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Discover a Place of Peace at Chiara Center

July 13, 2008

By Sheila Smith, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

Jul. 13–DECATUR — The Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis have plenty to be proud of after creating a place of serenity and peace for those seeking God.

The sisters’ newest building, completed in March 2007, Chiara Center by Camp Butler near Springfield, is becoming a popular retreat.

“It was built with the idea of including the hospital health system in mind and being a place of spiritual healing and reflecting,” said Sister Chaminade Kelley with St. John’s Home Health on the campus of St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur. Kelley, a member of the Hospital Sisters Order in Springfield, said she is proud of what the order has been able to accomplish and build.

Chiara is named after Chiara (Clare) di Offreduccio, a young female student of St. Francis who committed her life to studying the word of God. She and her sister, Agnes, were with the first order called Poor Clares and part of the Franciscan Movement of the Middle Ages.

An old story tells of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy, and Clare having a picnic on Mount LaVerna in Assisi. It was said that the nearby townfolk saw a light burning so bright on the mountain that day, they thought a fire had started; however, they found it was just the presence of God with St. Francis and Clare.

Sister Renita Brummer, program director of the center, said the center is open for people of all faiths.

“It is a place to get away and develop your own sense of spirituality,” Brummer said.

“When people think of healing, it pertains to fixing the body. In today’s society, there is a greater need for wholeness of the mind, body and spirit.”

The Chiara Center caters to individuals, church groups and those seeking a place for conferences. It offers amenities such as meetings rooms and guest rooms for overnight stays.

There are 12 private rooms, most of them with double beds and a bathroom, on each of the three floors in the center. A computer room and wireless access are available in the center, along with an exercise and laundry room.

A kitchen staff is available to prepare three meals a day.

Those wanting a more secluded place to meditate can go to the canticle prayer room. It has a large, colorful stained glass window with the sun shining down, rain coming down from clouds to reflect earth and God’s creation. At the bottom of the window is Christ hanging on the cross.

“People often will grab pillows and lay on the floor to meditate in this room,” Brummer said. “The best time to be in here is early in the morning when the sun rises and hits all the colors of window that bounce off the white walls.”

On the main floor, a smaller stained glass window near the entrance depicts St. Francis and Clare having a picnic with bread and grapes at their feet. Twelve fish swimming up a stream are shown on the lower part of the window and represent the 12 apostles.

“We want visitors to have that sense of hospitality and sense of spirituality when they first walk in to this place,” said Brian Blasco, director of communications for the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis.

The center connects to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi that was built on the grounds in 1924.

The Romanesque design sanctuary is filled with gold angel statues and marble pillars.

On a wall in the far north section of the sanctuary is the eye-catching piece of Jesus hanging on the cross with a skull at his feet and snake coming out of the skull.

It’s very symbolic, Brummer said, as the serpent coming out of the skull represents death and how Jesus on the cross conquered death and his resurrection.

And two weeks ago, Sister Paschal Cheng, one of the jubilee Sisters from China (70 years with the religious order), who lives in the motherhouse, was proudly showing off the ethereal sanctuary inside the cathedral to her visiting niece from New York.

Since most of the nearly 1,000 Hospital Sisters of St. Francis took a vow of poverty, they have pooled their resources over the years. Most of the money they made came from serving as nurses, dieticians and other positions at hospitals in the area.

The sisters have been on the property since 1917 and first built a tuberculosis sanitarium there.

Even after the sanitarium was torn down, the sisters continued looking for ways to serve the public, giving birth to the idea of the Chiara Center.

“We don’t want it to just be a place of retreat but one of serenity. A place to come when you need to hit the pause button and relax,” Brummer said.

“I consider it a mini-spa for your mind.”

Sheila Smith can be reached at sheilas@herald-review.com or 421-7963.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

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