The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul established a retreat centre at Providence Motherhouse in Kingston, Ontario in October 1977 at the request of Archbishop Wilhelm, the Archbishop of Kingston. Heathfield Retreat Centre opened on October 15th, 1977 to serve the Archdiocese’s need for a space where retreats could be held for the priests and other diocesan groups. A chapel and conference rooms were set up in the basement, beneath the chapel. Sleeping quarters were located on the third floor of the Marian Wing and originally consisted of 24 double rooms and 11 single rooms.
During the first year of operations, from October 1977 to August 1978, Heathfield Retreat Centre was used by diocesan and religious groups only, mostly consisting of Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, Chaplains, priests. By the second year, the bookings had more than doubled, and use had expanded to private retreats, teacher retreats, other church groups, and other religious communities. Use continued to grow and expand rapidly in the first few years.
Several priests worked with the sisters in the early days of running the retreat centre. Sister Irene Wilson became the first Director of the Retreat Centre in 1981. Heathfield Retreat Centre was growing and attracted a wider audience from the surrounding region. In December 1981, the name was changed from Heathfield Retreat Centre to Providence Centre, as the name Heathfield was felt to be meaningful only to locals. The new Providence Centre also adopted a logo of a burning candle and a theme. Under Sister Irene Wilson’s direction, Providence Centre expanded its offerings from being primarily an event venue for incoming groups, to offering programming to the general public including workshops, general retreats, and ongoing courses. Spiritual directors were on staff, and in the mid-1980s pastoral counseling was added to the services provided.
In 1985 Providence Centre adopted a vision statement and a logo. At that time the staff chose to focus on staff training, openness to the laity, physical surroundings, and outreach to the parishes. Through this shift in focus, Providence Centre was renovated, and the new facilities blessed in May 1987, and the first lay employees were hired as facilitators and session leaders.
Providence Centre staff in the Centre Library, June 1990.
Sister Irene Wilson was elected to the General Council of the Sisters of Providence in 1989, which brought her term as Director of Providence Centre to a close. Martin Jeffery joined the team as Director in September 1990. Under Martin’s leadership the staff of the centre continued to grow and the centre’s offerings expanded, including offering massages by a Registered Massage Therapist. In 1993 a new vision statement, theme and revised logo were adopted.
Steve Hill replaced Martin Jeffery as Director of Providence Centre in February 1997. The Search Conference was held in May 1997 to mark the 20th anniversary of the retreat centre. The conference invited participants to enter into a process of becoming a learning community and to search for their role in the future. In 1997 the logo and theme were phased out. During this time Reiki and Reflexology were added and the Massage Therapist moved onto to other ministries.
Providence Centre staff say farewell to Sr. Pat Amyot, May 1993.
In 1999-2000 the Motherhouse underwent large renovations including preparing a new home for the retreat centre. In preparation for that move Providence Centre changed its name in June 1999 to Providence Spirituality Centre (PSC). The entire western wing of the Motherhouse was renovated to enable all the retreat centre functions, including sleeping quarters, event rooms, and offices, to be located together in a wheelchair accessible space. The newly renovated PSC was blessed on October 23rd, 2000 by Archbishop Spence. During this period PSC committed to offering a diversity of high-quality programming. To this end staff worked with the Ecology Committee to host ecological workshops, with the Healing Violence Committee to host conferences on relevant topics and hosted an Inter-Faith evening for Muslims, Jews and Christians to meet together for prayer and open dialogue after the 9/11 attacks, and offered a variety of Social Justice programs and retreats.
In 2003, Steve Hill moved on, and Beverley McDonald started as Director of PSC in September 2003. A new Mission statement was developed in 2004. In the late-2000s three new programs were introduced – a Spiritual Director Formation program, a teacher formation program and a Sabbatical program for members of other religious communities. As always, PSC continued to provide meaningful retreats and programs, including a Winter Reading series, where participants journey through a spiritual book together.
Sister Lucy Bethel took on the role of Director of PSC in November 2011 when Beverley McDonald retired. The programming continued to be diverse, including overnight, weekend and 7-day retreats, days and evenings of quiet reflection, quiet days, creative art programs and retreats, the Seniors series and the Winter Reading Series. PSC also continued to host outside groups.
Over the years demand for the services of PSC decreased with the aging of the local population and religious communities. In late 2019, the decision was made to reduce the amount of space PSC occupied in the Motherhouse; however, the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 shut PSC to visitors. Providence Spirituality Centre staff pivoted to offer programming, spiritual direction, and retreats virtually. PSC closed on December 31st, 2022. Some of its work is being carried on by the new Providence Presence Ministry.
Story and Slideshow
Enjoy a story and slideshow from the Providence Spirituality Centre.