September 15, 2017

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Cheryl McSweeney

Time at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House offers a place to be with God

Cheryl McSweeneyIt’s easy to go to Mass and feel connected to God. His presence is real and perfect. Most people leave knowing that they have just been as close to God as you can be. You are filled with peace, gratitude and love. But what next? Where do we find God outside of Mass?

After working at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis for 13 years, I have walked just about every inch of the building, as well as the many trails that we have winding through our woods. I have found the chapel to be a place of true grace: simple, intimate and welcoming.

I’ve seen lives changed as a result of spending time with Jesus in our chapel. Engaged couples begin to grasp the sacrament they are entering into, recovering alcoholics find forgiveness, high school students realize they are never really alone, and those who grieve find comfort and peace. It is truly a sacred space.

About a year ago, we were forced to close our trails at Fatima, due to a large number of dying trees that were snapping and falling down, as well as serious erosion problems on part of our trails by a creek. It was a difficult, but necessary decision for the safety of everyone who walks or runs on our trails.

Over the past year, we had a company come in to remove more than 100 trees and build retaining walls to stop erosion. When the trails were closed, we never anticipated that it would be a yearlong process.

I knew I would miss walking the trails, but I had no idea how much I would miss it until they were actually closed. There were days that I found myself at a complete loss to feel the presence of God. I would get glimpses of God, but I knew something was missing.

It wasn’t until the trails were partially opened two weeks ago that I realized that, for me, those trails are my sanctuary. It’s where I connect with God. It’s where I go with my hopes, my hurts and my joy.

I walk in every season because I can always find God there. I find him in the breeze, in the heat, in the crunching of the snow beneath my feet, and in the occasional meetings with a deer along a path. There is never a time that I go in that I don’t come out feeling more at peace, more comforted or more loved.

Don’t misunderstand, I still attend Mass, as that is the only place to be in the true presence of Christ, but walking our trails is something different for me. It’s a place to reflect, to talk to God, to listen and to discover the true journey that God calls me to. It’s sacred space for me.

It made me realize that what our trails went through is much like what many of our retreatants go through. They arrive tired, worn down and often broken, and they leave renewed, refreshed and back on their journey.

We pray that everyone can find that at Fatima because we truly are, a place to be … with God.

(Cheryl McSweeney is the associate director of programs at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House and can be reached at

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