Bethlehem Retreat Centre put up for sale

NANAIMO – Society formed to purchase land on edge of Westwood Lake.

A society has formed to keep the body and spirit of a well-known Nanaimo retreat centre alive.

Bethlehem Retreat Centre property, owned by the Benedictine Sisters of Nanaimo and located at 2371 Arbot Rd. on the shore of Westwood Lake, was put up for sale earlier this year for $2.8 million.

The Benedictine Sisters have operated the retreat centre and their monastery at the site since 1987 and now want to retire, according to a press release from the Friends of Bethlehem Retreat Centre Society, which was created in June to purchase the property and keep the retreat operating.

“They want to get out of the business,” said Gerry Herkel, society chairman. “They’re an aging group of nuns.”

The society and the Benedictine Sisters signed a purchase agreement in September. As part of agreement, the society must be able to show it has investors committed to 75 per cent of the selling price by Feb. 27.

“We have to put down a certain amount of money,” Herkel said. “That’s non-refundable, but it’s not a lot of money in the big picture.”

The society, which launched its public capital campaign in early December, also needs to come up with $300,000 to cover operation and maintenance costs.

Herkel said several churches have expressed interest in investing in the property and because the society wants the retreat to continue as an ecumenical centre, it is also reaching out to groups from other faiths.

The Bethlehem Retreat Centre is among the last of the spiritual non-religious retreats on the Island.

“I see it as part of a legacy that we’re carrying on, but a lot of people these days are turning toward spirituality or seeking a better understanding of what spirituality is all about and so there’s a growing interest in this whole area,” Herkel said. “More and more people are saying, ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious,’ so how do you meet their spiritual needs?”

Herkel said the society believes the retreat centre has the capacity to expand programs and become an internationally recognized spiritual retreat.

Sister Barbara Rinehart, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Nanaimo, declined to comment on the sale of the centre.

To learn more about the Bethlehem Retreat Centre, please visit the centre website at www.bethlehemretreatcentre.com. For more about the Friends of Bethlehem Retreat Centre Society, to become a member or to contribute to fundraising, please visit the society’s website at www.friendsofbrc.com.