Three months after the mud and debris slide

Aerial view of La Casa de Maria, which now resembles a construction site more than a retreat center. Photo by Omar Arroyo.

Dear Friends of La Casa:

We write today to tell you of the tremendous progress we have made since the devastating mud and debris slide of January 9, which wreaked utter havoc on our small town and our beloved property just three months ago. In the days following the slide, the damage and loss seemed almost overwhelming – nine buildings were destroyed and swept away, our landscape was dramatically altered, and the world as we then knew it changed in a matter of hours. We were forced to close down and layoff many employees. It was impossible to maneuver through the property without knee-high
boots, and even then, it was slow going. Mud and destruction were everywhere.

Slowly, and incrementally, we began to see improvement. As the water receded, we brought in remediation crews to remove mud and debris and make sense of the property. At times we were amazed by the series of backhoes, bobcats, bulldozers, cranes, and trucks that seemed to be everywhere. It looked more like a construction staging area than a retreat center.

San Ysidro Creek is now deep and wide, dramatically scoured by boulders and debris during the slide.

But their work has been effective. Paths and roadways have re-emerged. We’ve discovered things we had lost, from a statue on the bottom of the mud-filled swimming pool to important files that had washed down to a neighbors’ property, to a safe with petty cash, dishes from the dining room and much more.

But beyond found objects, an unimaginable amount of grace has been visited upon us since January 9. Friends and neighbors offered help – from shoveling out our chapel to donating money, to holding fundraisers on our behalf. From every corner we heard from people about how much La Casa de Maria and its Center for Spiritual Renewal have meant to them – they offered stories and anecdotes of their time and experiences on the property over many years.But mostly they talked about the love, peace, and progress they personally experienced here.

As we canceled retreats and began refunding deposits on future programs, many people decided to turn their deposits into donations, so they could stand with us – one group alone changed its entire $12,000 deposit into a donation. Many individuals and other groups have done the same. Amidst so much loss, it’s impossible to describe just how uplifting that has been.

The mud that filled the pool has been removed, but the landscape around it is barren.

And yet, there have also been setbacks as well. California’s Central Coast experienced several major rainstorms in the months following the January event, and the local authorities called for mandatory evacuations four more times. Fortunately, we suffered no further damage, but the reminder that the danger of mud and debris flows will remain a part of our lives for three to five more years has been sobering.

Still, we carry on. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is redrawing flood maps, the County of Santa Barbara is considering if and how residents can rebuild, and our insurance company is determining what portions of our recovery they will contribute to. There is still quite a bit of uncertainty, though we remain optimistic.

Once the site of the administration building, the area has now been cleared of mud and debris.

In the interim, we are considering many options, including reopening on a limited and/or seasonal basis. We’ll begin to look at how we might operate differently until a major construction project can be funded, designed, and built. We are shaping a plan for a period of deep re-visioning, seeing this time as an opportunity to reflect on our past service and discerning how we and this sacred land might best serve now and into the future.

For now, we simply want to thank you for your outpouring of support in every form. From dollars to social media comments, to emails, phone calls, and prayers – all of it has confirmed La Casa’s special place in the world. We promise to keep you informed as we go forward and encourage you to stay in contact with us.

With deep gratitude,

Steve Jacobsen, Director, La Casa de Maria
Karol Schulkin IHM, President, Immaculate Heart Community