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Last weekend, I “came home” in physical, emotional and spiritual ways at a retreat at Conception Abbey, two hours drive north of my home town.   I brought my brother who had never participated in a Buddhist retreat but was also drawn to this abbey where my father had studied for the priesthood and met my mother.  Without this powerful center and all the conditions there, we would not exist.  We were visiting our family roots, our spiritual roots, our land roots, even the roots of our childhood praying, eating and breathing habits.

The four days were rich with miracles that will prompt much writing, but let me begin with these:

* The convergence of my ancestors, walking the paths where my father and his four brothers studied for the priesthood, driving through the “town” nearby where my mother was born.

* The new information about our family from monks who knew my uncles, Fr. Edward and Fr. Michael, meeting Fr. Joachim, a 94 year old monk in the infirmary, who told us many stories of the ‘30s at the abbey.  At the end of our interview, we realized that we were cousins!

* Taking pictures of the graves, of Conception Junction and Clyde (now just a few houses amidst rolling hills, cornfields and wind generators) and of the beautiful basilica, one of the few in the country, dedicated in 1891.

* Finding archives with books written by and about our relatives.

But all this research and interviewing took place after two full days and nights of the retreat led by Joanne Friday, one of my favorite teachers in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition.  Led by her powerful talks on mindfulness and finding our true home in our breath, my brother and I participated fully in the silence at meals, overnight and most of the day except for conferences with Joanne and our small group sharing.  He was very respectful of the silence, the routine of mindful movements, sitting meditation, deep listening and mindful walks outdoors and indoors.  We enjoyed meeting the Heartland community members (with whom I hope he will find a new home).

We were able to share a room and get along, feel comfortable, even though we had never done anything like this together before.  We hadn’t seen one another in five years, had probably never slept in the same room.  Our lives have taken very different paths, but this wonderful retreat gave us an opportunity to be at home with one another.  We smiled in silence at some of the food that reminded us of our childhood roots in the Midwest – mashed potatoes, over-cooked green beans, fresh-baked cinnamon rolls.

The messages of the retreat were powerful for both of us.  Joanne said that “from the moment of birth, we get pulled away from our basic goodness,” that “all people have within themselves the capacity to be enlightened.”   She transmitted what she has learned and embodied from her teacher and experienced in her own recovery from a brain injury – “Be still and heal.”  Throughout the weekend, I felt the presence of my mother, father, uncles and teachers, both Catholic and Buddhist.  The powerful Midwestern wind energy drew my brother and me closer, healing family suffering, embracing us as children, allowing us space in our aging years to enjoy one another now.  The retreat leader told me that the love between us was palpable.

We had ARRIVED, we were HOME, in the HERE and in the NOW.



  1. So good to hear from you. I did not know much about your background. (We didn’t have much opportunity to share that kind of informtion in the novitiate.). This is a beautiful story. Hope the next time you are in MO you might have a chance to stop at Loretto Center. I know you would be welcome and give many of us who still live in this area to visit.

    • Dear Jonesie,
      I’d love to come to St. Louie sometime! Your smile still lights up my life, my friend….and what we didn’t share then, we can NOW! Much love, Joann

  2. Awesome, to enjoy the journey

  3. So glad to get all the details I did not know. Thanks also for this afternoon. Good experience!

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