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Why These Two Burley Brothers
Went on a Spiritual Retreat
By Bob Horning
Photography by James Luning
and Dirk Welte are two burly twins who played high school
football. Dean even played in college. They are the outdoorsman
type who, on the first day of deer season, you can find out
in the woods, or in the spring maybe on a fishing trip in
They also spend one weekend every March at St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt. Say again. For the past twelve years, they have been there with men in their parish St. Paul in Owosso and men of several other parishes in the Lansing Diocese. Fr. Larry Delaney, the director at St. Francis, describes the Weltes as full-bodied, all American young men, full of life and vigor. They are all-around healthy, because they have chosen to include the full spectrum of spirituality into their lives. They are also lots of fun. Why would these two automatically insert a weekend retreat into their calendar every year? After all, they already have a busy schedule and are happy with their families, church and work. Why would they spend their valuable time to do nothing but sit, pray, converse, relax and listen to talks?
Dirk, who is a network engineer in Mt. Pleasant, puts it this way: It is very easy to get tied up in all of the possessions this society has placed on our streets, in our homes and at our work place. When a person is surrounded by constant sin and evil, it is easy to lose track of why we are here. As a Christian, I need a reality check to put my mind, heart and soul where it really belongs with Jesus. If I did not have this annual cleansing, I would have a hard time dealing with all the mayhem life likes to throw at us. This retreat is a total rehabilitation of my soul. It rekindles my relationship with God.
Dean, an engineering supervisor for the Shiawassee County Road Commission, says, We were not made for this world. God has designed us for eternity. With that in mind, the world can be a cruel and harsh place to live. A retreat offers a life sustaining environment that is available nowhere else. God has our complete attention. There are no distractions or interruptions. You get a full connection with your loving Father. It is truly a small glimpse of His glory.
That attitude wasnt always characteristic of the Weltes. A year before their first retreat in 1992, Dirk had gone through a divorce and Dean was having a problem with drugs and alcohol. They had failed to follow the path set out by their parents, Mike and Kay, whom they both credit as being outstanding parents and models of faith.
Mike Welte was a pipefitter at General Motors, before retiring in 1992. Kay stayed home to raise their four boys, and now is secretary at St. Paul School (K-8). They are wonderful, spiritual people, their sons say. It was the consequences of straying from their upbringing that got them interested in their first retreat, at the age of 24. And it was their mother, who has been going to retreats as long as they can remember, who encouraged them to attend.
At the retreat, Dean recalls being stirred, blown away. We saw that we had been living in a comfort zone, picking and choosing the parts of Catholicism that we liked. Dirk adds, We realized then that we had a long way to go. We had one foot on the right path, but the other was going in the wrong direction. We needed to make a big adjustment. We had a void in our hearts, and God is the only one who could fill it.
After that initial weekend at St. Francis, they were hooked. The annual event has become more important and necessary than hunting deer or catching trout. I cant wait until it gets here, he says. And I am never let down. After being battered and beaten all year long, it is a chance to get cleaned up and recharged. My wife, Sue, and our two kids are glad to see me go, not just to get rid of me, but because they know I will be rejuvenated.
Many of the same men go on the retreat from year to year. And though they dont see a majority of the other men at all in between, after two minutes of gathering together each time, its like we havent been apart, Dean says. I could name all of them and how they have affected me and the others.
Remembering one of his first retreats, Dean shares, There was a person hurting beyond belief. He was looking for answers. With the grace of God working through me, I was able to help him relieve some of the tension, not by words exactly, but by opening my heart and showing him how much I loved him and how much God loved him. Would you believe that person is now a deacon and I go to him for my spiritual guidance? We are all drawn there for a reason, to help those who need help.
We have seen the retreat change so many lives besides ours, Dean says. Fr. Delaney is inspirational and gets us thinking in the Spirit instead of the flesh. According to Dirk, the atmosphere provides a chance to put down your guard, put on your slippers, and relax. The result is more hugs and tears than a man could imagine.
The reaction of one man who attended last year for the first time was I cant believe I have gone this long in life without a retreat. He has lined up three or four men for the next one.
