The birth of a religious institution or ministry often begins with a charismatic person or founder. In the case of Holy Cross Catholic Retreat Center, they were two: Bishop Sidney M. Metzger of the Diocese of El Paso and Father Owen de Silva of the Franciscan Friars, Santa Barbara Province, California.
Bishop Metzger had long dreamed of having a facility in his Diocese to which God’s people might come to find respite “from the cares of the world…” He wanted a spot where souls could be at peace with the Lord. Through the generous response of the Santa Barbara Friars, the Bishop’s dream became a reality in 1954.
That year, a decision was made to buy land in the Mesilla Valley of Southern New Mexico on which to build a retreat center. The first retreat was in September 1957.
After over 55 years of service to God’s people, we reflect upon the many people who have come to this “sacred” space. We desire to continue the rich tradition over the years and we invite you to join with us in making our dreams and desires a reality.
We continue to invest in the growth and maintenance of Holy Cross Retreat center so that it will yield a rich harvest in time and in eternity. With your support during these 50 years and more, Holy Cross Retreat was able to thrive and expand and extend a welcome to priests, women and men of religious orders, recovering alcoholics, married couples, engaged couples, lay women and men, youth, cancer patients and the various religious denominations who come here. All come “seeking” a sacred space to spend time with God.
In 1981, a group of recovering alcoholics, anxious to make available to those who would follow after them the rich spiritual blessings they received during a retreat at Holy Cross, established a Foundation for the support of the Retreat Center. The Holy Cross Retreat Foundation continues to provide financial assistance for maintenance, renovation, and expansion of the facility. They also provide support for retreat programs.
Reflecting with deep gratitude, a member of that group said, “The retreat which I made at Holy Cross not only saved my business but, more importantly, it restored to me my wife and family.” Because of the generosity of these three great men — Riley Brown, Bill Burton and John Clifford — dividends from that Foundation have made it possible for us to resurface the road leading to the Retreat Center, replace the roof of the old house Atrium, install individual air conditioners in each retreat room, and complete many other projects. It is very obvious what good-hearted people can accomplish when they work together.
We are grateful, it needs to be noted, to all those Friars who have gone before us: Owen de Silva, John Altman, Eric O’Brien and Mario Vasquez, to mention but a few of the Santa Barbara Friars; and, from our own Province, Killian Spechner, John Curran, Francisco Gomez, Raymond Ramos, Dominic Manion, Michael Wright, Giles Carie, Bruno Nemcosky, Noel Kramer, Josh Duplissey, Marcos Reyna, John Weber, Sebastian Cunningham, Cyprian Uline, Mike Austin, Bob Roddy, and Miguel Briseño. Recognition and thanks are extended to each of these men for their dedicated work at Holy Cross Retreat.
The following was compiled by Tom Smith OFM Conv. using deeds, original documents, letters, etc. in the HCR archives, Province Archives, and conversations with friars.
If you see errors or can add more information, please contact Fr. Tom.
James Buchanan, Secretary of State, confirmed the rights of the Escarate family to farm the property surrounding the current retreat center.
Frank Monaghan bought 90 acres of the Escarate grant, coming from Riverside, CA for reasons of health.
The original historic house was constructed by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Monaghan with adobe fashioned right on the property. The house had 14 rooms around a central patio.
Frank Monaghan died, and in 1927, his wife also died, leaving the house and ranch to her sister, Shirley Thomas. In 1947 Miss Thomas died and willed the property to her foster daughter, Beatrice White, who had married Henry Fountain, of the original Albert Fountain family. By 1954 the couple decided that the house and property was too much to care for and decided to sell part of the property, and build a smaller home on the remainder of the property.
The “building crew” of friars arrived in February 1956. The small conference room was constructed and used as the friary chapel and retreat office. The next building was the retreat rooms, begun in July 1956. In August 1957 they began the dining room and kitchen. The Chapel was then built near the dining room. It is now used as a large conference room as well as a Chapel for bigger groups.
September 1927, the first retreat was held.
The friars decided to buy 186.08 more acres from the Peterson Ranch, making a total of 232.01 acres. Most of this land was east of the retreat rooms. The friars cared for pecan trees and raised cotton, onions, and alfalfa among other things to provide income for the friars and the Retreat Center.
