CR writes: “I found a retreat sponsored by a Xavarian Bro. published in our parish bulletin. I decided to look up the retreat and found it is run by a group of sisters from Adrian, Michigan. I went to their website and found many such retreats around the US similar to ours in Kingstree, SC. I looked at the diverse areas of study they offer during these retreats and found “centering prayer,” tarot card readings, prayer lodges, drumming, etc. within the classes. . . .”
CR continues: “Now, after a few (20) years of studying “new age” language and techniques, I knew this was not a good thing, and could lead many unsuspecting Catholics and other Christian denominations into the idea that because it is run by this Dominican group of sisters, that it is okay to practice these lines of prayer. Our parish priest questions if I am sure about what I am discerning about this group. I would appreciate you looking into this and advising me whether or not these women are Catholic in their approach or I am just being picky. They are the Adrian Dominican Sisters from Adrian Michigan with many retreats throughout the US. The retreat here is called Springbank, and their website is www.springbankspirit.org. I would really appreciate your feedback, and so would our parish priest. Thank you so much for any help you can offer me.”
You are definitely not “just being picky.” It is with a heavy heart that I must confirm your concerns. There are serious problems with these sisters. Although we cannot generalize and assume all sisters affiliated with the Adrian Dominican Sisters endorse New Age and other non-Christian beliefs, it would be equally uncharitable for us to ignore the kind of activities they are promoting to the unsuspecting. Even more important, we need to pray for them that they might return to the Faith and abandon the many occult and pagan beliefs many of them seem to be promoting.
Let me begin by saying that the Adrian Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan are collaborators with many well-known dissenting groups in the Church. Perhaps the most notorious is NETWORK, who they correctly describe on their Peace and Justice Work site as a “progressive voice within the Catholic community.” This is the same organization that sent a letter to members of Congress endorsing health care reform in defiance of the bishop’s stance against this legislation. Adrian Dominican Sister Josephine Gaugier, O.P. prioress of the Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, was a signatory on this letter.
They are also in collaboration with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) which is currently under investigation by the Vatican for its teachings concerning homosexuality, women’s ordination, and salvation.
The 8th Day Center for Justice is another partner of the Adrian sisters Peace and Justice ministry. The Center holds the belief that “all creation is sacred and inter-related” and believes in upholding the “right to dissent against oppressive structures in church and society.”
Having read all this, it came as no surprise to me that their retreat centers would reflect this “progressive” ideology with an assortment of New Age and neopagan offerings.
For instance, one of their sisters, Esther Kennedy OP, is co-director of the Spirit Mountain Retreat Center in Idyllwild, California which claims as its mission the classic New Age goal of becoming “One with the Divine Consciousness.”
Some of their course offerings include “Contemplation: A Portal to the Rhythms of the Universe” which offers reflective presentations to help people connect with the “life force” and “Divine Energy” that ebbs and flows through the universe and all of humankind.
They celebrate the summer solstice (from the Wiccan calendar) at Spirit Mountain, a time when “the yin, the feminine principle of the Earth Goddess, is born and begins to wax strong.”
In another retreat, entitled “Sacred Spaces, Sacred Faces,” retreatants are told they will “come to know the nature spirits who accompany us in this journey of transformation.” (The worship of nature spirits, known as animism, is a belief of shamans, witchdoctors, and many indigenous populations throughout the world, including Native Americans.)
Spirit Mountain also features the work of the late Fr. Thomas Berry, who they refer to as “a pioneer in the field of spirituality and ecology.” For those who never heard of him, Fr. Berry, who passed away on June 1 of this year at the age of 94, is famous for his belief in a coming “Ecozoic Age” when the world will be called into a new post-denominational, even post-Christian belief system. He once told the Florida Catholic: “We must rethink our ideas about God. We should place less emphasis on Christ as a person and redeemer. We should put the Bible away for twenty years while we radically rethink our religious ideas.”
Sadly, there was no mention of Christmas on the December calendar at Spirit Mountain. Instead, they promise to announce plans for a Winter Solstice celebration and offer a Woman’s New Year Retreat which will encourage women to open themselves to a “Creative life force” so they can reclaim the “soulful gifts set into our soul at birth.”
But this is only one of their many retreat centers. Their Sea of Peace Retreat Center features a New Age labyrinth while the Spring Bank Retreat Center, which you mention in your e-mail, is rife with Native American spirituality.
For instance, Spring Bank offers a Native American “vision quest” where retreatants can “share the ancient wisdom of your Native sisters and brothers.” (A vision quest is typically a “rite of passage” for young Native American boys in which they travel alone into the wilderness for several days of fasting and prayer in order to receive guidance from the spirit world in the form of a dream. This guidance may come from an animal spirit or a dead relative, and will often be used by the young man to make important life choices. Adulterated versions of these vision quests have become popular among New Agers. )
Spring Bank also presents workshops on the Enneagram and features programs where tai chi, therapeutic touch and Kundalini Yoga are offered.
I could go on and on but I think you get the point.
These sisters are a perfect example of what prompted the unprecedented Visitation of U.S. religious orders by the Vatican which began in January, 2009. We need to keep these efforts in our prayers, ask God to help errant sisters find their way back, and provide the faithful with the information they need to protect themselves from being introduced to spiritually dangerous practices.
Send your New Age question to firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about Eco Spirituality, see my book on this subject in the Learn to Discern series, available by clicking on the “New Age Resources” button on the navigation bar above.