• Go Forth
Mary Anne, Anthony Sansone, Sr. Make Gift of Retreat Center to SLUH


There is an old joke that Dominicans are known for their great preaching, Franciscans for their simplicity, and Jesuits for their skill in choosing good property. This old joke certainly seems to hold up, as St. Louis U. High has announced a donation of a soon-to-be-retreat center sitting on 88 acres of beautiful land located just north of Troy in Silex, Mo.

The land comes with a large personal home, which will be converted into the main retreat center. A free-standing chapel and now-empty stables also sit on the property. The land was donated by Mary Anne and Anthony Sansone, Sr., the parents and grandparents of several past and current SLUH students. With the addition of the new real estate, SLUH becomes just the third multi-campus Jesuit high school in the United States.

It is the hope of SLUH administrators that the retreat center will serve primarily as a destination for student retreats like Kairos. According to Principal Fr. Ian Gibbons, SJ, retreats are often designed around the spaces in which they are hosted. With a retreat center of its own, SLUH can expand upon alreadydeveloped retreats in its own way.

“We’re at the mercy of the retreat centers in St. Louis of scheduling and facilities (and) what we can and can’t do,” said Fr. Gibbons. “As a school, for our retreat program, this opens a lot of ways that we can broaden our own retreats in the way that we want to.”

The property, covered by lush fields and thick woodland, provides students with an ideal getaway for personal and communal retreat experiences.

“The trip to a place and leaving stuff behind and getting out into the country or to the beauty of the world is cathartic,” said Fr. Gibbons. “The eternal things we point to as glimpses of the divine and of the grander things in life—truth and beauty—that’s what we hope to capture in retreat settings, and this certainly is a place that instills those values.”

Despite the nearly pristine condition of the buildings and surrounding land, a great deal of work needs to be done to convert the house and surrounding buildings into a retreat center. “Clearly, it would need a lot of work to convert it into a fully functioning retreat center, but it’s a very doable project and it’s a beautiful space,” said Fr. Gibbons.

The majority of this year will be spent planning necessary renovations, and next year, the work itself will begin. According to Fr. Gibbons, the work could take multiple years.

Several walls in the main house will be taken down and new walls will be constructed to provide ample room for future retreats. Four common areas are set to be constructed as sleeping and gathering spaces. The current dining room will be remodeled into a meeting space, and some of the porch will be converted into the dining area. Finally, individual bathrooms will be remodeled to accommodate large groups of students.

The freestanding chapel, named for Saint Therese the Little Flower, has been dedicated in honor of Fr. Michael “Marco” Marchlewski, SJ '54, a close family friend of the benefactors. The chapel will allow for Masses and prayer services to be held in a place of reverence.

According to Mary Anne Sansone, Fr. Marco was the one who suggested that the land would serve as a good retreat center while visiting the family last year.

Eighteen years ago, Mary Anne and Anthony Sansone, Sr. actively looked for a large plot of land to be used for hunting and recreation. When she found no properties were available, Mary Anne Sansone began a Novena to St. Therese the Little Flower. Shortly after, the nearly 90-acre land, which they called Little Flower Farm, became available for purchase.

A goal for the SLUH administration is to make the retreat house accessible to the entire SLUH community.

“The plan is to develop the property so that our campus ministry team can make good use of it, but also all of our sports programs and clubs and the whole SLUH community,” said Advancement Chief of Staff Sean Agniel '96.

While retreats will be a key use of the property, another emphasis will be placed on leadership formation and team building. Other uses could include an outdoor classroom for science classes or a new location for SLUH’s Upward Bound summer programs.

The retreat center has been given the name Madonna della Strada, a name that holds great significance to the Society of Jesus and to SLUH. The Madonna della Strada—meaning ‘Our Lady of the Way’ in Italian—is the patroness of the Jesuits, as St. Ignatius of Loyola sought her intercession when he was a soldier before he went into battle. The Madonna della Strada is also the name of an image on the wall of the Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the Jesuits located in Rome, Italy. SLUH’s own Si Commons features an image of the Madonna della Strada crafted into stained glass. Fr. Gibbons believes the name is also reflective of the long and sometimes strenuous journey young men face at SLUH. The Madonna della Strada serves as a reminder that the journey through SLUH can be seen as a pilgrimage leading to self-discovery and formation. It is intended that the Madonna della Strada retreat house will serve as a stop for all students on their pilgrimage through SLUH.

To get a sense of how to better utilize and run the property, SLUH President Alan Carruthers, Agniel, Assistant Principal for Mission Jim Linhares and other SLUH administrators will be venturing to Houston, Texas to visit the retreat center owned by Strake Jesuit, where Fr. Gibbons formerly served.

“We’re very blessed with (our retreat center) as close as it is, but we’re going to learn from other [Catholic schools] who are already [managing their own retreat centers] to see what’s the most cost-effective, most responsible way” to administer the retreat center, said Carruthers.

Agniel believes the donation of the retreat house fits well into SLUH’s goal to invest in Campus Ministry and the faith formation of students.

“The Jesuit Catholic mission of St. Louis U. High is a leading strategic priority for (us),” said Agniel. “So this gift fits in nicely with what we’re hoping to do, which is to invest in Campus Ministry, service, and faith formation for the student body.”

Although the property is notably larger than the current campus, the land is low maintenance and will not require much attention. The grass will need to be cut regularly, along with occasional minor projects, but the retreat house is not expected to put a strain on the SLUH Maintenance Department.

An annual father-son work day, sponsored by the Fathers Club, has been planned in order to stay on top of big projects, such as clearing brush. The first work day took place September 15.

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