Oct. 26, 1958
Friars of St. Barbara OFM Province officially dedicated the Holy Cross Retreat Center. At times as many as 12 friars lived and worked at the Retreat Center.
The response the first year was about 3,500 retreatants, though the total gradually decreased in coming years. It became difficult to sustain the ministry just on retreat income. The HCR property included approximately 232 acres, with 140 under cultivation, mostly in cotton, along with vegetables and 40 acres which made up the pecan orchard. The second annual Open House on October 9th, 1960 attracted an estimated more than six thousand people.
The Senior class from Loretto High School in El Paso came to Holy Cross Retreat Center for a retreat, and the school has continued to bring their seniors every year since that time.
Brother Conan Shore OFM was assigned to Holy Cross Retreat Center where he was chairman of the annual Fiesta and helped establish the annual Craftfaire, (which later became the Renaissance Fair in Las Cruces).
Retreats for Recovering Alcoholics and Alanon participants become a mainstay of HCRC programming. Private retreatants come to spend time in quiet and prayer.
Engaged Encounter began coming to HCRC.
The Custody of Our Lady of Guadalupe was established by the Province of OLC. Nov 1976 The Chapel off the atrium was designed by Chan Graham of Albuquerque. The stained glass window was made by Graham and his helpers. The double arched doors were carved by Albuquerque woodcarver Miguel Weber.
Most groups by this time were hosted groups, not retreats directed by the friars. The Stations of the Cross were designed and built by Bill Smith.
Jan 18, 1980 A plot of land with 83.74 acres east of the buildings was sold by the OFM Friars to Albert Bures.
Feb. 10, 1980
The Holy Cross Retreat Center was transferred to the Custody of Our Lady of Guadalupe so that the Conventual Friars could continue the retreat ministry. There were fewer OFM friars interested in being far away from their California roots.
Fr. Killian Speckner OFM Conv. became the director of retreats from February through August 1980. Andrew Maas, Noel Kramer, Dominic Manion, and Michael Wright were part of the ministry and community as well. Noel Kramer was the guardian from February 1980-December 1982
Sebastian was Director from Aug. 1980 till July 1983. Friars Dominic Manion, Michael Wright, and Frank Gomez were also part of the staff of HCR.
The Doña Ana County Arts Council took over the annual Crafts Fair which had been going on for twenty years and moved it to the Las Cruces Mall.
The buildings and 152 acres were officially deeded by OFM friars to the Custody of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
A group of recovering alcoholics, Riley Brown, Bill Burton and John Clifford, anxious to make available to those who would follow after them the rich spiritual blessings they received during a retreat at Holy Cross, established the Clifford Foundation for the support of the Retreat Center. Dividends from that Foundation were used to develop the Holy Cross Retreat Foundation.
Decades of service by members of the Serra Club formed by Fr. Owen Da Silva OFM and funds from the Foundations have made it possible to improve the facility and complete many projects that would have been very difficult without their help. Here “Cappy” and “Ski” install new A/C units.
Oct. 2-4, 1981
A Franciscan Symposium was organized at HCR to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Franciscan friars arriving in New Mexico, and the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis. It was organized with the help of Fr. Sebastian Cunningham.
May 30, 1983
Holy Cross Retreat Center celebrated the 25th anniversary as a retreat house. Fr. Giles Carie was the director from 1983 till 1985. Friars Dominic Manion, Antonio Moreno, and John Pearson also lived at the friary at that time.
New Mexico State University brings a variety of groups for planning during the week, and continues for many years. 1985 Friar Dominic Manion became the director of retreats from 1985-1988, while also being the custos
Noel Kramer was the guardian and director from April 26, 1988-November 20, 1992.
Jul 10-13, 1989
An Interprovincial Conference was hosted at Holy Cross Retreat Center with over 52 friars participating.
Holy Cross Retreat purchased 34.855 acres of land to the west from the Fountain Trust, to keep it from being developed as a trailer park, and to maintain the atmosphere of the Retreats. This is the land from the Las Cruces lateral west to the road on which the Fountain House is situated, and from Holy Cross Road on the north to the road on the south.
