, in the East Bay of Northern California, and it was my first visit there. It is a beautiful place, built in the early sixties, nestled in the hills above Danville. Because I got there just after the many storms we have had this winter, I could not walk the trails in the hills, which were soaked with water, littered with broken branches etc. Plus, being January, the days were short and cold. But I did manage to gather a few shots of the grounds outside the center and a few indoor photos too. On Saturday morning, before the workshop, the sun was out and I went briefly on the path with the Stations of the Cross. What a beautiful spot! I want to go back and walk and pray! Indoors too, everything is set to inspire us and to help us meditate and pray, to incite us to come closer to God and to our neighbors. The room was simple but very comfortable, the hallways have many inspirational statements, prayers, many things to ponder. The inner courtyard is beautifully designed and you can find little devotional statues here and there. The visitors and guests are asked to be quiet and respectful. Everything is conducive to help us find a moment of peace and inner reflection right here and there, in this Franciscan center, a stone's throw from one of the busiest - and most agitated - and wealthiest - corner of the world, think San Francisco, Berkeley, Silicon Valley, Marin County, Napa Valley...

Life and Relationships...

The workshop I attended in San Damiano was about relationships. I live in the Sunset district of San Francisco and I wanted to get away this week-end. I looked up (at the last minute) what retreats and conferences were available and I saw this one on Relationships in San Damiano. I thought why not, I'm sure I can learn something... And I did! It was a most fascinating and various group, it was fun, edifying and enjoyable in many ways. I'm not saying it was perfect, I missed the faith dimension, but it seems that San Damiano is bent on being truly open and welcome to all, so I just thought it was a good moment for me, personally, to practice what is essential in relationships: love, respect, openness. And I "gained" much more than I "gave", which is so very much in the spirit of the famous peace prayer of Saint Francis:

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life...

San Damiano Retreat with deers

San Damiano Retreat Chapel     San Damiano Retreat Dining Room

Some ponderings...

Why is it that the workshop was both tense but rewarding for me? I understood early that it was mainly constructed on modern psychology and was not going to be as Christocentric as I would have loved... But, as I mentioned above, I saw this as a personal challenge rather than a burden. I used that time together with a group of unknown people to be truly open to them, to listen and interact and participate with whomever was there, and because I had the right attitude (psychologically, emotionnally and intellectually) and because of the grace of God, I came back from the workshop exhausted but energized... Isn't it interesting? To be upfront, I will tell of what I think helped me the most: the previous evening I was told there would be a private Mass at 9:30 in the morning in the private chapel and that, should I wish to attend, I should be there on time. I am Catholic, as you must know if you have checked two or three things on this site, and I understand the power and the grace of the sacrements. On Friday evening, before going to sleep, I thought of this morning Mass and I was already grateful. On Saturday morning, when I first got up (rather early, to check my glucose since I am diabetic), I thought about it again and looked forward to it. The liturgy, with the readings, the homily, the prayers, in the most simplest environment or in the most elaborate one is always essential. Crucial. Formative and fundamental.

Thank God for his Word and for his Son, that's all I can say.

My conclusion

What I am trying to articulate here is that I was already ressourced and put in the proper frame of mind before I entered the workshop! And then the fact that it was truly a good group, presentator and participants, whether they were vocal or silent, everyone helped the moment become a blessed moment, it was truly a team effort...and I am grateful!

Copyright ©January2017-2022 Michele Szekely

San Damiano Retreat posters on Emigrants

San Damiano Retreat on Emigration

San Damiano Retreat Courtyard

San Damiano Retreat San Francisco statue and Mary statue

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