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in and around the Retreat Centre ...

THE LAND

Set in 500 hectares of pleasant bush and pasture land, St. Mary's Towers is gifted with an atmosphere conducive to prayer and reflection. St Mary’s Towers is significant also because of the well known historical figures who lived there and because of the substantial two-storey Gothic revival country residence which has altered little since the additions designed by Edmund Blacket in the 1860s.

About a third is pasture land and the remainder is eucalypt bush and sandstone ridges - so bring your walking shoes, hat and sunscreen as there are plenty of interesting walking tracks. The Nepean River gorge to the north, and Allan's Creek gorge to the west, run the full length of two sides of the property and are home to many native animals, birds and wildflowers. If you trek into the bush early morning or late afternoon - and are quiet - you will encounter wallabies, kangaroos, possums, echidnas and wombats. Platypus are also said to be present in the waterways.

Further down Allen's Creek off the property are rock paintings of the Dharawal people; the original inhabitants of this land. Unfortunately the paintings have been badly defaced. The Dharawal considered the land to the south of Razorback and at the meeting of the rivers to be Sanctuary land. To the north is ceremonial land. It is enriching to stand in this land, sacred from times ancient.

To the south of the property is the Illawara Coal (BHP Billiton) Tower Colliery, which commenced in 1978. Fortunately the tower and plant are not visible from the Retreat Centre but can be viewed from the hilltops behind the Centre. Douglas Park Drive (formerly Mt. Kiera Road) marks the Eastern Boundary of the property. The South-Western Freeway (Hume Highway ) cuts the property in two, with bush on the northern side and farm and buildings occupying the southern.  Two of the largest freeway bridges in the country connect the property to surrounding lands. Moolgun Bridge spans Allan's Creek, while the veiw of Douglas Park Bridge from the Nepean River crossing below is quite awe-inspiring. to menu

THE WEATHER

While Douglas Park shares a similar climate to Sydney, it sits in the shadow of the Razorback Range to the north, so rain may pass over Douglas Park while Sydney gets drenched. The contrary is also true. Douglas Park averages its highest rainfalls in January and March.
(hover mouse over the chart below to enlarge it)
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(photo: M.Cabrera)Summer is generally quite hot and winter very cold. Winter frosts are not unusal. Autumn and Spring sees Douglas Park at its best. Beautiful clear days and nights. Clothing by layers is best in these seasons.        to menu

ACCOMMODATION

Accommodation is available for up to 42 persons, on the two levels of the Retreat House. All rooms are furnished with bed, desk, wardrobe and hand basin. Beds are prepared for guests prior to arrival and fresh linen and towels are always available. You will need to bring your own soap and toiletries. Fans and oil heaters are provided for each room. All rooms and corridors are fitted with smoke and heat senors and fire alarms. Guests are requested to refrain from smoking, burning incense or candles and naked flames in the centre. All rooms have views open to the fresh country air. Larger booking numbers are usually accommodated in the Community House. We can cater for a maximum of 50 guests.

Downstairs are 11 single rooms with ensuite bathrooms. Guests who are less mobile are given priority when booking these rooms. Two of these rooms share a common ensuite bathroom - ideal for couples or guests who are accompanied by a carer. These downstairs rooms have quick and easy access to all of the Centre's facilities and gardens.

The upstairs 'rainbow wing' has 13 single rooms and 2 twin-share rooms (for couples and those who like sharing). The 'alcove' has 6 single rooms.

The 'brown corridor' has 8 older, smaller and less sound proof rooms, which are available at a reduced tariff.

The upstairs corridors are accessible via elevator or stairs. All upstairs rooms have access to common bathroom facilities (separate ladies and gents).       

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DINING ROOM AND MEALS

Breakfast is self-serve from the kitchenettes in the Retreat House breakfast area / foyer at any time.

Coffee, tea, biscuits, etc are likewise always available.

 

A main meal is served for lunch at 12.30 and a lighter meal at 6.00 in the evening.
These are served in the dedicated dining room which has a pleasant outlook on to the surrounding flowerbeds and grounds.

