Loyola Hall Retreat Centre, Rainhill, to Close

By on Monday, March 18, 2013

loyola_hall_rainhill(Press release: British Province of the Society of Jesus)

The Jesuits have announced that they will cease to provide retreats and training at the Loyola Hall Spirituality Centre on Merseyside from Easter 2014. After a long and detailed consultation, the British Provincial has notified the team and staff of the house in Rainhill that, due to limited resources and manpower, the British Province will be providing residential retreats principally through St Beuno’s Spirituality Centre in North Wales.

In his letter about the decision, Fr Dermot Preston SJ emphasised that this was in no way a reflection on the standard of the ministry and work that the staff and team have been engaged in over the years, which he praised as being “of the highest quality”. He explained that it rather reflected changes taking place outside Loyola Hall, and principally because fewer Jesuits were now available to provide a community and to direct more than one large retreat centre.

“I am thus having to plan for the future,” wrote Fr Preston, “and realise that we can probably run one residential centre well; so even though both Loyola Hall and St Beuno’s have been doing impressively for a number of years, it seems only right to plan for an organised closure of one rather than wait for one or both to get into a crisis … I think it is best to go out at a high-point in our journey rather than let the quality of the ministry dwindle to a point when either place becomes a shadow of itself.”

Loyola Hall – originally built as Rainhill House in 1824 as a coaching-stop between Manchester and Liverpool – was acquired by the Society of Jesus in 1923. The Jesuit initially ran 30-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and weekend retreats for working mens’ sodalities (lay groups) and parish groups. After the Second World War, Loyola Hall provided RAF Leadership Courses and between the 1940s and 1960s began introducing individually-guided retreats, which gave retreatants the opportunity to meet their spiritual director individually every day for spiritual direction. A new wing with residential accommodation was opened in 1967 and further land acquired to increase the peaceful nature of the location for those who wished to walk around the grounds, although this has become increasingly less possible in recent years, with the encroachment of urban development. Expansion at Loyola Hall coincided with a period of exceptional growth in the British Province. The Society in Britain today continues to attract vocations of around two or three a year, but this is clearly not on the same scale as in the 1950s or 60s when the number of Jesuits was close to 1,000. In recent years, Loyola Hall has continued to offer weekend, eight-day and 30-day courses in Jesuit spirituality, under the direction of a diverse and experienced team made up of lay people and other religious orders, as well as Jesuits.

The British Jesuit Provincial assured the staff and team at Loyola Hall in his letter that the Centre would not close for a year, and that they would try, as far as possible, to run a normal programme of retreats and courses up to the end of April 2014. And, on a personal note, he recalled that he had spent five years living and working in Loyola Hall and had many happy and cherished memories of the people, the house and the grounds. “It is not cheering to feel that the source of these experiences will be disappearing,” Fr Preston wrote. “Many Jesuits who have known Rainhill (either working there or doing retreats) will be very sad to hear we will be leaving.”

At the same time as his letter to the personnel of Loyola Hall, the Provincial also wrote to the team at St Beuno’s, explaining how he hoped the house in North Wales, built as a centre of study for Jesuits in the mid-19th century in a quiet hillside setting between the mountains of Snowdonia and the coast, would become more strongly co-ordinated within a broader Province plan for spirituality in the years to come. This would include a greater emphasis on providing non-residential retreats, spiritual guidance and training from city centre bases.

(Image: David Long, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons)

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