St. Isidore Farm: Retreat Center for Men in Addiction Recovery

Tim Murray attends at least one retreat a year. For the last 14 years, he has gone to Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo. During his first retreat there in 2009, he was inspired to begin his recovery from alcoholism and open a residence for men 40 and older in recovery called Trinity Sober Homes, which now consists of three houses in St. Paul.

Throughout Trinity’s first 10 years, 71% of residents remained sober for at least one year, but Murray was concerned about the 29% of men who relapsed. So, he went on retreat in 2020 to spend time praying about what more he could do.

“I have utilized retreats to further understand God’s will for my life,” said Murray, 64, who had a conversion in 2009 back to the Catholic faith of his upbringing. “Every time I go on a retreat, I will carry with me a particular question or a particular idea and basically have that as my focal point.”

Through research, he learned that weekends can often be a time of struggle and relapse for men trying to stay sober. He asked God to show him how to provide support for the men on the weekends.

“Basically, the answer was right in front of me; I just didn’t see it,” Murray recalled. “Here I am, on a retreat trying to figure out what I should do to assist men in better developing their own spiritual experience … when I’m actually at something that’s doing that for me.”

The light bulb went on. Murray needed to create a fourth residence for men, this one a retreat center. After looking for property at an affordable price, he found 5 acres about 75 miles south of the Twin Cities near New Richland. It had an old farmhouse that he could remodel and repurpose as a retreat center. He bought the land in January 2021 for $90,000 and went to work creating a facility he eventually named St. Isidore Farm. Some of the residents of Trinity Sober Homes came down on weekends to help with the project, and the first retreat was held in April 2022. The most recent retreat happened the weekend of March 3-5, with six men from the three houses — St. Michael, St. Raphael and St. Gabriel — attending.

“This weekend was my first (retreat) experience” at St. Isidore Farm, said Troy Gates, 45, who has been living at St. Raphael House for two years and reached two years of sobriety March 7. “I didn’t know what to expect going in. I think that I liked the intimate setting. We only had six of us.. It was a very powerful experience. It’s left me a lot to think about.”

This retreat was designed to integrate the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with the spiritual life. It was a natural approach, given the Catholic nature of Trinity Sober Homes. The retreat leader, Kathleen McCauley, wanted to help the men understand that God (referred to in AA as “higher power”) desires to come alongside them in their journey of sobriety.

“I wanted to unpackage the (12) steps and show the thread of spirituality through the steps,” said McCauley, who has led retreats for people in recovery for the last 25 years and has a fondness for Franciscan spirituality. “What I try to do is invite people to see that thread … What I always say is be open to whatever’s supposed to happen spiritually.”

Rick Clugston, also a resident of St. Raphael House, was at the retreat with Gates. It was his second retreat at St. Isidore. His journey of sobriety has involved “way over a thousand (AA) meetings” and going through treatment five times. He wasn’t expecting to hear anything new, but rather something that would give him further encouragement for continuing the journey.
“Her (McCauley’s) approach was really quite powerful in the sense of getting me to re-engage in a way that I haven’t for a while,” said Clugston, 73, who has lived at Trinity homes on and off since 2016. “That was really neat … I’m a very spiritual person, and so it was an opportunity to dig into it — the deeper spirituality of the 12 steps of AA.”

The retreat center is nestled in an agricultural area, with farms surrounding it on all sides. It takes about an hour and a half to get there from St. Paul, a drive that the men said helps dissolve their cares and concerns. The natural setting creates a sense of peace and serenity, which is why Murray now spends most of his time there and belongs to All Saints in New Richland. He highly encourages the men to go down for retreats, which now are quarterly with the goal of eventually happening monthly. They can go on other weekends, too, he said.

“This is your farm,” Murray tells the 41 residents of Trinity Sober Homes, “that you can come down to anytime from Friday noon to Sunday afternoon — any weekend, for any reason.”
Murray said 32 residents have gone down to St. Isidore Farm — to go on retreat, to help with remodeling or just to spend some quiet time away. People like St. Gabriel resident Adam Kitchell, who went down to help with remodeling and was on the first retreat in 2022, find it a valuable part of recovery.

“I think a retreat helps because sometimes we’re standing too close to the forest to see the trees,” said Kitchell, 50, whose sobriety and St. Gabriel move-in dates are one and the same, Oct. 9, 2020. Going on retreat at St. Isidore is a way “to get out and be with some new people and talk about something that you’ve talked about a million times, but maybe just in a little bit of a deeper, more confidential, trustworthy, safe environment, with like-minded individuals. It makes a difference.”

The retreat he attended has “taken away a lot of the shame that I was carrying with me,” he said. “I think the retreat helps people — helped me, at least, take ownership of my story, as opposed to being victim to it.”

Source: The Catholic Spirit by Dave Hrbacek