When Hurricane Ian’s floodwaters of the Myakka River receded a week after devastating Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice, it was clear it would take prayer, focus, determination, and lots of patience for the “Jewel of the Myakka” to return to its former glory.
OLPH Director, Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, first inspected the property by kayak on Sept. 29, 2022, the day after the hurricane. At that time, the Myakka River waters had risen to cover the entire property and were as high as they had ever been since OLPH was founded in 1988. Father noted at the time he was shocked to see the water so high, unaware that the menacing river was not done rising.
Sadly, the river crested on Oct. 2, 2 ½ feet above the record, and the result was at least 18-24 inches of water inside all the buildings on the property. It wasn’t until Oct. 10, 12 days after the hurricane, that the waters had receded enough to examine the damage in person.
OLPH was just finishing a major renovation program which marked the 25th anniversary of the retreat center. Father Yavarone said all of the flooring in every building had just been completely replaced as well as several other upgrades. In fact, the last piece needed to complete the project was a few metal panels on the roof of the dining hall. The roofs held, but the water rose and inflicted severe damage.
As soon as the property was accessible, the cleaning process began. What could be salvaged was, but the interiors of each of the villas, the dining hall, conference center and chapel were gutted. The landscaping, which always creates a serene setting for all who visited, was a jumbled mess with trees down and everything covered in a slime left over from the river’s passage. Even while the property was still covered in muck, bald eagles, osprey, herons, ibis, and alligators were seen in abundance.
Once the mitigation and drying out process was completed, the reconstruction began.
Joe Rego, Diocesan Director of Building and Construction, said a lack of contractors, supplies and other unforeseen obstacles have pushed the rebuilding back several months.
“This is a regionwide issue,” Rego explained. “Everyone is dealing with this. We had to first rewire everything and then put in drywall. Then the flooring. These things take time. The work is being done in a systematic way so we can get OLPH back open as soon as possible.”
Father Yavarone said the work has focused on the dining hall, conference center and Villas I and II.
“It turns out, this is the order the retreat center was built, so there is a symmetry to this,” Father said. “With those spaces available we will be able to start private retreats in June.”
Those retreats are already booked, and if the progress continues at its current pace, by August or September, the retreat center will be completely reopened for guests and larger group overnight retreats. Those bookings are already taking place, something Father said cannot wait.
“I cannot help but think that our retreat center has passed through a time of pruning,” Father wrote in a March reflection. “This is true even in a physical sense, as the destruction of the hurricane has already led to small but important improvements. For example, the removal of drywall exposed pipes in the villas that would soon have burst. Those pipes have now been replaced. Worn 25-year-old furniture, kitchen appliances, and sound systems are also being replaced… The end result, God willing, will be a facility fitted to bear fruit for decades.”
Father Yavarone said he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support by the faithful, and their sadness over the damage, with many saying how much OLPH means to them.
While the retreat center is closed to visitors, Father Yavarone, and Father Shawn Monahan, OMV, have been hosting retreats at Epiphany Cathedral and Our Lady of Lourdes in Venice. They have also gone to several other area Parishes for talks.
The Monthly Day of Prayer continues at off-site locations while OLPH continues to recover from Hurricane Ian. The day begins at 9:30 a.m. with continental breakfast, and includes two conferences, lunch, Eucharistic Adoration, Mass, and opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, private meditation, and prayer. The day concludes with Mass that ends at 3:15 p.m. For the May sessions, Father Monahan will be the presenter. The topic for each day is “Two Gifts: Anger and Forgiveness,” as Father Monahan concludes the series of “Healing our Broken Hearts”. The cost is $40. The May events are Wednesday, May 10, at the Our Lady of Lourdes Education Center, 1301 Center Road, Venice, and Sunday May 14, at Epiphany Cathedral Parish Center, 310 Sarasota St., Venice. To register, please visit https://olph-retreat.org/monthly-day-of-prayer.
If you would like to directly support the OLPH Hurricane Ian recovery, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/olph-status-after-hurricane-ian.