Treasured Memories: The Gift of El Pomar
By S. Georgia Kitt
This story begins with the gift of one woman, Julie Penrose. In 1944 she offered her house and estate in Colorado Springs, Colorado for the work of the Church. The 30-room Renaissance mansion built in an apple orchard was located at the base of Cheyenne Mountain and named El Pomar. The grounds included a tea house, swimming pool and stables. The Sisters of Charity were asked to administer the center, establishing the first women’s retreat center west of the Mississippi River. The center became nationally known and contributed greatly to the spiritual growth of many. Mrs. Penrose entrusted this generous gift to the Sisters of Charity because of their singular contributions over a half century in the nursing and educational fields of Colorado and the West. The gift of El Pomar provided a new ministry for the Sisters of Charity and new opportunities to nurture the spirituality of women. In the first year, 19 retreats were offered for close to 700 women.
Through the 47-year history (1944-1992), the Julie Penrose Retreat Center (formerly El Pomar Retreat Center) flourished – thanks to the Sisters missioned there as well as the labor of those SCs on nearby Colorado and New Mexico missions. Many national speakers became regular program presenters; post Vatican Council II programs were enthusiastically received. Teaching skills for living to employees from other countries was ongoing. Collaboration with other Church entities as well as national organizations and retreat centers was valued – each serving as a hallmark of the center’s mode of operation. It served as ‘home’ to the Sisters of Charity in the western region, being the site of many assemblies, vow preparations and ceremonies, jubilees and other SC celebrations.
Capable, dedicated leadership by SCs through the years gave this special place the ability to touch lives and hearts, to bring its special mission to life. Sisters of Charity administrators included Sisters Rose Anthony Olberding, Dorothea Schwarz, Helen Eugene Williams, Mary Eudora Corbin, Jeannette Marie Borchers, Jean Patrice Harrington, Cecilia Elsaesser, Barbara Huber, Agnes Rita McDonough, Margaret Elizabeth Donnelly, Barbara Counts and Barbara Hagedorn. By the mid-1960s decreasing attendance at retreats led the Sisters to adapt by offering expanded programming, but ultimately the center was closed and the home was repurposed by the El Pomar Foundation. It provides yet another story of dedicated service by many Sisters of Charity. The three Sisters featured in this week’s continuing series were all missioned to El Pomar/Julie Penrose Center over the course of her history. They each contributed to the life and spirit of the center; S. Raphael Garcia was missioned in the first group in 1945, S. Antoinette Grahek in 1948 and S. Rose Francis Soltis in 1967. The center’s mission became their mission.
From our years of missioning we did not have opportunities to come to know all of our Sisters and the unique contributions they were making where they served. This came to mind again as we gathered at the Motherhouse over a weekend in mid-June 2021. Stories were recalled as we Sisters gathered informally around the new spaces now being occupied by the congregational offices. Memories and laughter were shared. Names of SCs, many new to us, who had spent most of their ministry years in the West surfaced. Since June we have followed up and want to allow all of us to learn more about these three SC women. May this sharing demonstrate the spirit with which they lived their calling – the Charity of Christ urges us.