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Former Arkansans Betsy McNeil (left) and Judene and Loren Kuszak are leading the new Our Lady of Grace Retreat Center in Stillwater, Okla., about 188 miles from Rogers. Courtesy Betsy McNeil. Our Lady of Grace Retreat Center in Stillwater, Okla., opened in April 2023 on 300 acres, complete with a walking trail, lake, chapel and retreat center. Courtesy Betsy McNeil

Okla. retreat center offering solace from distraction

Arkansans are shaping design and spiritual offering at new Catholic retreat center

Published: February 22, 2024      
Courtesy Betsy McNeil
Our Lady of Grace Retreat Center in Stillwater, Okla., opened in April 2023 on 300 acres, complete with a walk- ing trail, lake, chapel and retreat center.

Nestled on 300 acres of rolling red plains sits a picturesque retreat center that beckons people to come, be refreshed and encounter Christ. 

Our Lady of Grace Retreat Center, located in Stillwater, Okla., is uniquely positioned to be a place of respite and spiritual refuge for retreatants from Oklahoma, Arkansas and beyond.

Situated between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Our Lady of Grace is a new addition to the Diocese of Tulsa. Since its dedication in April 2023, numerous Arkansans have been making the journey to the neighboring state to attend group or individual retreats, a workshop or just to spend time in quiet conversation with God.

Reasons abound as to why Catholics would head in that direction for spiritual inspiration. Besides the new retreat center, the Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine is located only an hour's drive away in Oklahoma City and the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus is not far in Prague, Okla. 

Three former Arkansans are at the helm of the retreat center and are making sure the welcome mat is out for the faithful from the Natural State. 

“We offer private and silent directed retreats that invite individuals into a deeper relationship with Jesus and to encounter him through silence, solitude and stillness,” said Betsy McNeil, a longtime parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Rogers, who now serves as the spiritual director and director of retreats at Our Lady of Grace Retreat Center. 

Since opening its doors almost a year ago, McNeil said the center has welcomed those serving in education, church and parish ministry and those in the medical field. 

“We have hosted individuals from abroad as well as from the Catholic Leaders Institute here at the center,” McNeil added.

Loren and Judene Kuszak, serving as director of operations and administrator, respectively, are two other familiar faces now in the Sooner State. Former St. Vincent de Paul parishioners, both the Kuszaks have diverse backgrounds in parish ministry and church operations, giving them the tools they need to oversee the day-to-day needs of the retreat center.

The spacious grounds of Our Lady of Grace Retreat Center are designed for both privacy and comfort with a walking meditation trail, lake, chapel and retreat center with gated access. The seven private suites are named after a saint with custom artwork and private patios furnished with rocking chairs. Home-cooked meals are served in the dining room, and the Pope St. John Paul II Conference Room seats up to 60 people and is equipped with the technology needed for conferences.

Quietly showcased is the talent and inspiration of a few Arkansans who helped in creating the worship space. The pews crafted with a wheat design, altar, ambo, presider chairs and tabernacle were built by Deacon Mark Verkamp of Charleston. He also refurbished two statues that formerly hung on both sides of the altar of the old St. Francis Xavier Church in Stillwater. 

Four custom windows from Soos Stained Glass in Little Rock are displayed in the chapel. Each one portrays a person of the Trinity and Mary and represents an element of nature familiar in the Oklahoma territory.

McNeil, who grew up in Stillwater, came to the retreat center in its infancy following the urging of the Holy Spirit and Deacon Glenn Collum of St. Francis Xavier Parish. 

McNeil said Collum felt the Lord was calling him to build a place for people to come and pray. 

“He and his wife, Laura, acted on these nudgings of the Lord and bought a large ranch in 2019,” she said. “Deacon Collum asked me to help run a spiritual retreat center that he wanted to build and after deep prayer, I felt the Lord was calling me to sell everything I owned, move and be here in the early stages to help and pray for the retreat center.”

Not long after, work began to clear the property, build roads, remove and build fences and run utilities to the property. 

McNeil set about organizing prayer groups and doing what she had done in Arkansas. She provided spiritual direction to parishioners at nearby St. Francis Xavier Parish and others who traveled to meet with her and be led in Ignatian prayer exercises.

Since then, word has spread and Our Lady of Grace has exceeded expectations. 

“Being here has been a journey and has changed my prayer life and made me more aware of God,” said Judene Kuszak. “It surprised us how busy we were from the beginning. It has been a phenomenal year, and we have fulfilled a need that we didn’t anticipate was needed. But you cannot outgive the Giver.” 

Looking toward the future, McNeil said their goal is to provide more opportunities for people to deepen their time of prayer. 

“We want them to connect to God and disconnect from distractions,” she said. “Our Lady of Grace is one of the few retreat centers that provides people with a place to unplug, breathe, meet with a spiritual director and sit by still waters and nature and witness God’s creation.

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