La Casa de Maria can be found at the end of a winding lane canopied in dense foliage leading from the Upper Village in Montecito. Set in a secret garden, guarded by woodlands and the tumbling waters of the San Ysidro Creek, its ambience is that of a much-loved country house through which many generations have passed and left their mark.
At almost every turn it holds surprises to delight the eyes, layered with love over the years.
A fountain here, a sculpture there, rare specimen trees & shrubs in magnificent maturity, chickens scratching in the organic vegetable gardens. Shady vistas down woodland paths, views over orange groves and across meadows scented with wild fennel will take your breath away.
Explore Sadako Peace Gardens, in memory of a little girl representing all victims of the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and find cranes carved into the boulders depicting a symbol of peace. Discover the Robert Muller Bench of Dreams and rest to examine your dreams. Wander past Stations of the Cross in their leafy glade or sit by the creek to be mesmerized by sunlight glancing off the waters as they tumble over rocks on their last mile to the ocean.
The History: In 1950, under the direction and inspiration of Sister Regina McPartlin, IHM, and encouraged by a group of married couples who used to stay at a local hotel for their annual retreat, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart built La Casa de Maria.
For the next twenty years, novices added to their life of prayer and spiritual formation taking care of the retreat center, cleaning rooms, preparing and serving meals, and providing the choir for the religious services.
Each weekend, forty Roman Catholic married couples directed by a priest, would make a spiritual retreat focused on strengthening their relationship with God and one another. Over the years the retreat center gradually opened its doors to outside religious, educational, personal growth, community service and art groups, at the same time developing its own program of retreats.
Casa Regina, the main meeting room, is named to cherish the memory of
Sister Regina McPartlin, IHM.
Central to the life of the retreat is the Chapel in which, against the sandstone simplicity of the interior, a life-size carving of the crucifixion stands in front of a thirty-foot clear glass window from where it is framed by nature in the woodlands beyond.
La Casa de Maria is a catalyst for people and awaits the gift of your presence.
A thousand points of light from the outside world stream through the eight-foot mandala, formed of tiny holes set in the wall of the small Meditation Chapel designed by Dennis Thompson in 1985.
The mandala is a religious symbol for the universe. In this design the cross symbolizes the divine, neither above nor below, to the right or the left, but present everywhere.
There are 1,600 holes and it could be said that each one now represents one hundred of the 16,000 retreatants of every denomination who stream through La Casa de Maria every year to participate in spiritual and educational programs or gain counsel and restoration through private retreat.
The Immaculate Heart Community: Against a background of pastoral tranquility the real story of La Casa de Maria is that of a group of courageous women who, ahead of their time in 1970, determined to meet the needs of the times in fearless fashion. In service to these needs, The Sisters of The Immaculate Heart gave up their official ties to the Roman Catholic Church to become a lay community. The Immaculate Heart Community's Board of Trustees has stewardship of the retreat center.
Link to the IH Community
The Immaculate Heart Center for Spiritual Renewal lies at the center of La Casa de Maria. Built of stone carved out of rocks from the creek bed, it was the original residence of John de Blois Wack, who sold it to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in 1943, to serve as a novitiate for the next thirty years. It now provides private retreats for individuals or couples seeking a time of quiet, meditation and worship.
Link to the IH Center