History of
St. Francis Retreat Center

From the beginning...

The Franciscan Friars friary and retreat house are built on the former property of Sylvester C. and Florence A. Surratt.  Mr. Surratt's ancestors were closely related to Mary Surratt who was convicted and hanged on July 7, 1865 as an alleged co-conspirator in the assassination of President Lincoln.  The friars purchased the property on May 10, 1954.

The real estate agency described the property in these terms: A Thirty-five acres of verdant landscape bedecked by hundreds of towering, whispering pines of every sort indigenous to this climate....flower gardens to delight the appreciative eye...carefully trimmed hedges...and believe it or not, there is a sporty nine hole golf course.  There was also a landing strip for small planes.  

 

The Franciscans Friars who owned and operated the Retreat House in DeWitt were members of the Custody of St. John Capistran with headquarters in Roebling, New Jersey.  In September of 1954 the Franciscans took up residence in the Surrat home, and work began on building the Retreat House.  Bishop Albers blessed the completed retreat house on October 9, 1955.    

The Retreat House in DeWitt was named Portiuncula in the Pines.  Portiuncula is Italian for Alittle portion, which best describes this tiny, calm oasis amid the high pressure hustle of the modern world. The first mens group to make a retreat was sponsored by the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus of Lansing.  The first group of ladies was the Catholic Business Women of Flint.  To free the rooms of  the retreat house occupied by the friars, and to bring the whole community under one roof, it was decided to build a friary.  On September 15, 1960 the new friary was dedicated by Bishop Albers.

 

In 1966 there was concern that the vacant land west of the boundary would be developed into housing.  In 1967 the friars purchased an additional 60 acres to bring the total to 95 acres of inspiring beauty. The friars residing in DeWitt from 1955 to 1988 were Fr. Dominic Dohanyos, Fr. Clement Kiraly, Fr. Julian Fuzer, Fr. Innocent Daam, Fr. Albin Thun, Fr. Maximus Mandl, Fr. Capistran Polgar, Fr. Eugene Lenner, Fr. Alexander Krupa, Bro. Benedict Barath, Bro. Emery Szendei, and Bro. Kurt Munn.  The first retreat master was Fr. Maximus Mandl, O.F.M., from 1955 to 1962.  Fr. Julian Fuzer, O.F.M., was retreat master from1962 - 1970.  Fr. Max was retreat master again for 1970-71.  The third retreat master was Fr. Capistran Polgar, O.F.M., 1971-79.  Fr. Max was again retreat master from 1979-88.

 

In 1988 the number of friars residing at Portiuncula in the Pines had fallen.  The responsibility of caring for the three buildings and 95 acres, along with providing retreats, was too much for the few friars to maintain.  In the best interest of the Retreat House and retreatants the friars decided to sell Portiuncula in the Pines.  With the approval of Bishop Povish, the Diocese of Lansing purchased the Retreat House in the fall of 1988.  Renamed St. Francis Retreat Center (in tribute to the Franciscans who founded the center), the center continues the rich tradition of providing annual parish weekend retreats and days of prayer.