Joshe Duplissey was retreat director from 1992-1994. Marcos Reyna was in residence as vocation director. Marcos and Bobbie Provencio changed the fiesta to become an Art Festival which continued till about 1997. Joshe Duplissey commissioned a number of art pieces for the dining room and chapel.
The Custody of Our Lady of Guadalupe became a part of the Province of OLC again.
John Weber became guardian and retreat director from 1994- 1997. The gazebo over the fountain was built and donated by Bernie Smith in mid 90’s.
Chris Bess bought 29.5 acres of property west of the road to the Fountain home from Margaret Pino, niece of Beatrice Fountain. He then traded it to HCR for 96 acres of land on the east of the HCR property. A portion was later sold for the New Covenant Fellowship Church.
Clergy and religious Orders, including priests from Juarez, Mexico come during the fall and winter for five day retreats.
Feb. 29, 1996
Chris and Mary Ann Bess purchased 22.341 acres of Holy Cross Retreat land. A clause in the contract requires that the land remain in agricultural use, with no dairy or other animals.
Confirmation groups and students from the Catholic High Schools in El Paso come for retreats.
Sebastian Cunningham was guardian and retreat director from 1997-October 1, 2001.
The entrance road was repaved. Serra Hall addition was constructed. The atrium was restored. The old adobe barn was removed and the parking lot was enlarged. Carpeting was replaced in the Conference Rooms. The Chapel carpet and seats were replaced. Restroom renovations were done.
Don Adamski was guardian from August 2001-2005. Sebastian Cunningham continued as director 2001 till December 2002.
ACTS retreats begin in El Paso and are hosted by HCRC.
Marriage Encounter and Elder Hostel are less popular but continue till about 2004.
Cyprian Uline was retreat director from Jan. 2003 till 2005.
Air Conditioners were installed in the retreat rooms.
The deacon formation program began meeting at HCRC.
The Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts was revived after several years, to bring a large group of artists, musicians, and others to enjoy the atmosphere of the Retreat Center and raise awareness and funds for the ministry.
Miguel Briseño became guardian and retreat director from July 2005-August 2010. A campaign to build a new chapel was initiated.
New Stucco was added to the retreat rooms.
A new sound system, projectors, and window shades were purchased for the two conference rooms.
A survey as part of a master plan indicates that the property has a total of 89.28 acres, of which 54 acres has 2,420 pecan trees, 26.7 acres is alfalfa.
Johnny Pacheco became the farmer caring for the pecan trees, with a six year rental agreement.
Friar Tom Smith became guardian of the friary and Director of Retreats.
The Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts included 71 artists, largest group in a number of years.
All light bulbs were replaced with efficient bulbs and parts using a grant from El Paso Electric and donation by LBG.
The entrance road was repaired and double sealed by Smith Aguirre Construction.
New sewer lines were installed, with a pump to connect to Las Cruces sewer system. 7 or 8 old septic tanks still in use were filled in as well as three abandoned tanks. These had sand in the bottom, no leach lines.
New Evaporative cooler was installed in the kitchen.
Juan Albert was hired half time as business manager.
A walk in shower was installed in Room 1 to make it more handicap accessible
Holguin Electric began a process of replacing the main fuse panels and some wiring to upgrade the electrical system. Phase I and II completed Aug. 27, 2012.
Construction began on the new friary.
The Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts added the Enchilada dinner, beer garden, and sponsors this year.
Acoustical panels were installed in the large conference room to dampen the bounce of noise and improve acoustics. The same will be done in the dining room.
The report for 2012-2013 showed that 5,663 people came for a retreat or event at HCRC, and another 500 or so were served in events off site, eg parish missions, days of recollection led by staff. This is up over a thousand from the previous year.
A new slanted roof was built for the large conference room to eliminate possibility of leaking, and the long walkway, dining room, and kitchen roofs were recovered and repaired
Fr. Tom led ten people on a pilgrimage to the early Franciscan Missions along the Camino Real. It was well received and he is looking to do others in the future.
Deana Haiman, book keeper for about seven years, moved to Dallas area. Juan Albert became full time as business manager, salaried.
