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Educators Help Ready Our New Home for Retreats
Rachelle Garbarine

The signs are subtle but clear: The initial cleanup is underway at the Cardinal Gibbons Short Journey Retreat Center. Furniture and carpeting have been removed, the grass has been mowed, and the property has been landscaped. More telling, however, is that all that work, in true Gibbons fashion, has been done by members of the school community.

In May, with school officially closed, a group of student-athletes and coaches joined together to toss out old mattresses from the historic buildings on Cleveland Rd. in Smithfield. They were followed in the middle of the summer by administrators who worked on cleaning up the property. And on a recent August Monday, as part of the annual Educator Day of Service, more than 20 educators continued the landscaping work at the center. They weeded and sprayed as well as trimmed and cut back tree branches and bushes, among other activities, throughout the 12-acre property. The center was one of seven communities where educators spent the day in service to others.

Of the work being done at the center Principal Jason Curtis said: “I am grateful for our educators’ dedication and hard work around the Short Journey Retreat Center, and most of all, I am inspired by how they continue to talk about how wonderful this place will be for our school community."

The cleanup work has been and continues to be done in preparation for the renovation that will take place at the center, which Gibbons, in a bold innovative move, purchased from the Diocese of Raleigh last March. The Diocese had owned the center from 1983 until its closing in 2016. As now envisioned, Gibbons plans to reopen the center by next year as its permanent home for retreats, enhancing the spiritual formation opportunities it offers to the school community, from students and educators to parents.

Of the work being done at the center Principal Jason Curtis said: “I am grateful for our educators’ dedication and hard work around the Short Journey Retreat Center, and most of all, I am inspired by how they continue to talk about how wonderful this place will be for our school community. I love how excited they get talking about future generations who will be formed in their faith during retreats here. They are bringing the energy it takes to make the vision happen!”

On this Monday, under a bright morning sun, educators, donned in Gibbons gear, dotted the grounds with shovels, brooms, rakes, and power saws in hand. For three hours they were on the singular mission of sprucing up the center’s property. Asked why they chose Short Journey as their Educator Day of Service site, one after another gave the same reason: They wanted to be part of the future of the center as the school’s new spiritual home, and by extension, of Gibbons.

Taking a break from cutting back tree branches and bushes Dan Porter, Chair of the Science Department, said it simply: “Being here is being part of history.”

Technology Educator Andrew Killmer, a member of the crew burning yard debris, added: “Retreats encapsulate the school’s mission of faith, service, and leadership perfectly and I wanted to be part of readying the center as the new home for retreats for generations of Gibbons kids.”  He said he is looking forward to leading retreats at the center.

“Short Journey is close to home – close to the heart of Gibbons,” Science Educator Diane Ripollone explained in between raking leaves and hauling tree branches. “I wanted to help the center come alive for students, colleagues, and families.” Doing this work is fulfilling, she said.

For Business Educator Brent Nolan ’05 that Monday visit was his first to the center. “I wanted to build a relationship with the place,” he said, adding that “it is cool to see what the center was before what it is going to be.”

What it is going to be, all involved agree, is a home away from home for generations of Gibbons students and families. It is going to be a home that offers them not only a quiet respite from the busyness of daily life, but also the opportunity to grow in their faith and in their connection to one another and to God.

See more photos of Gibbons Educators serving at Short Journey.

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