A Conversation with Father David Rosenberg, New Director of the St. Francis Retreat Center

Your Faith
September, 2015

Father David Rosenberg, formerly pastor of St. Mary Parish, Charlotte, and St. Ann Oratory, Bellevue, was appointed by Bishop Boyea as the new director of the St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, after the passing of Father Larry Delaney in June. Father David took over in mid-August, and FAITH magazine asked him for his thoughts on this new assignment, and his plans for building on the strong foundation which Father Larry built.

What are you most excited about with this new appointment?

I have a natural love for all things transcendent – experiences that bring about opportunities to encounter Christ. By that, I mean all the ways the Holy Spirit gives us moments to break through our worldly routine and touch the eternal.  For instance, in our Gospel for the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, we learn she was searching around the garden tomb for the pierced body of Christ. She saw a stranger, a gardener, standing outside the tomb. At first her senses experienced merely a worldly encounter.  Suddenly, the Holy Spirit impelled her heart, as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all ...” Jesus called her by name; “Mary!” (John 20:16) and in that instant, the stranger became the risen glorified Christ.  She encountered the risen Christ in the most personal and life-changing way.  The retreat experience should offer Catholics a similar encounter to be called by name by the glorified, risen Christ.  Being an architect of just such a retreat, augmented by this holy environment, excites me!

Why should every Christian go on retreat?

There is a cycle and cadence to every season of the Christian life. For our actions to be lived out through our witnessing the Good News, we need time for the deep replenishment of Sabbath rest.  Three distinct characteristics of Sabbath rest create a “best practices” formula for this rest and replenishment within the turning of the seasons: 1) daily Scripture and prayer; 2) frequent partaking of the Eucharist and sacraments; and, 3) accepting God’s gift of the weekend retreat.  Thus refreshed, we go forth in haste to offer our gifts to family and community.  The retreat completes this cycle, even as Christ taught us in Matthew 14:23: “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” 

What is the history of the retreat center?

The Franciscan friary and retreat house were built on the former property of Sylvester and Florence Surrat.  The friars purchased the property in May, 1954.  The retreat house in DeWitt was originally named Portiuncula in the Pines.  Portiuncula is Italian for “little portion” which aptly describes this little garden of Eden amid the high-pressure hustle and bustle of today’s world.

In September of 1960, Bishop Albers dedicated a separate friary.  This allowed the entire community to live under one roof and freed up space in the retreat house for retreatants.  In 1966, the friars, concerned that the vacant land west of the original acreage might be developed into housing, purchased the additional 65 acres that now is part of the 95 acres of inspirational beauty.

In 1988, the number of brothers residing at Portiuncula in the Pines had declined.  The responsibility of caring for the land and buildings had become too much for the remaining friars.  With the approval of Bishop Povish, the Diocese of Lansing purchased the entire complex. In 1989, Father Larry Delaney was appointed its first director. 

To address the growing awareness of the needs of the youth of the diocese, construction began on Bethany House in 2000. The project revamped the interior of the friary and added 52 overnight rooms, a conference room and a large common area.  With the strong support of the Lansing-area Knights of Columbus, Bethany House was completed in the fall of 2001 and is serving the needs of our diocesan youth and various other groups.

The retreat center continues to provide the rich tradition of offering retreats for men and women, the work begun by the Franciscans and carried on since 1989 under the prayerful guidance of Father Larry. 

What plans do you have to build on Father Larry’s foundation?

I plan first to be God’s steward and to continue Father Larry’s good work. To make sure this diocesan treasure is given my fullest attention to build upon the spiritual component of each and every hosted retreat – sacramentally, and with prayer and meditation interwoven within the teachings of Christ and his Church. Thanks to Father Larry and his dedicated staff, we already have here a hospitable, lovely facility.  Through the intercession and inspiration of St Francis of Assisi, there exists an environment of divinely inspired wonder and awe of God’s creation. One only need enter these garden grounds for this gem to begin to turn the heart from our day-to-day affairs. 


The first Diocesan director of the St. Francis Retreat Center

In 1989, Father Larry was appointed by Bishop Kenneth Povish to be the first director of the St. Francis Retreat Center, DeWitt, and he continued in that role until the time of his death. He was a pioneer in facilitating healing retreats for those who had suffered from clerical sexual abuse, and he was one of the early columnists for FAITH Magazine in the Diocese of Lansing.

Living and working at the retreat center gave Father Larry the space to indulge in his love of animals – and guests at the retreat center were often treated to a speech about the value of chickens, or were recruited to help retrieve peacocks that had wandered off. He always had a beloved canine companion, and his current dog, Kerry, was constantly at his side.

He was famous for saying, often as part of a retreat talk, “Remember this for life!” This pronouncement was always followed by words of wisdom – and he would joke that nobody really remembered those words, not even he. But everyone who met Father Larry Delaney will remember one thing for life – that he showed them the face and the love of God.


St. Francis Retreat Center Schedule 

Sept. 11-13 - Retrouvaille, Parish retreat for men

Sept. 18-20 - Parish retreat for women

Sept. 23 - The Wisdom of St. Therese of Liseux

Sept. 25-27 - Parish retreat for women

Oct. 2-4 - AA Men

Oct. 9-11 - Parish retreat for women

Oct. 16-18 - Parish retreat for women

Oct. 17 - The Wisdom of St. Therese of Liseux

Oct. 23-25 - Parish retreat for women

Oct. 25-29 - Your Word is my Delight- A Catholic Writer’s Retreat

Oct. 30- Nov. 1 - Parish retreat for women

Nov. 6-8 - AA/Alanon Women

Nov. 13-15 - Parish retreat for women

Nov. 20-22 - Contemplative Retreat for Women

Dec. 4-6 - Married Couples Retreat 

Dec. 4-6 - AA Men