By Mike Viola
In 1952, an ad appeared in a Minneapolis newspaper announcing the estate of Joseph Lethert was for sale in Buffalo, Minnesota. The property was in a picturesque location along Buffalo Lake and caught the attention of the Missionary Oblates, who were looking to create a retreat ministry in the Twin Cities area.
The Oblates purchased the property and on June 16, 1952, Fr. Boniface Wittenbrink, OMI, arrived to take possession of the property. He immediately began converting the estate into Christ the King Retreat Center. Father Boni transformed the music room into a chapel, and within two weeks the first Mass was held there. Two months later, the first retreat took place at Christ the King. Twenty-eight retreatants attended, full capacity for the center.
Today, 70 years later, Christ the King Retreat House has welcomed hundreds of thousands of retreatants to the shores of Buffalo Lake to discover a deeper understanding of their faith. The current staff recently completed a celebration of the retreat center, one of the Oblates’ premier ministries in the United States.
“You hear a lot of noise in the world and a lot of competing voices, “said Fr. Richard Sudlik, OMI, the retreat houses’ current director. “To be able to go to a place where things are quiet and still, and that you get hopefully fed spiritually by the preaching that we offer, I think, is what people are looking for in a time of chaos.”
Since it opened in 1952, Christ the King has undergone four major renovations and expansions. Today, as many as 130 retreatants can use the facility at one time. In addition to the guest rooms, the center includes two conference rooms, two chapels and two dining rooms.
Shortly after the retreat house opened, the Oblates were pleased to learn of a local story about the land upon which the center is built. According to an Ojibwa Native American legend, the Native had called the land Dabinawa, a word meaning a place of shelter, solitude and peace. The Oblates are proud to use the land in the same way as its original “owners.”
Retreatants to Christ the King come seeking sacredness, peace, tranquility and the opportunity to find comfort in the Lord. Many retreatants ‘come back home’ year after year. There are a variety of retreat formats for men, women, couples and specific groups. Individuals can also receive spiritual direction either in-person or using virtual platforms such as Zoom and Facetime.
All members of the preaching team at Christ the King are spiritual directors who have received formative training in the spiritual life, human development, theology, scripture, as well as supervision in the ministry of spiritual direction. They value their own spiritual journey and are trained in listening to the impact that life has on the spirit.
Christ the King offers hospitality to Catholic and non-Catholic individuals and groups. Non-profit programs who do good work in the community also use the facility. Retreats for the dioceses of Minnesota, discernment retreats for religious life, Marriage and Engaged Encounter, parish retreats and 12-Step programs are also held at Christ the King.
During the past 70 years, the Christ the King community has had to persevere during some uncertain times. This perseverance was most necessary during the Covid pandemic when retreats were cancelled or had very limited availability. Over the past year, Fr. Sudlik has been encouraged that many faithful retreatants have returned to Christ the King. He is especially encouraged by the number of first-timers coming to the retreat center.
“We recognize 70 years of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is almost unbelievable to see how that tiny seed in 1952 has grown into our reality today,” said Fr. Sudlik. “With the help of the Christ the King community, we continue to be Dabinawa – a place of shelter, solitude and peace.”