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(by Dick R)

            It all began with a group of guys in the MD suburbs of Washington, DC who decided to go on a men’s Catholic retreat as a part of their 11th step.  It became a tradition to go on the weekend before Thanksgiving.  The Washington Archdiocese retreat house at that time (early ‘50s) was Manresa-On-Severn in Annapolis, operated by the Jesuits of the Maryland Province.  In 1958, a new Jesuit retreat house, Loyola, was opened in Faulkner, MD and the group moved their retreat down there.  At some time, the group started inviting priests who were in recovery to lead the retreats and use the 12 steps as their topic. 

I began going to those retreats in 1971.  My first was the June retreat, at a cost of $35. I understood it to be the first of the June retreats.  At that time, Al G was the captain and he told me his sponsor had been the first captain of the Thanksgiving Retreats.  Few of the traditions we see today were in place in 1971:  the only exception was an AA meeting on Saturday night using the California style (Leader, always Hal M, provided a topic and had 6 men speak for 10 minutes each).  At that time, prayers were said from a retreat house book and used the Angelus and other Catholic prayers.  On Saturday afternoon we walked around the grounds and said the rosary.  There was no healing service, no Friday night meeting, and no ice cream party.

            At lunch on Saturday in June 1977, Fr. Gene Tucker, Loyola house manager, made an announcement that he would like to talk to anyone from the Annapolis area.  Dick R (another one!) and I went to talk to Fr. Tucker.  Fr. Tucker told us that he and Fr. ”Chappy” Driscoll were being transferred to Manresa to try and get it on a positive footing – it had poor attendance and was losing money.  He then said that he wanted an AA group started there because “you guys always fill up the house and you pay full fare.” 

            Thus began the Serenity Retreat Group; 34 of us met for the first time in December 1977.  Fr. Tucker arranged for Fr. Al G, long-time member and brilliant scholar, to lead our first retreat.  Fr. Al, as it turned out, was in Cleveland and his plane was delayed by snow so Fr. Tucker (we always called him Friar Tuck) led the first conference.  His meditation was on “Listening.” 

            The traditions we know today all came into being in the first 5 years:  first, it was too cold in December to walk around saying the rosary outside so that was discontinued; Brother Alexis prepared a prayer book for us early on that continues in use today, and Brother also brought us the tradition of a healing service on Saturday night.  And one other cherished tradition was started at the second retreat:  Hal M had brought a group of guys from Northern VA, and thought it would be nice to have a dish of ice cream on Saturday night.  We all agreed it was a good idea and my co-captain, Dick R took charge of both acquisition and distribution.  What a sight to see him with a huge meat cleaver in his hand!  He would cut 1/2 gallon bricks of ice cream into thirds and drop them into your bowl.  Dick also loved to ring the bell before each event and resisted any attempt to wrest that bell away.  Now, the tradition is to give the bell to one of the newest retreat members.  As mentioned, Manresa was struggling financially so when they decided it had to be painted many of us volunteered to help.  We spent an enjoyable weekend painting the inside of the entire house. 

            The retreat quickly became very popular:  after 4 years we added a May retreat, and after an additional 4 years we added a September retreat.  However, many of the the remaining weeks of the year were not well attended and in summer the house was hardly used at all.  The Jesuits finally decided to sell it and our last retreat there was held in May 1993.  Manresa became an assisted-living facility and still presents a beautiful view overlooking the Severn river.  We had some great retreat leaders in those early days:  Brothers Alexis and Francis, Frs John O'N, Steve Q, John B, 'Mo' H, Bob H, Marty M, and Roger G to name just a few.

            Our September '93 retreat was held at the Christian Brothers Spiritual Center (CBSC) outside of Buckeystown, MD.  Brother Alexis led that first retreat at CBSC.  Due to scheduling conflicts we held the next 2 December retreats at Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville, MD while the May and September retreats continued at CBSC.  A vote was held in 1994 and it was decided to have our winter retreat in January and have all 3 retreats at CBSC beginning in 1996.  CBSC was a smaller facility, having only 38 rooms which gave the retreat a more intimate feel.  The "Great Room" with fireplace and many easy chairs was the hub of all activity, but we also fondly remember watching sunsets over the nearby mountains, the peaceful aspect of the farm on the property and the cows that would wonder up to the fence.  Saturday afternoons found us hiking to the top of nearby Sugarloaf Mountain, hiking or biking along the C&O Canal towpath by the banks of the Potomac, or even more venturesome hikes down the hill and through the woods to the historic Monocacy River. But financial problems arose there too - the place needed a new roof and the septic system needed to be replaced by hookup to the county system.  The Christian Brothers chose to close it instead, and soon after the entire structure was torn down.  Fittingly, our last retreat was led again by Brother Alexis in May 2004.  Some of the other leaders we fondly remember include:  Sandy B,  Rev Brad B, Bob H, Brother Henry, Frs Tom W, Mike B, Joe C, and Ed O'B. 

            As before, a bit of a schedule scramble ensued:  we discovered Holy Trinity Spiritual Center would be available for 3 retreats/year starting in 2006, and also for September of 2004.  We were fortunate to find space at Our Lady of Bethesda for the 3 retreats in 2005.  Msgr Terry led our first retreat at Holy Trinity in September 2004.  Our Lady of Bethesda was also small, with the same number of rooms as CBSC but without a great room to congregate.  The first of what we hope to be a long and continuing relationship with Holy Trinity started up again in January 2006.

We did a sobriety countdown at the April '09 Retreat and got the following results: