The Redemptorist Renewal Center:
Situated in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains and the beautiful Sonoran Desert, the Redemptorist Renewal Center at Picture Rocks is a spiritual life and renewal center that provides a unique opportunity for solitude, reflection, prayer and contemplative practice.
Located on 120 acres that border the Saguaro National Park West, it is a site that appeals to the nature lover and gently challenges the more urban personality.
With miles of trails available into the desert, the variety of the desert flora (especially the cacti) and fauna, plus ancient Hohokam Indian rock art (petroglyphs). They are located on the Renewal Center property, this place has an atmosphere that inevitably nudges those who come toward the sacred.
For those who come to it for a precious time aside from their demanding life circumstances, the Renewal Center becomes what was for the Hohokam who etched their appreciation of life and its meaning on its jagged rock hundreds of years ago: holy ground.
On the wall of the Our Lady of the Desert Church at the Center is a saying that paraphrases Hosea 2:14: “The desert will lead you to your heart where I will speak.” For those who come to know this special place in the desert, the paraphrase on the chapel wall accurately depicts their experience here. It is a place that helps people get in touch their inner-self and discover and hear again the Lord speaking to them from within…the most sacred place of all.
The Redemptorist Renewal Center is a place where God may be discovered in action. It is not just a physically beautiful place, but it is a place where a person may listen to the voice of God. It is a place where the Redemptorist community is privileged to serve their brothers and sisters in the Lord. In the inevitable exchange, in each experience of sharing, listening and silence, the healing and nourishing power of the Spirit of God is at work.
The mission of the ministerial community at the Redemptorist Renewal Center at Picture Rocks is to establish a permanent apostolic presence in southern Arizona that reflects the commitment of the Denver Province of Redemptorists to retreat ministry and contemplative renewal.
This presence and commitment to contemplative renewal is expressed in the lifestyle and work of the community, both Redemptorists and our associates in ministry. This realization of the inseparable unity of divine and human, which animates the contemplative life, is also expressed through the programs created, hosted, and sponsored by the community, each of which reflect, in the way proper to their purpose, something of the living font of the spirit of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, which is the charism of “Plentiful Redemption for all.”
Saint Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), was a spiritual pioneer of 18th-century Italy. Educated as a lawyer, Alphonsus left his practice to become a priest and to work with the poor. Concerned with the spiritually and economically abandoned, he brought the Christian traditions of prayer and moral theology into the busy streets of his native Naples and into the neglected villages of the countryside, arousing the sentiments of the common people to seek God. Of his many gifts, Alphonsus’ understanding that the heart of contemplation is worked out in a person’s daily struggle to forge a life, built on unceasing prayer, moral behavior, and love of neighbor, remains his most enduring legacy.
In this spirit, the Redemptorist Renewal Center envisions a community in the desert in which Alphonsus’ vision of contemplation as the animating force of the daily life of faith is renewed for our times. To foster this vision, we have placed Alphonsus’ combination of spiritual acumen and practical good sense at the center of our ministry.
To read article about the Redemptorist Renewal Center by Liguorian, click here.
Regular Business Hours:
8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (MST), Sunday-Saturday. (Office is open until 7:00 p.m. for check-in).
History of the Redemptorist Renewal Center
A Place of Divine Encounter
Time and time again through the short history of the Redemptorist Renewal Center, when Church officials describe this retreat house on Picture Rocks Road, they would label it as a “sacred place” for God and the people who seek his presence to have an encounter. Located adjacent to the Saguaro National Park, the Center has provided spiritual comfort and development for the faithful in the Tucson diocese and beyond. It also welcomes our Christian brothers and sisters of various denominations and other religious followers since the time when it opened more than 50 years ago in 1965.
At the dedication of the newly renovated facilities on Dec. 9-10, 2006, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson presided the dedication Mass. Bishop Kicanas also noted how the Center has served the local diocese, and how he sees the function of the Center. He wrote: “The new renovated facility nestled in the midst of our beautiful desert greatly enhances the services able to be provided. As these facilities are dedicated, we express our thanks to God for this holy place in which many will encounter Christ and grow in their faith…”
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R, of Newark, former superior General of the Redemptorists worldwide, said: “I see the mission of the Redemptorist Renewal Center as a partnership with God in a process of divine seduction. The Eternal Lover of humankind still wishes to lure people into the desert where God may speak to our hearts (cf. Hosea 2, 16). The new facilities at the Redemptorist Renewal Center are simply the venue where lovers can meet and speak.”
In 1995, the Redemptorists organized a program for its members, entitled ReVision. They chose the Center for the one-month long program. When asked why he chose the site at Picture Rocks, Father Robert Fenili, C.Ss.R., Director of the program, said: “This is a very sacred spot which we have brought back to its special purpose by building a retreat house here in 1963. Fifteen hundred years ago, this land was a holy place of the Hohokam people. They carved their sacred images on the boulders of these hills. I suspect God provided this oasis in the Sonoran desert to bring special sense of the divine presence to those who here to rest.”
Many people would have agreed with Father Fenili. Laypeople, Religious, priests and bishops have expressed the same sentiment after they have spent some time here for their retreats or renewal programs.
Situated about a 20 minute drive northwest from downtown Tucson, the Center has been built on a site of more than 100 acres. In its mountain and desert setting, it provides a conducive atmosphere for prayer and reflection. The property was purchased in 1963 by the Redemptorist Fathers of the Oakland Province. The late Father Bernard Van Hoomissen is the pioneer settler and builder.
In an article in the South Tucson Gazette, July 5, 1963, the Redemptorists made an announcement to construct a retreat house. Up to this time, the only retreat house in the diocese has been the Franciscan Retreat House in Scottsdale, the article says. The Tucson diocese at that time also included the City of Phoenix, which eventually was set up as a diocese in 1969. It adds that Bishop Francis J. Green of Tucson had invited the Redemptorists to open the retreat house here. The chosen site for the retreat house is in the Tucson Mountains, approximately 13 miles from downtown Tucson. It includes the famous Indian carvings, known as “Indian Picture Rocks,” believed to be the work of Hohokam Indians about 1100 A.D., and precautions will be taken to preserve the carvings from the vandalism prevalent in recent years, the article says.
In his diary, Father Hoomissen wrote:
“On March 22, 1962 visited Picture Rocks and decided to go after it though it was not for sale. The first step was to bury several medals of St. Gerard on the site. Father Andrew Gorger, a native Arizonan, approved highly of the site. The first price was $950 per acre. … the final price of $600.00 per acre was agreed on.”
After 21 months of his effort of looking for land, purchasing it, getting a loan, surveying the land, getting local government permission for the land, he ended his summary diary with the following passage: “Please God and good St. Gerard that this effort will open a new and fertile apostolic field for the Coast Province. Now is the time to take up the plow.”
Father Hoomissen later in 1964 was joined by Father Raymond Troik, and the two lived in a trailer when buildings were constructed. The Redemptorists of the Oakland Province knew that to begin this ministry, it had to obtain a legal status, thus the Redemptorist Society of Arizona was established on Aug. 8, 1963 in order to purchase the property from Ben Lim. John Moran, a prospector and a mason, took on the task of constructing the chapel. A plaque bearing his name at the northeast entrance commemorates his accomplishment. St. Alphonsus building was also build and set up as a convent. The major part of the construction was completed in less than a year. The buildings that which were a part of the first Retreat House was St. Gerard building, office (at that time was Redemptorist residence), kitchen, dining hall, meeting room, convent and 4 buildings with 48 rooms for retreatants. The retreatants’ quarters consisted of four buildings of 12 rooms each, with connecting baths between each pair of room. Two such units were to the north of the chapel, two to the south.
The Sisters’ convent was the first to be completed; its chapel, with a picture window looking toward the mountains, provides a beautiful view of the rugged mountain terrain. The central chapel had been constructed from rock quarried on the property. A combination cafeteria and lounge were to the south of the chapel, while to the north of it was the administration building, which was also the residence of the Redemptorists who staff the retreat. Scenic view of the early Retreat Center In one of his letters to his superior, Father Hoomissen wrote on Nov. 11, 1964, about the difficult work he faced:
“Today is the first breather in many a days, and there is time for a short progress report. It has been progress for a change and the hillside is busy. About 200 tons of rock have been quarried (value $9,000.00) and cut. We have moved over a 100 ton to wall side. The reinforced foundations of both the sisters’ house and chapel are finished. Tomorrow, the walls start up – cement, sand, clocks, etc. are in place.”
Dedication of Renovated and Reconstructed Facilities on Dec. 10, 2006
In 2003, Father Thomas M. Santa, C.Ss.R, director of the Redemptorist Renewal Center, began a capital campaign for a major renovation and development of the Center. He said during the last 40 years there had been occasional improvements to the facility only that which was “absolutely necessary and unavoidable.” At the time, he said: “We have arrived at the point where major renovation and repair is perhaps long overdue.” In their plan, the Redemptorists planned to build a large meeting room, the Alphonsian Library, the Contemplative Intensive Retreat facility, Hermitages, Redemptorist Rectory and necessary repairs and remodeling.
The project went off to a good start until Oct. 7, 2005 when a fire burned down the main dining hall and kitchen facilities. A new plan had to be drawn to include the reconstruction of the new kitchen, dining room and another meeting room.
Aftermath of the Fire
The renovation was finally completed a year later after the fire in October 2007. On Dec. 9-10, 2006, Bishop Kicanas presided at the dedication and blessing of the Center. Hundreds of benefactors, friends and supporters of RRC joined him and the Redemptorists on this happy occasion.
New Dining, Kitchen and Petroglyph Room
The Center with its newly renovated facilities once again is open to people of the Diocese of Tucson as well as the needs of the wider ecumenical community. Many people from different religious traditions and spiritual practices identify the Center as generations before as “sacred space.” According to Father Santa, people identify the Center as a place of welcome, of gracious hospitality, and a place conducive to prayer, spiritual direction, and the community support and encouragement that enables the presence of the Spirit of God.
On Nov. 9 2014 the Center celebrated its existence and ministry in the Diocese of Tucson, serving people of many faiths and religions, various universities, non-profit organizations, Catholic hospitals. The Redemptorist priests and staff continue to carry out their evangelization and hospitality ministry. Father Michael Brehl, CSsR, superior general of the Redemptorist worldwide, sent the Center his congratulation message.
Congratulation on the 50th anniversary of this beloved oasis of peace in the Sonora Desert. You are celebrating the thousands of retreats, workshops, liturgies and personal encounters through which Jesus continues to bring that good news to the poor today. … I pray that God will bless you and everyone who visits the Redemptorist Renewal Center with peace and the joy of the Gospel. May the Redeemer embrace you and then send you forth to bring that Good News to all.