The beginning …1977 – 1999

The Cenacle Retreat House (1114 Virginia Street, East) came to be when The Most Reverend Joseph H. Hodges, Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston requested the Religious Sisters of Our Lady of the Cenacle to develop a retreat house in downtown Charleston.

Initially, three volunteers came to staff the Cenacle: Sister Dorothy O’Brien, Sister Anna Carulli, and Sister Mary Pellicane from the Sisters of Eastern Province. Sister Carole Riley, a Sister of Divine Providence, offered to be an adjunct member.

The Cenacle was a living prayer, in the heart of the city; a sacred space, in constant ministry, training disciples, among the faiths. For twenty-two years many activities were provided, including directed retreats, seminars, spiritual direction, training of spiritual directors, contemplative prayer, retreats for youth, programs, workshops, 30-day retreats, women’s retreats, as well as community and international programs.

Retreat with Elaine
garden of stillness
retreat house foyer

WVIS development and growth …

The West Virginia Institute for Spirituality has continued to grow and expand while maintaining its commitment to the formation of competent spiritual directors.

Throughout its history, WVIS has trained both lay ministers and clergy representing faith traditions including Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and Baptist.

The ongoing associates program provides “hands-on” experience of praying with the Scriptures, a holistic approach to spirituality and the tools and skills to qualify associates for the ministry.

In 1988…

An ecumenical group gathered to provide continuity to the spiritual ministry begun in Southern West Virginia by the Cenacle sisters. The West Virginia Institute for Spirituality (WVIS) was formed to provide space and opportunities for deepening mindfulness, prayer practice, interior peace, and for integrating moral and ethical values.

In 1999…

A Certificate of Incorporation in the State of West Virginia, as a non-profit organization with 501(c)(3 )status was issued on December 23, 1999 to the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality.

In 2000…

WVIS leased the property at 1414 Virginia Street, East in Charleston, WV and quickly set an organizational structure in place:

  • Linda Cooper served as President of the Board of Directors of WVIS from 1999-2002.
  • Sister Carole Riley was appointed Executive Director of WVIS.
  • Sister Mary Pellicane was appointed Retreat Director Emeritus.
  • Sister Dorothy O’Brien was appointed Administrative Assistant and Spiritual Director.
  • Sister Laurensia Riimanu was appointed Hospitality Coordinator.

The WVIS Spiritual Direction Formation Program got underway with participants from a number of churches, including Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of Christ, Baptist Temple and others.

In 2001…

In 2001, the Board of Directors set the vision and mission:

WVIS VISION is: “To provide an ecumenical center for prayer and spirituality that is located in the heart of the city. This ministry encourages and promotes spiritual life through silence, prayer, retreats, and interfaith dialogue.”

WVIS MISSION is: “Dedication to providing space and opportunities for deepening mindfulness, prayer practice, interior peace and integrating moral and ethical values.”

WVIS continued to expand its offerings, established new programs as well as its identity (logo), and was recognized for its excellence in the formation of spiritual directors. These events included:

  • Sister Carole Riley receives the 2001 Mary Emil Penet Award from the national Religious Formation Conference for her outstanding leadership in the work of mentoring in spiritual formation throughout the world.
  • The program to train Spiritual Directors continues to grow.
  • WVIS seeks to expand its offerings and establishes contemplative prayer groups, prayer groups of professional women, journal-writing workshops, etc.
  • Development Committee established to design a 5-Year Plan.
  • In 2002…

    LaRee D. Naviaux, a member of the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) Council in West Virginia, accepted the Presidential leadership role for WVIS.

    The 1601 Virginia Street E property became the permanent home of WVIS Retreat House on October 21, 2002.

    Franciscan Sister and native Charlestonian, Sister Molly Maloney, O.S.F. joined the WVIS staff.

    In 2003…

    A Rite of Blessing and Open House was held for the retreat house in July of 2003.

    WVIS expanded its mission beyond West Virginia as Satellite locations opened in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

    In 2004…

    Ardath S. Francke was elected to serve as Board President.

    In 2005…

    In 2005, Robert J. McAteer was elected to serve as Board President. Using his skills, he continued to help raise awareness and opportunities for WVIS as he established a database and webpage for WVIS.

    Seeking to expand capacity at the retreat house to accommodate the growth WVIS continued to experience, plans were discussed for the renovation of the second and third floors of the retreat house as well as the renovation/rebuilding of the carriage house into a hermitage which would be handicap accessible.

    In July, Passionist volunteers began work on the 2nd and 3rd floors to make rooms usable for retreatants or those staying at WVIS.

    In 2006…

    In 2006, progress continued on the Hermitage Project until in April, the Ardath Francke Hermitage became a reality. Groundbreaking occurred in July and on November 25, 2006 a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held and the doors to the Ardath Francke Hermitage opened.

    Margaret B. Llamas was elected President of the Board in 2006 and Sister Ritamary Schulz, ASCJ joined the staff as an Associate Spiritual Director Intern. Additionally in 2006, Sister Carole Riley initiated the Certificate Program for Supervisors.

