By Amy Wenk
Folks at Ignatius House may soon hear some new noise.
If the city of Sandy Springs approves a pending proposal, construction could begin this year on the expansion of the Jesuit retreat center off Riverside Drive.
Hidden on 20 acres atop a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River, Ignatius House is normally a place where quiet is treasured. Since 1961, the retreat center has invited guests to stay and silently reflect as they walk the wooded trails with waterfall views.
“Ignatius House conducts group and individually directed retreats, spiritual direction and spiritual counseling engaging all people to slow down, take a respite from the busyness of life and seek to renew one’s mind, body and spirit,” said Executive Director Maria Cressler. “We actively offer these activities to men and women of all faiths and religious traditions, on a donation-only basis, so that we are truly open to all.”
The facility accommodates more than 2,000 retreat-goers a year and consists of 43 rooms, a dining facility, library, chapel and living quarters for the Jesuit priests. Administrative staff is housed in the building where visitors sleep and priests offer counsel, so they must preserve tranquility with small voices and tiptoes.
But this could change if the city likes the zoning application that Ignatius House submitted in February. The Sandy Springs Planning Commission will discuss the expansion at their April 15 meeting, and final approval could come as early as May.
Ignatius House leaders have launched a capital campaign to raise $2.2 million for the facility improvements. They want to begin construction this year and will continue to work in phases for several years.
“We feel very good about what is happening,” said Bob Fitzgerald, project manager and former executive director who retired last fall. “For the last 10 years, the growth has been in the double digits.”
Ignatius House came about in 1957 when Suzanne Spalding Schroder donated her two-story summer home and property to the New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) to be used as a retreat house. The retreat center is named after Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a sixteenth-century nobleman who established the Society of Jesus and developed spiritual exercises that encourage meditation. It is the only Jesuit retreat in Georgia.
The first order of business will be to construct a 3,000-square-foot administration building to the east of the existing retreat house for the nine full-time employees.
“We want to take the telephone and business out of the retreat house,” Fitzgerald said.
The approximately 12,000-square-foot retreat house would then be renovated. Additional rooms, including two handicap-accessible bedrooms and four private consultation areas, would replace the existing office space.
“A new resource building will remove all staff offices and administrative activities from the main retreat building to foster a greater stillness and contemplative environment,” Cressler said.
Improving the parking is also a priority, and the current lot would be extended by three to five feet, Fitzgerald said. That will add parking spots, beautify the appearance and improve accessibility, he said.
Money might be spent to upgrade the center’s power plant and to maintain aging plumbing and electrical systems at the priests’ residence.
Landscape improvements are proposed that “create an oasis” and “promote taking a deep breath and sighing,” Fitzgerald said. “Much of what we do is about stillness.”
The house where the Jesuit priests reside could be enlarged in coming years and is included in the expansion plans submitted to the city.
Also under consideration is the creation of two vaults for interning ashes of cremated remains. The vaults would be set in a memorial garden and designed in a way that blends with the natural surroundings.
“Ignatius House is a sacred place with 20-plus acres on the Chattahoochee River,” Cressler said. “Many people have approached us with an interest in having their remains rest at Ignatius House.”