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2007 STORY #6 – An Experience

“I am sorry mother, but I’m going. I need to find help with this dilemma. You know my history with this priest. I’ve told you the details after fifty years keeping it a secret. I don’t hold you responsible for his actions. You were always pushing me to see him but it is understandable. You thought he was a holy person. I am sorry that we didn’t have a better bond of communication that might have eliminated the problem. However, I now have to find peace as best I can. I going to Denver to attend the 2004 SNAP Convention in Denver. You have three other children who can check on you while I am gone.”

Not only was I going to attend the week conference, I would be participating in a personal religious retreat for three days prior to the convention. I had spent several months searching for the right atmosphere. I finally made the arrangements in an environment that might serve as a springboard for the healing of my spirituality. I would be spending quality time at St. Malo Retreat Center.

The center is located in an isolated section of Colorado near the small town of Allenspark along Colorado Highway 7 that is 12 miles south of Estes Park, the main entrance to The Rocky Mountain National Park. The main lodge is nestled in the one hundred and sixty acres of wooded area with Mt. Meeker setting the landscape in the background of the facility. I had received sufficient material from the organization to know that this area would offer me the atmosphere for meditation and wholesome reflection. The large three story modern lodges constructed of native stone was surrounded by virgin forest, cascading streams, abundant wildlife, and native wild flowers. The property also contained a chapel that was erected in 1935 of the same type of sandstone that the builders used in the main lodge.

On June 8th, 2004, I flew into Denver from Johnstown, rented an automobile, and headed toward my destination. Shortly after passing Colorado Springs and exiting the four lane fly through method of travel, I entered the narrow gorges of native rock cut by mountain streams. The next few hours of driving set the stage for what would follow-
encounters with the solitude of nature. This period of short reflection period would serve as foundation for the coming events of both the retreat and the SNAP convention. Events that would provide stepping stones to control anticipated expectations in my future and of my attempts to gain a foothold with my life in Johnstown.

I arrived at the center in late afternoon following the reminiscing drive through twenty miles of the Rocky Mountains. I have been in this area on four occasions but this is the first time I would be spending three full days in one spot. I had previous traveled through the area while working on my geology degree at Wesleyan University in Connecticut during the summer of 1964 and later while continuing my education at Edinboro University when I spent two full summers studying the geology of the National Parks of Western United States in 1981 and 1982. The following morning, I hiked a trail that belonged to the retreat center but entered into the back mountain range that was part of the National Park Forest system.

The trip took me over four hours of leisurely walking and climbing. Along the way, I stopped and enjoyed the mountain stream that flowed beside the trail throughout most of the trip as well as the many varieties of flowers and shrubs in the area. I spotted several varieties of plants that I was able to identify my second Masters degree is in horticulture. When visiting my son who worked as a horticulturalist in the Grand Junction area of Colorado, he taught me the different species native to this region. Today, I would observe several varieties of the Columbine plant that is the state flower along with a few Brown-eyed Susan, Alpine Clover, and Waterleaf. I only had a brief encounter with one large deer or small elk but the small creatures were very where. I never passed another individual the entire trip which set the stage for a rewarding activity.

When I reached the base of the tree line, I knew I had come far enough to experience what I was seeking. I was totally alone with a Higher Power in communication. The sensation of freedom was almost overwhelming. I was where I
needed to be to equalize the difficulties of living in Johnstown with a sick mother and non-loving siblings. I was so pleased with the experience that I decided to make the same trip the next day. However, I took my recorder along the second day. The material given below is transcribed from the conversation made on the recording when I reached
at the point I had ascended the previous day.

“A Talk with Someone"

I am in Colorado at the Saint Malo Retreat Center which is located in the Rocky Mountain Range. I am experiencing the joy of being in an atmosphere that offers the quietness, the beauty of nature, and warmth of atmosphere in an environment without any distractions. Yesterday, I hiked up the trail behind the retreat center which is in National Forest. The surroundings are very tall evergreens, native wildflowers and a crystal clear blue sky overhead with a picturesque snow capped mountain range ahead of me. Tremendously huge rock formations project outward along the path that lingers near a fresh water stream racing to find peace in an ocean somewhere far below this altitude. The water rushes over small boulder dams forming waterfalls and many cascades while cutting into some areas creating deep gorges in the terrain. The sound is pleasant to my ear but actually is so loud that I have to move away from the stream to hear my voice on the recorder. The sun sheds it’s warmth on this scene as a gentle breeze occasionally rustles the trees and blows up tiny dust devils along the pathway.

I have arrived at the area that I reached yesterday where I was prompted by a feeling of intimacy with nature. Those emotional feelings drew me back here today to reflect on what I had experienced. It was one of those brief moments in my life where I captured a glimpse of happiness and contentment that eludes me during most of my daily activities. I recalled Maureen (my psychologist) discussing this phenomena at several sessions and she noted how one should try to embrace these moments to the fullest while one can. With that thought in mind, I have come back to the mountain to
record my memories, thoughts, and feelings to possibly draw on at a later time period when I would be in need of an inner uplift.

