By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

Ephphatha House has new owners and a new name, but its mission will be the same.

The Carmelites have taken charge of the spirituality and retreat centre, about 15 kilometres northwest of Stony Plain, and renamed it the Mount Carmel Spirituality Centre. They will still focus on prayer, spirituality, meditation, and silent and directed retreats.

“We’re really excited to be involved this institution,” said Father Rudolf D’Souza, the regional superior for the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites of Western Canada. “Even though the name has changed, nothing else has changed. It will be a Christian spirituality combined with Carmelite spirituality.”

The Mount Carmel Spirituality Centre includes a chapel, a main hall and roughly 30 cabins on the 32-hectare grounds. On July 20 it was inaugurated by Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman and Carmelite priests from Western Canada, India, and Ontario.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Father Mario Fernandes, the new director of the centre. “Our main goal is to bring God to the people especially through our way of living, especially through meditation, contemplation and also teaching people how to pray.”

Fernandes said the Carmelites are focused on quiet contemplation, which makes the centre a perfect fit.

“We are living in a very materialistic world, and there’s so much noise pollution, so we wanted to come into a very remote area so people can have stillness and have God in their lives.”

Father Raymond Guimond, the founder and former director of Ephphatha House, said the need for such a facility is even greater than when it opened 27 years ago.

“People need a deeper spirituality and to develop a prayer life, and the Carmelites now can help people to develop that. The Carmelites can do much more than ever. They’re continuing a similar mission.”

Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman agreed, noting the “deep spirituality” and community involvement of the Carmelites. “I think it’s fantastic. I think they have something great to bring to the Archdiocese. It’s something ancient but brand new.”

The Carmelites have big plans to renovate the centre. They have already spent about $45,000 upgrading, and D’Souza said they plan to spend about $50,000 more, including building a separate monastery on the grounds.

“It’s part of the future of the Carmelites in Canada to increase the number of local vocations, build new monasteries and spread the good news of Christ,” D’Souza said, noting that in October 2015, they opened the Little Flower Monastery in Vancouver.

There will be some changes to programs at Mount Carmel, but it will “have same mission and spirit of Father Raymond, with a focus on Christian spirituality, training and prayer,” D’Souza said.

D’Souza said he hopes patrons of Ephphatha House won’t “abandon” it.

Robert Blackburn, who built the chapel and grotto on the grounds, said he wouldn’t have missed the inauguration ceremony “for the world.”

“I think this is a great thing they’re doing. I really do,” he said. “There’s no mistake here. Something tells me this will be good.”

Blackburn said he doesn’t get a chance to visit the centre as much as he used to, although that might change: “I think I’ll get acquainted a little more!”