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After a Challenging Year, Holy Family Retreat Center Celebrates 70-Year Anniversary

Holy Family parking lot mass. Courtesy photo

Holy Family Retreat Center in West Hartford was established in 1951, and is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

Submitted by Kathy Colello, Holy Family Retreat Center

Courtesy image

As with so many other businesses in Connecticut, this month marks a sad milestone for Holy Family Retreat Center in West Hartford – nearly one year since the COVID-19 virus reared its destructive head and turned operations upside down. But for Holy Family, February marks a happy milestone as well – 70 years since the Catholic retreat center opened on Tunxis Road and became a spiritual home to thousands of people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Established in 1951 by the Passionists as a parish-based retreat center for Catholic men, Holy Family has greatly expanded its ministry since then to include women, couples, teens, college students, and those in recovery. They come by the thousands every year to participate in weekend retreats, day and evening programs, concerts, conferences, and other spiritual activities.

But all that changed last March, the height of Holy Family’s weekend retreat season, when the appearance of coronavirus brought business as usual to a screeching halt.

“We were blindsided, like so many other businesses,” said Fr. David Cinquegrani, retreat director at Holy Family for the past 22 years. “With quarantines and social distancing in place, we had to find a way to continue serving the spiritual needs of community members while still keeping them safe.”

Since putting dozens, sometimes hundreds of people together in close quarters was no longer feasible, a major pivot was necessary – to online, outdoor, and socially-distanced indoor offerings. Among the strategies Holy Family implemented:

  • Online Sunday masses, available for viewing live at 10 a.m. or anytime after;
  • Live outdoor masses in the parking lot that continued for 17 consecutive Sundays and averaged more than 200 people per week;
  • Online retreat days for healthcare workers, offered free of charge in late June;
  • Messages of Hope video prayers and messages by Fr. David and the retreat team;
  • Inspirational music recordings by the music ministry, including “Zoom” pieces featuring dozens of singers and choir members;
  • Socially-distanced indoor masses every Sunday at 5 p.m. since Oct. 15, live-streamed to three different locations in the Retreat Center building;
  • Online Saturday retreat programs during the winter months and for the foreseeable future, in place of the regularly scheduled weekend retreats.

In addition to formal programs, Holy Family has welcomed throngs of visitors to its campus since the early days of the pandemic, many seeking a respite from quarantine and solace on the 50 acres of scenic, tranquil grounds.

“Ironically enough, our connection with the community seems to have grown even stronger over the past year,” said Fr. David. “It truly is a triumph of the human spirit, what we’ve seen here, and we look forward to a joyful celebration of our 70th anniversary as soon as it makes sense, in whatever form it may take.”

More information about 70th anniversary celebratory events will be forthcoming.

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