st joseph

Time in the garden: Sister Christina Crawford works on the garden in the courtyard of the St. Joseph Conference Center in Tipton. Crawford has been in the St. Joseph order for 58 years, with 24 of those years spent at the Tipton congregation house.

The idyllic setting, well-kept landscapes and spiritual charity at Congregation of St. Joseph may be the best-kept secret in Tipton.

But for the 25 Catholic nuns who call St. Joseph Conference and Retreat Center home, it’s a secret they want to share.

And considering the congregation has been located on 1440 W. Division Rd. since 1888, it’s a bit of a mystery to Bridget Brewster, mission advancement coordinator, why it’s a secret at all.

“There’s so many people who live within a mile radius of here who have never been in this building and have no idea what we do here ... I think neighbors still think that we sleep on cement pads and we don’t turn lights on in the building,” she said.

But the misconceptions are something the congregation is trying to dispel.

For instance, take the traditional notion of nuns dressed in black habits, cloistered behind the walls of a nunnery.

At St. Joseph, sisters stopped wearing traditional garb in the 1960s to assimilate to the surrounding culture and better meet the needs of their neighbors.

“A lot of people today don’t understand that,” said Sister Theresa MacIntyre, administrator at the congregation. “They think we’ve abandoned our heritage. But it’s really just trying to be more faithful to what we’ve been called to in the first place.”

And since 1650, when the Congregation of St. Joseph religious order was first founded in France, that calling has been showing inclusive love to neighbors and challenging sisters to “do all works of which women are capable,” Brewster said.

“I’m just mesmerized that in the 17th century, they weren’t just called to be teachers or nurses, but all things capable of women,” she said.

Today at St. Joseph, sisters fulfill that mission through their conference and retreat centers, which hundreds of individuals, churches, non-profits and businesses use each year for seminars and spiritual workshops.

“I feel that our ministry is to provide hospitality and services to support those churches and groups,” said Melissa Bear, conference center coordinator. “Our ministry is to help you with your ministry.”

To that end, Congregation of St. Joseph offers large dormitory-style lodgings with full dining services and banquet halls, a century-old farm house called Little Noddfa and a secluded, story-book log cabin.

All the facilities are serviced by a 40-member staff as well as the nuns, some of whom offer seminars on aging and personal growth.

For those simply seeking spiritual tranquility, the 20-acre grounds house a walking labyrinth for contemplation, a stone grotto for quite prayer and plenty of shade trees and flowering gardens.

“Most everyone tells us the great peacefulness they feel as they step onto the grounds,” Sister MacIntyre said. “You find a different pace and ambiance here than many other places.”

Brewster said St. Joseph also provides the perfect place and setting for people to get in touch with themselves and encounter the divine.

“We want to be a part of facilitating that and meeting the needs of the soul that aren’t met at places like movie theaters or restaurants,” she said.

Bear said she was one of those people who grew up near St. Joseph. Even though she drove by it twice a day as a teenager, Bear said what went on at the center remained ambiguous.

But after moving back to Tipton and taking a job at St. Joseph, she said the congregation has changed her life.

“My spirituality has been greatly enhanced by being here,” she said. “I’m able to see what God is doing. To know that we help facilitate that brings a lot of joy to me.”

To give people a chance to see what St. Joseph is all about, the congregation will hold an open house from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Brewster said the event will be a chance to ask questions, share thoughts and tour the grounds.

“Come and see who your neighbors are and what this unique facility has to offer,” she said.

Bear said folks who come to the tour will discover a truly remarkable place of peace and tranquility.

“There’s something here that’s intangible,” she said. “It’s something you just can’t find at a normal hotel or other conference center.”

• Carson Gerber, Tribune reporter, may be reached by calling 765-854-6739 or via email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.

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