Sacred Space


BY BILL QUINNAN     4/20/2022

The Heart of Jesus Retreat Center in Santa Ana is once again bustling with daily activities after an extended period of mostly virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The center re-opened for in-person activities last July with a day camp for children. Its current calendar includes school and parish-group retreats, sacramental preparation, leadership events, Lenten and Advent retreats, family retreats, vocation-discernment days and more.

Since 1978, the 2.9-acre Retreat Center has served as the primary hub of the works performed by the Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart within the Diocese of Orange. Anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 participants attend retreats at the center during a typical year, according to retreat director Sister Gabrielle. High-school students seeking service opportunities can participate as youth leaders in the Retreat Center’s Thursday afterschool program or weekend retreats.

“To see the ways that they are helping to form the children, the witness that they have and preparing them to be future leaders within the church I think is a huge part of what we do,” Sister Gabrielle said.

Sister Gabrielle noted that catechesis has always been the primary charism of the Sisters. The Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart was founded by Sister Ida Peterfy, who was born in Kassa, Hungary, (now Kosice, Slovakia,) and began her ministry amid the threat of Nazism and later communism. Sister Ida escaped from Hungary to Canada in 1949 at the urging of her bishop, eventually settling her community in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Sister Susan Blaschke observed that Sister Ida was well ahead of her time, both in her whole-person approach to catechesis and her use of different teaching methods, including music, crafts, different forms of prayer, and for a time, even a children’s television series.

“A lot of what came forth as the fruit of Vatican II, the Holy Spirit was already inspiring within Sister Ida,” said Sister Susan. “Different people learn in different ways, different people experience God in different ways,” Sister Gabrielle explained. “We try to be comprehensive as much as possible within five hours to give them all of the different dimensions that are behind who we are as persons in our relationship with God, and then ultimately, it’s Him.”

In May 2015, Sister Ida was declared a Servant of God, the first step toward canonization.

The Sisters have also served as religious educators at a variety of parishes and Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Orange over the years, including Our Lady of the Pillar Church in Santa Ana, where they have served for more than 50 years.

Sister Gabrielle observed that the Retreat Center’s environment fosters a sense of sanctuary and tranquility even in the middle of Santa Ana, drawing participants in with everything from the natural beauty incorporated throughout the center to the chapel’s bright, stained-glass windows designed by Isabel Piczek, depicting various moments in the life of Christ.

Sister Susan noted that the smaller chapel setting affords a sense of intimacy as children participate in the Mass with their classmates.

“When they’re distracted, they’re distracted with art that speaks to their soul,” she added.

Originally donated to the Diocese by the Borchard family, the Retreat Center became a new home to the sisters when the late Bishop William Johnson of Orange decided to transform Holy Family Parish, where the sisters previously lived and taught, into the cathedral of the new Diocese.

Some 44 years since the retreat center opened, it is not unusual for the Sisters to encounter “second-generation” retreat participants, children whose parents also attended First Communion retreats or other events at the center.

“It’s imbedded in the families of our Diocese … it’s become a tradition almost to come to the retreat center,” Sister Gabrielle said.

The Sisters also serve the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the dioceses of Orange and San Bernardino through the Sacred Heart Retreat Camp in Big Bear Lake.

Those wishing to help support the Sisters may do so through prayer, volunteering their time or donations. Sister Susan noted that in addition to financial donations, some volunteers assist the retreat center by purchasing snacks for the center’s retreat participants.

Financial donations can be made online at, and even small donations are gratefully accepted. Volunteer opportunities include assisting with retreat preparations, food service, facility maintenance and more.

The center’s largest fundraiser of the year, the Gentlemen’s Haberdashery, will take place Thursday, April 28 at the Balboa Bay Resort. The event will feature 40 of Orange County’s most prominent male executives modeling a full range of menswear. More information about the event is available at

Those who feel that they may have a vocation to the order may speak to the Sisters directly or fill out an interest form online at under “Contact Us.

View this article BY BILL QUINNAN on the Heart of Jesus Retreat Center from O.C. Catholic at