Although this hike has been physically exhausting due to my present poor condition as the result of the lack of exercise over the past six months, my spirit is refreshed and invigorated. I am very much alive internally and spiritually. I feel very
good inside and mentally alert. I am sure I would not be enjoying this situation as much if it were a wintry day in December or a wild animal such as a bear or mountain lion came wondering down the pathway. However, this is the here and now which is a perfect place to be. The environment is breathtaking and I am at peace with myself. I
am sitting on a huge rock just watching things around me and letting the feelings of contentment unfold. Ants seem to also enjoy my space but I don’t allow them to become the focus of my thinking. I just had the beautiful experience of observing a humming bird who spend at least three to four minutes dodging in and out of a pine trees sucking the
droplets of liquid at the end of each stem. At one point, the tiny creature stopped in mid- air in front of me for a period of ten or fifteen seconds as though to ask me,” Are you enjoying the show.” Its breast was a shiny and lustrous green. I don’t ever recall seeing a humming bird of that color in Pennsylvania.

I know I am enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and the beauty of the environment around me. However, the most touching element is the quietness. I am here alone and I am still very happy. At this point, my mind has turned to the Creator and justifiable so. Flash backs of other spiritual times, now places me on holy ground. I am totally enjoying this inspiring place and the awareness of God that it allows me to capture. The only sadness I feel is in the knowledge that I will have to depart from the spot and will not be able to remain on this present high.

Today, I stopped and spent an additional hour when I was coming up the trail, to listen to the tape of my Monday session with Maureen. It was interesting to note the difference in my understanding or analysis of topics in this location and that of being heard in my bed late at night in Johnstown. It definitely has to be one of a mood change. Obviously, I seem to find more hope and less pain while being away from that area. One of the purposes of coming to this retreat center was to find a surrounding where I would be at peace. To be able to think out where I am going and what I needed to do with my life for my own happiness. How many productive years are left when one reaches the age of seventy? I know that my family, as is my mother, are concerned with where I go and what I do. However, up to this time period, none of them have offered me a solution for an atmosphere where we all can to content and happy together.

Of course, they still have difficulty with my challenging the Catholic church regarding the sexual abuse issue but that is to be expected. I didn’t realize how big a dilemma it would be for them when I finally reached a level of acceptance for myself.

Today, this environment of quiet is offering me a peace and a serenity that I am enjoying nature at its most impressive state. In this envelope of time, there is spiritual value that harbors the need to bring one’s self to a level of reaching into a state of being with God. A stage of a satisfactory communication without questions is experienced. Nothing else seems to be able to enter into the equation of this passage of time. I will endeavor to reach out and touch this time when I return to the problems of everyday living in Johnstown.

Throughout my life, I have been in similar areas of geologic wonder with manifestation of beauty that God has given us for our viewing where I have felt this same warm, wonderful, and secure feeling. I think that is the word I need to expound upon- secure. The term is striking! I am very secure right here, right now, in this moment in time. Is that because there is no one here to hurt me? Is nature supplying that nurturing that I lack because I don’t feel people understand what happened to me? Although I am alone, there is a contentment and warmth with myself that is producing tears which trickle down my cheek. These are tears of joy and happiness, not sorrow. They are not tears of pain or hurt that I have to endure in other environments as I go through life which I have to tolerate and accept. Suffering from the abuse that is not only given by society but also by some family members and by my siblings. I relish this moment in my life.

This wasn’t the best time to end this tape but I had to since I had to make the return trip to the center. I knew that I would be back in the Johnstown surroundings with feelings the mentioned rejection in the not too distant future. There must be way to be able to capture the gentle breeze I feel, the beauty of the trees, the sound of the stream, the warmth of the sun on my body, the clearness of the sky and the mountain view in front of me. All of these features culminating to form a peace that sets the body and the mind into a serenity with finds only contentment and joy in being here. The Higher Power is here. I guess when I return, I have to remember this whole feeling of comfort of being alone but not alone. Of being in the here and now but not buried in the past or the future. Just here in this spiritual atmosphere without any pain.”

Another area of comfort for me at the center was the chapel. It was a vintage place of worship. The structure was built in 1939 to honor St. Catherine of Siena and in memory of the St. Malo’s mother, Catherine Smith Mullen. The inside the chapel displayed the piñata of the finished wooden material native to the area that had stood the test of sunlight, weathering, and human abuse. A stained glass window allowed the rays of sunlight to penetrate and serve as a pathway of spirituality back to the source of their creation. An antique sanctuary lamp hung as a vigil that indicated the presence of Creator. Every religion has the right to their personal beliefs. The actual lamp came from a palace in Rome that Mussolini had ordered torn down to make room to build a new road. Distinct medallions featuring the Madonna and the Child hung on different walls. These art pieces came from the private chapel of Evalyn Walsh McLean, a Denver-born Washington socialite who once owned the Hope Diamond. As a licensed auctioneer, I appreciated the opportunity to view the works of art. However, their pleasure was fleeing. The solicitude of the chapel radiated a greater inspiration and emotional feeling of spirituality. Alone to think and reflect in the environment yielded another transport to my inner self and an avenue to an unknown something.   Three days later at the SNAP Convention in Denver, Colorado, I would relate another experience by telling my story to a group of several hundred people that I was abused by a Catholic priest over a two year period.

Mother died that fall at the age of one hundred and one years old. I am alive to share a story--an account of a religious experience in the Colorado Mountains and of a bonding at a convention with other individuals who carry a similar mark of mental pain. The experience gave me the courage to challenge the church leadership in my diocese and prove that I was a victim of sexual abuse. An ordained Catholic priest had violated my sanctuary of dignity.  I am now a survivor.

Note: this story is from 2007. View other 2007 stories and 2007 voting results. View current stories.