Bethlehem Retreat Centre will continue, thanks to investors

NANAIMO – Non-religious spiritual retreat centre at Westwood Lake will operate under lease agreement.

Bethlehem Retreat Centre will continue business as usual, thanks to a group of investors.

The Friends of Bethlehem Retreat Centre Society announced Wednesday the property has been purchased and will continue operating under a lease agreement with the investment group.

The society was formed keep the retreat centre operating and to raise cash to purchase the property, located on the shore of Westwood Lake at 2371 Arbot Rd., from the Benedictine Sisters of Nanaimo, who put it up for sale in 2014 for $2.8 million. The religious order had operated the retreat centre since creating it in the late 1980s.

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

The purchasers include the Anglican Diocese in Victoria and three families, two that are local and one from Ontario, but who otherwise wish to remain anonymous, said Gerry Herkel, society chairman.

The lease arrangement will remain in effect as long as the society continues to operate the property as a retreat.

“When we originally started the Friends of the Bethlehem Retreat Centre Society we thought we would be the purchasers, but as it turned out we ended up being the catalyst to find people to purchase the property for us. The plan is that down the road, hopefully, we can end up buying out the investors and owning the entire business and all the property,” Herkel said.

The centre was traditionally operated as a spiritual retreat open to all religious faiths for private and group retreats, seminars, study sessions and workshops. The Benedictine Sisters also ran programs of their own.

The retreat remains open for business, Herkel said. Lucia Gamroth, a longtime volunteer and supporter, will serve as interim executive director. The society plans to retain most of the existing staff and is looking for a marketing manager to help expand the retreat’s program offerings.

For more information about the Bethlehem Retreat Centre, please visit www.bethlehemretreatcentre.com.