    In 2007…

    Individuals from four international religious orders registered to participate in the spiritual direction training program – India, Solomon Islands, Germany, and France.

    In 2008…

    Reverend Diane D. Shoaf was elected Board president in 2008 and another Satellite location opened in Southern, WV (Princeton-Bluefield).

    Two new programs were initiated by Sister Carole: Spiritual Direction Internship and Sabbatical Program.

    In 2009…

    WVIS initiated the inclusion of Board members living outside the Charleston area. Board meetings were scheduled with the dates published in advance. Where necessary, meetings were held through teleconferencing.

    New advanced certification was launched: Certificate in Advanced Supervision.

    Sister Carole celebrated 50 Years as a Sister of Divine Providence.

    Satellite locations launched in Berkeley Springs and Huntington, West Virginia.

    In 2010…

    Rick Steelhammer, a long-time volunteer at WVIS, assumes board responsibility.

    Founding board member Cynthia Neely expands WVIS ministry to Kentucky.

    The Associate Spiritual Director program continues to grow. The September program had twenty-two people in attendance – the largest group since WVIS was formed in 1994.

    In 2011…

    Charleston, West Virginia Chapter of the International Thomas Merton Institute was started by Reverend William Petro.

    Servant Song Ministries in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania is the site of off-campus spiritual direction training initiative. 

    In 2012…

    The former green house was demolished and the new Nazareth/Grace/Blessing structure was completed.

    On Christmas Day 2012 Father Paul Wharton was celebrant at the first Mass in the Nazareth Prayer Space.

    In 2013…

    The second and third floors were remodeled to provide retreatants with a private room.

    “Almost Heaven Retreat” was held at WVIS in June and at John XXIII Pastoral Center in July.

    Continuing to create spaces on the property in support of WVIS’ mission, Nazareth (a beautiful, spiritual prayer space) was dedicated on February 16 at 3:30 PM followed by a concert presented by Duquesne University Students.

    Also in 2013, the grounds at WVIS received a renewal with space for walking and enjoying the beauty of the grounds, space for individual prayer, and space for enjoying the outdoors. Flowers, shrubs, and trees were planted; the fence and gates were repaired/replaced/repainted; fountains and statues were added; a garden was planted, and the fruitfulness has been enjoyed by many.

    New website launched: wvis.org.

    In 2014…

    The new WVIS board president, Dr. Bob Harrison, also has the distinction of being the first graduate of the Associate Spiritual Director Program in 1998. Bob grew up in Mercer County, West Virginia and served as deal for the College of Professional Studies at West Virginia State University until he retired.

    WVIS served approximately 100 individuals during this year’s Almost Heaven Retreats.

    This year saw the paying off of the mortgage on the retreat house!

    In 2015…

    Margaret “Susie” Pace receives appreciation from the board for her work in revising the ByLaws and bringing them into a consistent format.

    Sister Mary Irene Sorber arrived at WVIS with plans to remain for three years to supervise WVIS housekeeping and maintenance staff. Lorena Thomas agreed to continue as the bookkeeper for WVIS.

    Reverend Bill Petro offers Spiritual Works of Mercy Retreat.

    In 2016…

    Deaconness Leanna Lake offers Sign Chi Do workshop which is a Christ-centered moving prayer exercise for people of all ages and physical abilities.

    Sister Carole Riley, C.P.D. represented WVIS Group Spiritual Direction program in Oxford, England.

    Elaine Soper, PhD and Reverend Thomas Soper continue prison ministry and group spiritual direction programs.

    In 2017…

    WVIS offers an international sabbatical program that can extend from one to six months. Included in this opportunity is the invitation to experience either an 8-day to a 30-day Ignatian retreat.

    WVIS expands its ministry by providing the Introduction to Spiritual Direction training program in eight states.

    In 2018…

    Reverend Dr. Michael Poke, pastor at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in St. Albans, West Virginia accepts the position of WVIS board president.

    Father Bill Petro celebrates his Golden Jubilee. Father Bill has been on the WVIS staff since 1993 and offers spiritual direction and is the director of the Charleston Chapter of the Thomas Merton Institute.

    WVIS hosts women’s recovery group meetings weekly.

    Certificate on offering the 18th Annotation Retreat is offered. 

    In 2019…

    Sister Ritamary Schulz, A.S.C.J. offers full-time spiritual direction ministry in Bluefield, Beckley, and Charleston, West Virginia.

    WVIS Southeast Region Rural Satellite is started. Spiritual Directors/Interns in that region include Elaine Soper, PhD, and Deacon Tom Soper as well as Nancy Partin and Phyllis Vealey.

    Reflections and Prayers for West Virginia is published in May (available see Resource section). This publication speaks of the people, the beauty, and the abundance in West Virginia and contains reflections from 30 different authors who volunteered to write as they believe in the power of prayer to touch lives and change hearts.