Visitors gather during an open house at the new home of the Franciscan Spiritual Center on the former Marylhurst University campus. (Chris Martin Studios)
Visitors gather during an open house at the new home of the Franciscan Spiritual Center on the former Marylhurst University campus. (Chris Martin Studios)
St. Catherine Hall, the former music building at the now closed Marylhurst University, is the new home of the Franciscan Spiritual Center. After more than 15 years in Milwaukie, the center is again on the west side of the Willamette River, in an Italianate brick building with music-soaked walls, close to where the ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia began in Portland.

On April 1, amid many boxes, the Franciscans opened the doors for ministry in their new home, one that is somehow familiar. It turns out that several of the Sisters of St. Francis who lived at the convent on Palatine Hill earned their degrees at Marylhurst and are well acquainted with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary who were teachers and are the owners and stewards of the former university campus.

Searching for a new home after their Milwaukie lease was not renewed, the center reviewed invitations from nearly 20 churches and organizations, toured four locations and settled on the historic and welcoming site in Marylhurst. The Franciscans will be using two buildings on the former campus to offer their spiritual ministries and welcome guests.

As for many other organizations, the global pandemic pushed the Franciscan Spiritual Center to shift their ministry from a focus on coming to a single place to extending the ministry to the whole world. The signature program of the center, the Franciscan Spiritual Direction Training Program, pivoted to a virtual and online format, welcoming participants from Zambia and across the United States, from Vermont to Hawaii. This summer, after two years in the training, they will gather in person at Marylhurst for their graduation.

The global reach will continue as the new cohort begins in September and already the center staff have accepted people from Singapore, Zimbabwe, Canada and across the U.S.

“We pray that vaccinations and health measures will allow this group to gather more often in person in our new space,” said Larry Peacock, director of the center.

Staff continue to offer spiritual direction to more than 100 people per month, often via Zoom, but now also at St. Catherine Hall. A half dozen staff offer a listening ear and wise guidance to those who come seeking direction and assurance for their spiritual journey.

During the pandemic, the center began group spiritual direction, where under the guidance and facilitation of staff and associates, small groups gather monthly to seek direction and support.

Besides ministries of spiritual direction, the center offers day programs on meditation, spiritual practices, art and monthly book groups.

“Come visit and maybe you will hear the walls sing a welcome,” Peacock said.