The Loyola House of Retreats (also known as the Loyola Jesuit Center) is located in what was once called Spring Brook House, a huge brick mansion built in 1904-1906 in the Georgian Revival style. It was the home of Robert D. Foote, a prominent local businessman and banker who died in 1924. At the time it was the largest and most elaborate private home in the area. The interior finishings, done under the direction of Tiffany Studios, include splendid woodwork, wall hangings and lighting fixtures. Additions were made in 1947 and again in 1959; these do not detract from the original grandeur of the house. There are large rooms with high ceilings and a backyard garden replete with fountains and benches where one may sit and contemplate life. The chapel is a small room in part of the mansion and is basically a tiny church with stained glass windows and an altar with carved figures on it. Very pretty. The windows depict St Mary and St Ignatius Loyola.
The Jesuits offer a variety of retreats geared for people in all walks of life for both Catholics and people of other faiths. Their programs are more fully described on their website. Daily activities are scheduled throughout the year as well.
The mansion is set back on a hill overlooking a pond. The surrounding area is a suburban neighborhood and rather wealthy. Not posh, but not down at the heels either!
There were three Jesuits priests: the Revd Kirk Reynolds, S.J.; the Revd Steven Pugliese, S.J.; and a third priest identified only as Father Sullivan.
What was the name of the service?Candlelight Remembrance Mass. It was a mass held for those who lost a loved one over this past year.
How full was the building?
The chapel was small but filled up. It was not packed to the point where you felt uncomfortable but there was certainly a decent showing of people there.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
When I entered the chapel, a young man handed me both a brochure of the service as well as a white tapered candle with a drip catcher on it.
Was your pew comfortable?
My pew was very comfortable. It was made of dark wood with plush red cushions on the seats.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The pre-service atmosphere was quiet with people talking softly amongst themselves.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to the Candlelight Remembrance Mass."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the brochure that we were handed as we entered, but I noted that each pew had the Gather hymnal as well as Breaking Bread.
What musical instruments were played?
At the back of the chapel were three young musicians. One girl led us in song, another played electric piano (I believe) and a young girl played the flute.
Did anything distract you?
The amber, dying light of the winter solstice fading on the stained glass windows and the dim lights made me feel that this was a perfect celebration of our loved ones who died last year. I mean, the shortest day of the year, the time the service was held (3.00pm as the day's light began to fade). That thought distracted me.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was different. Remember that it was to honor our lost loved ones. Candles were involved. After the homily, one person from each family got up to grab some candlelight from the priest and say the name of our loved one. Very very pretty!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The priest mentioned he was a literature major (as was I) and so he added in a lot of references to poems. He also jumped from topic to topic but managed to keep it interesting! He concluded by reading several poems.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
David, in the Old Testament, was waiting for the coming of the Lord, as are we. Today's gospel reading was of the Annunciation; this is the third time we've heard about this during the year. Our Lady of Guadalupe is also honored during Advent; under that title, Mary is patroness of the Americas. There are three comings of Jesus: his birth; the eucharist; and our being with him in heaven when we die.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
After we lit our candles during the candle ceremony, we sat in our seats, holding our lit candles and listening to the singing of "Ave Maria". Beautiful! The dying light, the candles and the music were all heavenly!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, turns out no one was scheduled to read the first two readings and one of the priests said, "This is embarrassing. Can someone from the church read?" I would have gotten up to do so, but another reader beat me to it.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After mass there was a small reception held in the mansion itself, so everyone meandered out. There was cheese, fruit, crackers and desserts as well as soft drinks, beer or wine.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Everyone gathered about for the reception and spoke. People were smiling and friendly and it was a nice crowd. You could also wander about getting brochures on upcoming retreats to be held or just go out in the gardens (despite being a cold, damp December day).
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – This is not a place where one would come to mass regularly as at one's parish church, but the event was special and made even more special by the beautiful ceremony.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I will remember the candles, the music and thinking what a beautiful way to spend the shortest day of the year!