A retreat oasis in the heart of Calgary

Denise DeNeve talks about how the FCJ Retreat and Conference Centre caters to the local community, and national and international groups

Denise DeNeve is director of the FCJ Retreat and Conference Centre in Calgary.

Denise DeNeve
Denise DeNeve

Can you explain what the FCJ Retreat and Conference Centre is?

DeNeve: The FCJ Retreat and Conference Centre as stated in our mission statement is a “Centre of Hospitality and Hope Where God can be Experienced in a Changing World.” It’s a corporate ministry of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus. The centre has become a unique place for individuals and groups needing a peaceful meeting facility.

The FCJ Christian Life Centre was opened in 1980 in the Sacred Heart Convent, an impressive building dating to 1885. The centres retreats and programs are enjoyed by non-profit groups, corporate foundations and charitable organizations, from single-day sessions to multi-day conferences. And ample parking is free. With its extensive program of retreats, meetings and events, this facility is an oasis in the heart of the city.

It offers flexible spaces in an auditorium conference room with stage area and seating for 125 people that can be configured to suit any required arrangement, and two others that can accommodate 45 and 80 people respectively. It also has several smaller areas that can be utilized for fewer numbers of people or for break out rooms. The centre has an industrial kitchen and three dining rooms. For longer stays it offers accommodation for 52 people.

How does it cater to the business community in Calgary?

DeNeve: The centre caters to the business community in Calgary by providing a unique setting for non-profit groups and corporate foundation’s meeting facility requirements. The centre not only caters to the Calgary community but attracts national and international groups. Very recently the centre hosted the L’Arche international members, the Anglican Bishops Synod and a writing retreat facilitated by Paula D’Arcy, a well-known facilitator who has worked closely with Richard Rohr.

The venue’s attraction to out-of-town visitors makes it a plus to the city’s economy. This autumn Calgary has been chosen as the city and the FCJ Centre chosen for the venue, for the 2019 chapter meetings of the FCJ Sisters, held every six years, that will bring members from around the world to this city.

How has the economic downturn of the last few years impacted FCJ?

DeNeve: The FCJ Centre relies on the generosity of donors to remain a vibrant part of the Calgary community and beyond. We are working diligently in responding to the desires of our donors to provide quality engagement with the issues of our time, stand in solidarity with the oppressed and seek to build a more inclusive community.

The economic downturn has had a very significant impact on how we move forward with less financial support. However, although donations are fewer in number and amount, we believe that “living out of surprising abundance causes us to see with new eyes, and to treasure even smallness as gift.” Resonating with this statement from the FCJ Sisters Chapter 2013, we move forward trusting that, as the theme of the FCJ Sisters Bicentennial being celebrated in 2020 states “God ~ Beauty ~ Goodness ~ is doing everything.”

What would you say are the key things that separate FCJ from other conference centres and meeting venues?

DeNeve: What separates FCJ from other conference centres and meeting venues is the genuine hospitality and peaceful ambience. It is rare to find a conference centre that is situated in the heart of the city but exists in a park like setting. The centre is in the Mission district, along the banks of the Elbow River. The FCJ Centre is an ideal location for meetings, conferences, workshops and retreats.

Whatever the need, from one-person, small group, or 125, every package is geared toward your needs. We have full conference facilities; comprehensive dining facilities; extensive cultivated gardens and a wonderful chapel. As well, our kitchen staff is known for their outstanding service and delicious meals.

The FCJ Retreat and Conference Centre is seen by many as a spiritual home where God feels very present both in the building and the surrounding landscape, and every year welcomes thousands of visitors to a unique experience of warm hospitality and deep spirituality. Our hope is that those who come to the FCJ Centre will encounter God, whether in prayer, in the word, in the silence and the beauty; and that this encounter will touch many other lives too.

Many of our patrons have espoused our facilities: “I was touched and very appreciative of the warmth and welcome I felt.” “Thank you so much for all the care and effort made by everyone to make it such a wonderful stay.” “I enjoyed doing walking meditation in the Labyrinth and was also very grateful for the special time I was able to spend in the chapel, not to mention the lovely gardens, flowers, wind chimes, etc.” “I was always warmly welcomed and made to feel at home no matter if I was one of many visitors or the only one.”

We invite all retreatants, non-profit, corporate foundations and charitable organizations to discover our centre.

What is the vision for the centre’s future?

DeNeve: The vision for the centre for the future is embedded in the charism of the foundress of the FCJ Sisters, Marie Madeleine d’Houet. One often hears the word charism when visiting retreat centres whose foundation is the mission and ministry of a religious order. What exactly is charism?

The term refers to the gift which God gives to an individual or group. This gift is handed down through the centuries and enriched by all who are called to live it. The charism of each religious order is the particular way in which its members are called to follow Christ. Since all Christians follow Christ, the charism will have many elements in common, but the way in which these elements are emphasized gives each religious order its unique feel. All religious orders have been asked by the church to rediscover their original founding charism – make it come alive in each culture and in every age. 

So, as a corporate ministry of the Faithful Companions of Jesus we are called to move into the future by making the charism come alive. We will move into the future confidently by sharing and celebrating the story of Marie Madeleine in life-giving, creative, and challenging ways; offering hospitality to people of all faiths and none; encouraging interfaith relationships; providing counselling and a place of welcome and peace for all who seek compassionate care and tranquility; providing opportunities for people to deepen their spirituality with reflection, prayer, ritual, spiritual accompanying, education, and culture; to be a place where people can come, and members of our resource team can go out to provide nourishment for life’s journey; creating an eco-friendly environment where right relationship with self, others, the cosmos and God is nurtured; facilitating virtual pilgrimages to become aware of our interconnectedness; and whole-heartedly living out abundance and treasuring even smallness as a gift; welcoming non-profit groups, corporate foundations and charitable organizations, to experience the world class meeting facilities.

The Society of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, who have served in Calgary since 1885, is upon a significant landmark in its life and history: 200 years since its foundation in Amiens, France. For the FCJs, their Companions in Mission, friends, colleagues and associates, celebrations began on the foundress’s birthday, Sept. 21, and end on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 22, 2020.

© Calgary’s Business

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