Modern take on Lourdes found in Venice

On the quiet banks of the Myakka River in Venice is a hidden gem of the Diocese of Venice, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center.

Surrounded by giant live oaks with a cool lake at its center, the Retreat Center, known by most as OLPH, offers a place full of God’s peace and beauty which encourages guests to develop a deeper relationship with the Lord, improve prayer life, and perhaps meet a new friend with whom to walk the spiritual journey of life.

In its illustrious 25-year history, tens of thousands have flocked there for retreats, conferences and prayer. The goal of OLPH is to give people the time and place to briefly “leave the world behind” and return to daily living refreshed and renewed.

To help enhance that experience, a Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is currently being installed. Well along in the construction process, the Shrine sits next to the Bell Tower and is along a path which leads in one direction to nearby St. Joseph Chapel, another to the outdoor Stations of the Cross and is a short distance from the bridge which leads to the main conference areas.

OLPH Director, Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, said the concept of the Shrine Project “began with several donations made to memorialize Redemptorist Father Charlie Mallen, the founding director of the Retreat Center. The Diocese of Venice added to these donations so that the construction could be done in a beautiful and enduring way.”

Father Mallen founded OLPH in 1995 at the direction of then-Bishop John J. Nevins. With the assistance of Sister Carmella DeCosty, Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Father Mallen developed an overgrown piece of land into a refuge.

Although there will be a plaque to memorialize Father Mallen, when completed, a large marble statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is going to be the centerpiece of the Shrine.  While the statue is being made, another statue of Our Lady is temporarily in place.

The backdrop of the statue consists of a single large piece of limestone and several Italian cypress trees which produce a vaulted cathedral effect, Father Yavarone explained.

“There is a small waterfall at Mary’s feet which is stunningly lit at night,” Father added. “What I like most about the shrine is that it makes Mary the center of the Retreat Center property in a very visible way.  Let’s hope that it will foster devotion to Mary and many fond memories and prayers for Father Charlie!”

While the shrine is not finished yet: the plans include an area for votive candles that will be enclosed to comply with fire regulations and sidewalks which will lead to the steps of the shrine.

The main feature of the Shrine, the monument is made of 15,000 pounds of Oolitic limestone quarried in Coral Bay Florida by Epic Stonework. The same material was used to créate a series of benches, each weighing 4,000lbs. The stairs and floor of the Shrine are made of keystone, and the ramp Access is made of travertine.

Features include a variety of landscaping such as assorted bromeliads, two Montgomery palms, 14 Italian cypress, five Adonidia palms, three European fan palms, and three Ligustrum trees.

Following the completion of the Shrine, a blessing and dedication will take place.

Fondly known as “The Miracle on the Myakka,” OLPH hosts more than 8,500 guests each year. The Retreat Center has villas for overnight visitors and the St. Joseph Chapel for Masses and Eucharistic Adoration. Activities at the Retreat Center include weekend retreats for families, catechists, pastoral ministers and various parish organizations, as well as day retreats, days of reflection, workshops, and seminars for many Diocesan organizations, schools, churches, and leadership teams.

The Oblate Fathers also offer a number of preached retreats that are in varying lengths from three days up to one month.

To learn more about Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, please visit