Bishop Lane Retreat Center is located approximately 90 miles NW of downtown Chicago and approximately 100 miles SW of Milwaukee, WI. Nestled in the midst of over 200 acres of beautifully landscaped and wooded areas, Bishop Lane Retreat Center offers a perfect setting for respite from the demands of everyday life. It’s not unusual to see deer, wild turkey, and other wildlife as one enjoys a walk through our picturesque, landscaped grounds, or while quietly reflecting along our outdoor stations of the cross.
In 1964, an anonymous donor gave to the Diocese of Rockford 205 beautifully wooded acres about seven miles southwest of Rockford, with the express purpose that the land be used for a diocesan retreat center. It was not long before definite plans were made to build such a center on the property.
Bishop Loras T. Lane spoke these words to the people of the diocese, in an appeal to their generosity, on “Retreat House Sunday”, September 19, 1965: “To withdraw from the world and its secular spirit for a few days, so as to ponder over one’s proper relationship with God and to his fellow man is one of the great needs of our day. With the spiritual strength and the orientation to life and its problems afforded by a retreat, our people will be better equipped to take their individual and corporate role in the mission of the Church as faithful and zealous members of the people of God.”
A year later the retreat center was a reality. It included fifty rooms with private baths, a spacious chapel, dining room, a conference room and a library. Bishop Lane dedicated the new building on Saturday, October 22, 1966. The first retreats were held that same month.
In September, 1968, shortly after Bishop Lane’s death, the Priests’ Senate of the Diocese passed a resolution to change the name of the Diocesan Retreat House to the Bishop Lane Retreat Center, as a fitting tribute to the man who worked so diligently to see the project through to its fruition. Shortly thereafter, Bishop O’Neill officially renamed the center in honor of his predecessor.
The School Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Family staffed the retreat center in it’s early days, and the first director was Father Thomas Monahan, who remained there until June 1968. Father Alphonsus Harte succeeded him and remained until June of 1971, when Father Lawrence Urbaniak was appointed director. In June of 1984, Father Thomas Brady became the new director. Then, in June of 1988, Father Brady turned the reins over to the center’s first lay directors, Donald and Lorrie Gramer, who served in this capacity until 2010.
In the fall of 1992, additional retreat space was opened, aimed at serving the youth of the diocese. Known as the “Family-Youth Center”, it housed sixty individuals in ten sleeping rooms. Due to an unfortunate accident, the Family-Youth Center caught fire and burned down in 1999. Its replacement, the “Holy Family of Nazareth Center for Youth and Family”, has a large main conference area that can be divided into three separate meeting rooms, multiple shower and bath facilities, and it sleeps up to 142 people in a combination of bunk style and individual sleeping rooms. Fully equipped with a serving kitchen, offices and built-in multi-media capabilities, it is perfect for large retreats and events.
For over forty-five years now, Bishop Lane Retreat Center has fulfilled Bishop Lane’s vision as a place to “…withdraw from the world and its secular spirit…” and “…ponder over one’s proper relationship with God and to his fellow man…”. There are a wide variety of retreats and programs focused on topics to benefit clergy, laity, and families; those married, divorced, remarried, widowed or engaged; those seeking respite and healing, or simply a stronger relationship with their Creator.