By Eric Martinez
Special to The Texas Catholic
Gray tiles on the bathroom floors of a newly renovated house gleam in the lights from the modern light fixtures. Accessories and decorative pieces throughout the house, matching bed covers and painted kitchen cabinets are just part of the new look at Holy Spirit Casa 1 at the Catholic Conference and Formation Center in Oak Cliff.
There are six houses at the center, which offers retreats for groups throughout the Diocese of Dallas and beyond. Three of the casas have been renovated and three are awaiting sponsors to help with remodels and upgrades. Each casa sleeps 22 people in dorm-like settings, with a large living and dining area, a small kitchen that can be used for coffee and light continental meals.
Each of the three modernized houses boasts parish sponsorship in an initiative called “Bless This House” that sources labor and materials from volunteers.
“It was such an honor to be able to make the residence inviting and having a warm feeling for the individuals that come there to reflect on their faith,” said Kathy Anderson, a parishioner at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Duncanville.
Anderson said she helped with the interior design at the Holy Spirit Casa 1, one of six houses designated for lodging retreatants. She and a group of over 50 volunteers worked for more than five months installing new floors, painting and furnishing it with new and refurbished furniture.
Mike Cahill, a member of the ACTS Core Group at St. Paul the Apostle in Richardson, said his group has held retreats at the CCFC since 2012. He said he felt the need to help with the makeovers after discussing the center’s needs with the director. In 2017, Cahill and over 35 volunteers completed renovations at the St. Paul Casa 3 in over two months.
“It felt really great to give back,” Cahill said.
On April 11, a 25th Anniversary Mass is scheduled at the center, with a dinner to follow in the garden. The center is located at 901 S Madison Avenue in Dallas.
Bertha Escarzaga, the center’s director, started the renovations at the casas in February 2016 through the “Bless This House” project. The ongoing project hopes to revamp facilities such as the Casas and common spaces in the main buildings at the CCFC.
The center’s main building also has undergone renovation, including to the kitchen, the main restrooms and to the individual sleeping quarters used by priests who lead retreats. Expansion of the chapel is slated for the next phase of the project. Plans for future renovation include a new perimeter fence, driveway refurbishment, a courtyard and other expansions.
“I want this to be a wonderful place for our retreatants,” Escarzaga said. “We want this place to be upgraded to a wonderful level.”
When acquired by the diocese in the 1940s, the property originally housed an orphanage in the St. Joseph Home for Girls — previously located on the lot. Construction of the present buildings began in the 1970s when the diocese established the St. Joseph Youth Center.
In 1994, the diocese repurposed the buildings for the Catholic Formation Center and was renamed the CCFC.
Mostly used for diaconate formation and spiritual retreats, Escarzaga said she wants the CCFC to serve as the premier location for retreats and conferences for the entire diocese.
Fundraising and donations help drive the projects. With more renovations required at the center, Escarzaga said upcoming events hope to garner community support through contributions.
Escarzaga said the center generates additional revenue by offering meeting spaces, dining spaces and catering services within the diocese and offers dining services to local non-profit organizations.
“We want to be able to serve our church and our community every day,” Escarzaga said.
For more information on upcoming events, how to volunteer and casa sponsorship, Escarzaga may be reached at 214-943-6585 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.