Friars moved into the new friary on the 23rd, leaving the former space available for private retreats, special guests, and overflow for large groups. Retreat center bought beds and furniture as needed to prepare the rooms.
OLC Definitory approved the construction of the new Chapel, estimated at $1,300,000.00 without artwork. Bob Brotherton expects to finish plans in December and put for bid first of 2014. It will be paid mostly from designated Chapel savings, and general retreat savings, to be built in phases.
With four priest retreats during the week, we had someone here every day from early October through early Nov.
Outside of Serra Hall was painted in preparation for 300th anniversary of the birthday of Juinipero Serra on Nov. 24th. We hosted a mass, DVD and info about Serra, then a meal to promote vocations and Serra Club.
Ground breaking ceremony for the new Chapel to seat 200.
Juan Albert has accepted a position at NMSU.
Aug 28, 2014
The renovation and expansion of the women’s restroom for the large conference room was completed in time for use for the Art Festival. All seem very pleased with the new space. This was paid for by the HCR Foundation. Cost was about $40,000.00 total.
Aug. 31 2014
The “Franciscan Festival of Fine Arts” drew 5,400 people (first time we have counted). The number of artists and sponsors was down a from last year, but still a very successful Festival–helping people learn about the Center, promoting the Arts, and raising about $40,000.00 for our expenses.
Carl McGrew has organized a volunteer crew of about a dozen people called “The Good Works Volunteers” who will be working twice a week on projects here. They will be replacing the wooden cross NE of the small conference room using a pecan tree from Bob McComas, installing irrigation and landscaping around the outside of the friary, building altar furniture for the new Chapel, putting landscaping around the Chapel when it is ready, and numerous other smaller projects. We are happy to have them!
Oct. 14, 2014
The corpse for the outside cross by the small conference room was repaired and repainted by Santiago Santanova and Kat Dube. The cross was replaced by the Good Works volunteers and today it is all finished. Much more noticeable.
Nov. 3, 2014
Debbie Moore has accepted the position as the business manager and book keeper.
Feb. 22, 2015
The Chapel was formally dedicated and consecrated with Bishop Cantú, Ramírez, and Seitz (from El Paso) in attendance. The 14 foot high cross, altar, tabernacle and stand, ambo, presider and deacon chair, Guadalupe stand, and processional cross stand were all constructed by the Good Works Volunteers. Bob Brotherton was the architect, and Tim Curry Construction the general contractor.
New headboards and bed frames, bedspreads and pillows, curtains, bedside table, and lights over the sink and small table were added in all 46 retreat rooms through the generosity of the Holy Cross Retreat Foundation and an anonymous donor.
A section of 30 acres of pecan trees near the highway was sold to a local farmer who has been renting the trees, with the provision that there will be no homes or businesses constructed there, and no farm animals. Thus we now have 60 acres, but it will still create a peaceful, rural setting.
A Rosary Walk and a Labyrinth have been added as two meditation areas near the new Chapel for retreatants and anyone in the area.
Each of the 46 retreat rooms were renovated, with the tub removed and a walk in tile shower installed. A new sink and tile was added to the floor and walls making the bathrooms much more appealing. The bathrooms in La Casita were also refurbished.
The large bell and the stained glass windows were installed in the new Chapel. Bishop Cantu and Fr. Jim Kent, Minister Provincial, came for a celebratory mass in recognition of the completion, and the full payment of the cost.
The hermitage, built by our God Works Volunteers with help from some contractors, was dedicated and is now available for short or longer stays in more solitude.
Holy Cross Retreat Center has welcomed people from Central America who are seeking asylum in the U.S. They often come with children, stay 1-3 days, and we help give them what they need and arrange transportation to their sponsors.
With the help of the Province of Our Lady of Consolation, 180 solar panels were installed on our buildings to be an ecological alternative to other forms of electricity, and to reduce the bills for electrical service.
The COVID pandemic caused the cancellation of most all groups. Individuals continue to come, and after a few months we were able to have small groups. May of 2020 some of the restrictions have been lifted as more people are vaccinate and we are now beginning to schedule larger groups again, thought it will be a few months before we are fully active.