Whenever given the chance, Dean and Dirk encourage young men to attend, because of how it helped them at a young age. They challenge youth not to be too macho to go. If every young person could do this retreat, the world would be a different place, they say. During the weekend, as at any retreat center, there are several ways to connect with God. Over the years, Dirk has come up with a formula that works for him. God speaks to me through Fr. Delaney, Sr. Sue Eichhorn, O.P., the lay volunteers, Dcn. John Sundwick and other retreatants. I have learned to take everything God gives me through these people, absorb it in my soul, then take myself to a quiet place. It could be out in the pine trees, in the barn, in my room, or in the chapel. I then pour my heart, mind and soul into an intimate conversation and time of prayer with God. I am now 37 years old, and can honestly say that God has changed my life through St. Francis Retreat House.
Dean experiences God speaking to him primarily through the other men on retreat. I feel through their testimony that God is calling me specifically, and wants me to listen to him and follow him just like the other men at the retreat, he says.
Ive found out over the years that God speaks to us in a whisper. He doesnt yell. If you close your eyes and let Him take you into His arms, He will softly whisper in your ear how much you mean to Him, and how He loves you unconditionally.
Since twelve months pass between one retreat and the next, the Weltes have had to work on ways to make the benefits continue throughout the year. Dean says that whenever he gets down emotionally or spiritually, he thinks about the guys and the retreat. He is also helped by looking over the retreat program and the notes that he took.
For Dirk, the secret is staying close to Scripture. One thing I do every morning is spend a half-hour in prayer time and devotions. That is all part of growing in the Christian life. It acts like a cell phone charger for me.
As for Fr. Delaney, the Weltes are impressed with his leadership of the retreats, except in one area his corny MSU and Irish jokes. He is always bashing us U-M fans. When we found out he raises 20-25 rabbits, pheasants, peacocks, turkeys and fancy chickens on the grounds, we had a way to get back at him. We offer to help out if they become overpopulated. We are pretty good shots.
Seriously, though, if there is a model priest, he is it. He is the meat and potatoes of the center; someone who is inspirational, but at the same time has the firmness to get his point across.
St. Francis Retreat Center
and Bethany House
On 95 acres in DeWitt, just west of Lansing, sits St. Francis Retreat Center and Bethany House. Fr. Larry Delaney, who has been director at St. Francis for 15 years, lists three goals the retreat center has for those who come there.
1 To get away from their hectic pace of life.
2 Have the time and quiet to listen to the Lord.
3 Strengthen ones relationship with God, or, in some cases, become reacquainted.
When talking about the need for a retreat,
Fr. Delaney cites a Jesuit study stating why most people never
sign up for one. It showed that they are afraid of three
things, Fr. Delaney says:
1 Afraid of the unknown
2 Afraid to be by themselves
3 Afraid of what we or God may say or do to them.
It is important instead to look
at the experience positively, not fearfully, he continues.
It is a chance to hear God speak. If we fill our life with
noise, we cant hear him. Dont be afraid of the
quiet part. Some people dont think they can be holy
for a whole retreat that retreats are just for
priests, nuns or special people. But thats not the case.
Our focus is on the universal Church.
An individual can come for the weekend or on weekdays for a private retreat if there are rooms available. The conference rooms at the center can be used by other groups for daytime or overnight meetings. On the site, too, is a gift shop with books and music to help with spiritual development and renewal. It also has gift items and religious goods.
St. Francis Retreat Center: www.stfrancis.ws
(517) 669-8321 toll-free (866) 669-8321
House, which is just over two years old, is the youth counterpart
to St. Francis. It offers retreats, formation programs and
special events as it seeks to evangelize and educate
youth based on the teachings of Christ, develop their personal
relationships with God and deepen their appreciation of His
Church, so they may go out into the world and spread the Gospel.
Fr. Jerry Vincke is the director.
Bethany House: www.bethanyhouserc.org
2004 St. Francis Retreat Schedule
To register, contact your parish representative or call the St. Francis Retreat Center at (517) 669-8321 or toll-free (866) 669-8321. For more, log on to www.stfrancis.ws.
Mens & Womens Retreats:
Free at Last!
The suggested donation for the weekend is $110.
April 30-May 2
Alcoholics Anonymous Women
Call (734) 654-7933 or (989) 723-7200
Alcoholics Anonymous Men
Call (989) 725-2300
Divorced and Separated Retreat
Nurturing Spiritual Growth
Retrouvaille: A Lifeline for Troubled Marriages
Nov. 19-21 Contemplative retreat for women (quiet)