By 1927, the world had become a pretty amazing place.
Lindbergh had flown over the Atlantic and Admiral Byrd had
flown over the North Pole. There were transatlantic
telephone calls and even movies that talked. All
this "progress" had a way of distracting people
away from God, and so it was with the idea of bringing men
and women back to God that the Redemptorists began the retreat
movement in Oconomowoc.
During the summer of 1927 when the students moved to Snyder's
pasture, the seminary building was readied for its first
retreatants. The Knights of Columbus from Beaver Dam
led off with a good crowd of 41 men. Father Polk,
a veteran Redemptorist missionary, led the conferences.
Of course, in the beginning there were a lot of difficulties
to be ironed out. Fr. Polk, for example, was an easy
talker. He could ramble on for hours. And he
did, so the annals say. Results? Hungry retreatants,
cold suppers, and impatient cooks. Father Polk
himself decided to take drastic measures. He placed
a "Big Ben" alarm clock on the altar. When
his half-hour was up, 'Big Ben" began to shriek.
Unconsciously, without interrupting his flow of talk, the
old missionary swung his huge hand back and snuffed "Big
Ben" out. Fifty minutes later the conference
Through the combined effort of the Redemptorists and support
from the Catholic laity throughout southeastern Wisconsin,
the retreat movement grew until the start of World War II.
Each weekend packed in capacity crowds of 130 retreatants.
Still, the lay retreat movement was makeshift. Ordinarily
only six or seven retreats were given each year because
the students would have to move back into the seminary once
summer had ended. In spite of these restrictions,
the retreat movement acquired an admirable record.
About 182 retreats were preached over forty years, seeing
nearly 14,500 retreatants step out of the world's noisy
rush to attend to the business of seeking God.
That is a fair record. But it will be greater in the
years to come.
In 1960 the Redemptorists announced that with the enrollment
of 116 seminarians due in the fall, there would be
no room for the retreat program. A new facility
needed to be found. In 1961 the Redemptorists
purchased part of the former General Otto H. Falk
estate on Crooked Lake for this purpose. After
remodeling the estate and building a new 60-room retreat
center to house retreatants, Fr. Patty Schwarz, C.Ss.R.
preached the first retreat on October 12, 1963.
Ninty-one retreatants renewed their love for God that
weekend. The center was dedicated in honor of
Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
After seventy-one years of preaching lay retreats in Oconomowoc,
Redemptorists continue to remain true to the spirit of Saint
Alphonsus. We have been graced by the hundreds of
thousands of men and women, over these many years, who have
searched and have discovered this place of peace in a busy