Sister Marie Hesed gets a hug from other sisters from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity celebrate groundbreaking for Domus Trinitatis Sanctum of Spirituality northwest of Willey. Sister Hesed has spearheaded plans for the religious retreat center.
Sister Marie Hesed gets a hug from other sisters from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity celebrate groundbreaking for Domus Trinitatis Sanctum of Spirituality northwest of Willey. Sister Hesed has spearheaded plans for the religious retreat center.
August 8, 2013


Sister Marie Hesed says it was fitting that the groundbreaking for Domus Trinitatis Sanctum of Spirituality, a religious retreat center northwest of Willey, was taking place at its future entrance.

To the delight and cheers of a couple of hundred people in attendance, Sister Hesed and four fellow members of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity donned hard hats and enthusiastically turned the first shovels of dirt for Domus Trinitatis, which will be developed on 31 acres on the east side of Noble Avenue, about one-fourth mile north of 250th Street.

Sister Hesed, who has spearheaded the project, said, "It's very significant that the groundbreaking we're doing is at the entrance to Domus Trinitatis. This is the very gate here. It is very fitting because when you pass this threshold you will be walking, with God's willingness, into the heart of the Most Holy Trinity."

For Sister Hesed, the groundbreaking marked a major step toward opening the doors to Domus Trinitatis. She said the project has taken a roller-coaster route at times but nonetheless has progressed rapidly.

"I can't believe we're already at this point," she said, "because it hasn't quite been two years yet. A year ago the land was given."

Domus Trinitatis found a home when in March 2012, Leon and Donna Kennebeck donated 31 acres in the rolling hills about two miles northwest of Willey to Sister Hesed and the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

Domus Trinitatis will be a place where priests and nuns, as well as the general public can renew their faith. The retreat will be open to all those from Jewish and Christian faiths.

A brochure available at the groundbreaking highlights plans for Domus Trinitatis. The project will include:

A center of spirituality - Guests can renew their relationship with God through prayer, education and counsel. There will be a chapel and library of resources "for better understanding the church and better living out the faith in our current society." There will be Stations of the Cross and rosary prayer trails, meditation gardens and a water feature.

A center of retreat - At least 12 small cottages will be available for individuals and couples for stays of a weekend or longer. Guests will have the option of a directed retreat.

A center of new evangelization - The brochure says, "Come and receive the armor and tools needed to become a modern-day missionary. Be enriched with the treasures God gives to accomplish His work and help transform the culture of death into one of life, virtue, religious freedom, respect of the human person, understanding of marriage and family, etc."

A center of agriculture - There will be orchards, greenhouses and high tunnels to teach hydroponics and aquaponics food production. Guests will have the opportunity to learn about proper nutrition and health along with skills on how to preserve food for storage.

Plans call for a small barn for implements and animals.

On hand for the groundbreaking were representatives of FEH Associates Inc. Architects and Engineers of Des Moines: president Denny Sharp, project manager Don Seymour and intern Cory Sharp.

Seymour said he's worked with Sister Hesed to "turn her vision into reality." "And mostly we've come pretty close," he added.

"She wants to have a place for nuns and also priests to come," he said. "There will be a priests' residence on one side of the road (through the retreat) and a convent (for nuns) over here. ... Everything is sort of built into Mother Nature. It's built into the hillside. We tried to disturb as little as possible. We tried to make it very sustainable, very high-energy-saving, basically as sustainable and self-sufficient as it can be."

A pedestrian bridge from the area of priests' and nuns' residences will lead east to the 12 cottages, which Seymour calls "hermitages."

The hermitages will be about 400-square-feet, Seymour said, "where we have a bedroom up above because to be able to be reflective in prayer, you need to be above the ground."

He added, "The hermitages are self-sufficient in the sense that one person can go and be by himself and very reflective and contemplative. So it really will be a mini-retreat in and of itself."

With residences for priests and nuns along with the hermitages, there could be as many as 20 or 30 guests at the same time, Seymour said.

Cory Sharp said, "People can come and be a part of nature, be secluded but also be part of a larger community of people who are spiritual in their own way, trying to figure out, 'How can I rejuvenate my faith and get back to helping people?'"

FEH is not new to projects in this area. The firm worked with John and Rose Guinan, who built Santa Maria Winery in Carroll, in building the restaurant and convention center. The Guinans also have vineyards and a visitors' center in Willey and are supporting the Domus Trinitatis project. A religious retreat also is not new to FEH, which worked with the Jewish Federation on developing a central-Iowa retreat.

Seymour noted, "That was supposed to be a five-year plan, but once they had the groundbreaking and got the first section up, it exploded and they had everything completely paid for before they finished it. That was phenomenal. That just shows the faith people have."

He said the construction timeline and final appearance of the retreat are still "fluid," depending on financial support and future considerations.

Seymour called Sister Hesed "very inspirational."

Sister Hesed was one of the first sisters to join the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and spent 27 years establishing new convents for the contemplative nuns. She has served in Calcutta; Tijuana, Mexico; Nairobi, Africa; Cuba; and New York.

Sister Hesed said the Lord put the idea for such a retreat in her heart nearly 50 years ago.

She recalled words of Mother Teresa that "God chooses nothingness to show his greatness."

Sister Hesed said of her Domus Trinitatis goal, "Each one of us here this evening holds in our heart a dream. We hold dreams. There's nothing wrong with dreaming. But I believe the most important thing is to commit others to share that dream. If you hold it to yourself, it becomes fruitless."

Scanning the panorama, she added, "As I look over that way I see the steeple of St. Mary's (Church) in Willey. It tells me that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament. And it tells me that Our Lady is a mentor over each one of us in this work of God. What will it be? We don't quite know yet, because when God is in charge, we are not in charge. We have a drawing, but the end product may not be looking like that, so don't be discouraged. It will be better, because God's work is always better than man's work."

Sister Hesed said she will probably need a few pats on the back to help her during challenging times ahead.

"I count on your prayers. I count on your support. I count on your love," she said.

But it all will be worthwhile, she added.

"So when you have had a hard day, when it seems like nothing is going to work out for you guys," she said, "just drive by and look at Domus Trinitatis and be inspired. Hey, great things happen."

Deacon Ed Miller opened Tuesday's program by blessing the ground for Domus Trinitatis, which is Latin for home and the union of three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one Godhead. Sanctum is a sacred or holy place, a private place where one is free from intrusion.

The program's emcee, Jay Masching, said, "Through Divine Providence, Sister Marie Hesed was brought here to fulfill her dream of building this retreat center to be used by all to come together into the beauty of God's creation for a time of spiritual renewal and rejuvenation."

Masching, who grew up a couple miles northwest of the future home of Domus Trinitatis, said, "And I always thought we had a great neighborhood, but it's about to get a lot better.

"As we embark on this historical moment, it makes me think we're on this earth only a short period of time, and we must do what God asks us to do. This is the beginning of something great for our community, the beginning of something great for the Midwest and for our country. Please, continue to give your time, talent and monetary donations as we build this center of renewal for God's greater glory."