Located on 26 acres along the banks of the San Ysidro Creek, La Casa is nestled between mountain and ocean. Now an interfaith retreat and conference center, it was founded in 1955 by the then Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Today the ecumenical community of men and women, married and single, steward this land.
The land was originally a part of an extensive oak woodland tended by the Chumash to produce their staple food, acorn meal. In the Franciscan era, tradition has it, the padres built a small way station for missionaries traveling up and down the coast. During the Spanish land grant era the land became a part of the San Ysidro Ranch, a 260-acre property that included a large citrus orchard. Two historic structures from that era remain today on the property: a cottage and a barn.
In the early 1920’s E. J. Miley, a pioneer California oil developer, purchased the land and named his estate Rancho del Bosque. He hired architectural designer Mary McLaughlin Craig to construct a Spanish revival style home, now the Center for Spiritual Renewal, made entirely of stone quarried from the creek. Craig and her architect husband, James Osborne Craig, played a significant role in the Spanish Colonial revival in Santa Barbara. Before the home could be completed, Miley was forced to sell the estate because of the stock market crash of 1929. The John de Blois Wacks purchased the estate in 1932 and completed it a year later. Its vaulted ceilings, pegged oak floors, nine distinctive fireplaces, unique beveled bathroom tiles, carved doors and wrought iron ornamentations designed by Chester Carjola, make it a classic of the period. Wack also built other structures on the estate. A home constructed for his mother is now Casa Teresita, used as a small dormitory. A cottage built for his piano accompanist is now the Hermitage, used for private retreats through the Center for Spiritual Renewal. Stables, also built and designed by Craig, now serve as Casa San Ysidro dormitory.
Many grand social events were held at the estate during Wack’s ownership, including a concert conducted by Leopold Stokowski. In 1942 he put the property up for sale.
Mother Eucharia, mother superior of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in Los Angeles, who was seeking a novitiate site for young women entering the order, purchased the property. On Easter Monday, 1943, four Sisters moved in, along with 12 aspiring novices.
In the early 1950s, the Sisters responded to a call to expand their ministry and create a retreat center for Roman Catholic married couples, as there was not such an institution west of the Mississippi. Gifts from Countess Estelle Doheny and other Hollywood celebrities helped fund the construction of La Casa de Maria.
Since 1955, the purpose of La Casa has expanded from being a spiritual center devoted to a single religious tradition into an interfaith center open to all faith traditions and diverse spiritualities. La Casa de Maria now serves 12,000 persons each year, offering retreats in an interfaith environment that provides a nourishing and healing place of peace where persons of all faiths come for refreshment and renewal.
Today on these special grounds, two complementary retreat ministries are offered. At the larger La Casa de Maria retreat and conference complex, groups and individuals attending structured retreats and workshops are served. All non-profit organizations that fulfill the mission and retreat environment are welcome – congregations, educational, spiritual, civic and service organizations, and personal growth programs. La Casa’s many single-day and multi-day programs are offered to the community to support its five goal areas – to cultivate spiritual growth, to foster understanding and respect for diverse cultural and spiritual traditions, to promote the common good of our communities through art, education and health and healing, to nurture a culture of peace and social justice, and to renew the earth.
At the Center for Spiritual Renewal – in the original estate house – individuals and couples come for private, unstructured retreats. There in an atmosphere of gentle quiet and gracious accommodations, staff are available to supplement guests’ retreat experience with contemplative prayer, dialogue, and spiritual direction.
The life-affirming spirituality promoted at La Casa is made visible in its efforts to be a model “green” retreat center. The original orchard is farmed with organic methods, and a multi-acre area is dedicated to a market garden that supplies fresh produce for the dining rooms. Close by the entrance stands the lovely Sadako Peace Garden, one of the International Gardens for Peace, and an outdoor labyrinth. The grounds offer sanctuary and healing to all who come to enjoy them.
The Immaculate Heart Community welcomes the opportunity to preserve and renew this beloved Santa Barbara sanctuary and invites you to come to this holy ground to find nourishment, reconnecting with soul and spirit.