Donors give diocese 50-acre retreat center

Christ Prince of Peace facility to serve as gathering place for parishioners to learn about faith

Christ Prince of Peace Retreat Center chapel.
Photo by Scott Maentz.

Anonymous donors have given the Diocese of Knoxville a retreat center located between Benton and Etowah, developed over the past 40 years as the Priory of St. John the Apostle, and 50 acres of protected land surrounding it.

The retreat center, given by a Catholic couple active in the diocese, is nestled between the Hiwassee River and the Cherokee National Forest, just east of Highway 411 in Polk County. Bordering the Hiwassee, which is designated a scenic river on which no commercial development can take place, the property backs up to an area of the national forest designated “primitive” so that it also can’t be developed.

Bishop Richard F. Stika signed papers Aug. 1 to make the property transfer official. He announced the same day that the new name of the facility would be Christ Prince of Peace Retreat Center. It is considered one of the largest gifts ever made to the diocese.

“Since day one when I arrived in Knoxville, so many people have said we need a retreat center,” the bishop said. “We need a place where we can come together and learn about the faith and to pray. So often we use other properties. Some have been extremely easy to work with; others are more distant in terms of the route to take, so this will give us the capacity to have a place that’s Catholic, and we can teach the faith—we can come together to pray.

“It can be used for the youth because there’s space there for that all the way to retreats for married couples and others. Rachel’s Vineyard has already used it, so there’s going to be a variety of different activities—quiet retreats for individuals.”

Bishop Stika said he is excited about the donation of the tranquil, meditative Christian retreat.
“This has been in the works for a couple of years—really longer than that—since the 1970s when the [previous owners] developed this property for the glory of God and to allow folks to get together and pray and build their faith,” he said. “This is a continuation of something they started a number of years ago, and now at this stage we’ll bring it into the future as the diocese continues to grow and because now more than ever, the faith needs to be shared with others.”

Bishop Stika visited the center the same day he signed the papers.
“I’m going there today,” he said. “Our first event under the diocesan flag is our seminarians gathering together for three days for retreat before they go back to school.”

The facility sits in a bucolic area with the Hiwassee and the national forest as natural boundaries. “It’s a beautiful setting,” the bishop said. “It’s a gift from the [previous owners], but in reality it’s a gift from God.”

Described by one of the previous owners as “an ideal place for a Christian retreat,” the retreat center was built from scratch. When the dedicated couple acquired it nearly 40 years ago it was abandoned land, but since then they’ve cleared large areas, developed roads and building sites, and gradually built the structures that now compose the priory. Development of the complex was done almost entirely at their expense.

“There are seven buildings there, plus two storage buildings,” the previous owner said. “When we got it originally there was nothing there—just some scrub pines and farmland, so everything had to be developed.”

The retreat center includes the Church of the Crucifixion that seats up to 150; Holy Trinity Chapel, a reliquary chapel for meditation and adoration that seats up to 24; St. Anthony’s Retreat House; St. John’s Residence, which is a two-story duplex for religious or guests; Madonna Library, a Catholic library with 15,000 volumes; a social room for dinners or lectures with a kitchen and seating for 40; a large equipment building with a carpentry shop; a building with two efficiency apartments; the prior’s residence; an adjacent two-story office building; campgrounds; three large picnic shelters, and a cemetery. The well-furnished, well-landscaped retreat center also features altars, statues, Stations of the Cross, and art work.

The Knights of Columbus will assist with the retreat center in an important way, Bishop Stika said.

“The councils are going to take it upon themselves to take care of the landscaping and the mowing,” he said. “I’m going to create a board at some point to govern the retreat center. We’re grateful that we’re going to have caretakers on the property and that the property is safe as well.”

The previous owner said of the donation, “We are dedicated Catholics, and we know that whatever we have, we only have custody of it. We are entrusted with it for a time, because in reality everything belongs to God.”

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