Meals served at St. Mary’s Towers are generally home-style cooking from a set menu prepared by our kitchen staff.

Fresh fruit, breads, spreads and other foods are available for you at any time from the retreat house kitchenettes.

Specific dietary requirements for medical reasons can be catered for.
Individuals with specific dietary requirements for medical reasons should indicate their needs when confirming their booking.

Our office staff, cooks and house-keepers will do their best to cater for your needs.

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RETREAT AND CONFERENCE FACILITIES

St. Mary's Towers Retreat Centre is a sacred, silent space dedicated to providing retreats of a contemplative quality. The full-time Retreat Team conducts a retreat program for eleven months of the year (February is maintenance month). A few external groups have permanent annual bookings in place, including among others, Chevalier Institute and St. James Parish (Sydney). Conference bookings are usually not taken as the emphasis of the Centre has been on offering a way into the interior journey nourished by a profound silence.
This having been said, the Centre has some excellent conference facilities. The main ‘HeartRoom’ has modern audio-visual equipment, capable of data presentation, large-screen DVD viewing, CD and MP3 playback, microphone use, and audio-loop transmission for the hearing impaired. Wireless broadband is also available.

The room can be arranged to comfortably seat up to 50 people. A lounge area with slow-combustion fire is a popular feature during winter.        to menu

PRAYER ROOMS

The Retreat Centre has three prayer rooms in addition to its large space ‘HeartRoom’ used for presentations and ritual.

At the end of the west wing is a small chapel in which many guests have been drawn into prayer by meditating upon the reproduction of Rembrant's magnificent painting of The Prodigal Son.

At the other end of the corridor is another room for personal prayer. Bathed in golden light in the mornings, the well at the focus of this room draws our guests to contemplate the living waters Jesus offered to the woman of Samaria.

 

Another beautiful space for prayer is found at the end of the east wing. From this place one can watch the rising sun edge its way over the horizon in the distance recalling the rising of God's love in our hearts. The timber stump in the room reminds us of the wood of the cross on which God's heart of love for us was revealed.

The community 'Jenkins' Chapel is also a lovely place to pray. It was built by Dr. Richard Lewis Jenkins after he retired from Parliament in 1860 and purchased Parkhall, which he renamed Nepean Towers. Jenkins intended to make Nepean Towers the religious centre of the area. The Chapel was designed by the celebrated architect Edmund Blacket. A deeply religious member of the Church of England, Dr Jenkins gained a licence from the Bishop of Sydney for worship in his chapel. It became a dining room for students of the Apostolic School in 1915, however, fortunately, it was reclaimed in 1971 for use as a chapel by the local MSC community. The rich tiling of the entrance way, the perfectly cut masonary and magnificent timber beams and ceiling, and the wonderful stained-glass tryptic window designed by William Macleod, provides a tranquil ambience which is uplifting to the soul. While the Jenkin's Chapel is for the use of the local community, visitors are welcome. For times of community prayer and daily Eucharist just check with the retreat house staff or community members.

Next to the Retreat House is a single story, white, timber building. The Douglas Park Mass Centre is a part of Tahmoor-Picton Parish. Built in 1918 for use by novices and scholastics, it was originally planned to build in stone, but instead the existing timber structure was built. You're welcome to use the church for prayer and reflection anytime. Times of Masses and other parish information is available on this website [see Sunday Mass Community].      

Of course the whole property is a place of peace and prayer - as we know, because God is so often reflected in nature. The walks, grottos and just the majesty of the bush at Douglas Park are a healing balm for the weary or questing soul.       to menu

THE ASHRAM

And out in the bush there is another place devoted to prayer and meditation. The stone meditation room is part of an Ashram which the late Fr. Vyn Baily msc began to establish in 1986. At seventy-two years of age he retired to St Mary's Towers and chose a little clearing deep in the bush about a mile from the main buildings and put up a tent. The tent eventually disintegrated but he did not. He went on to build a one-room hut, three by four metres, with a water-tank and a pot-belly stove, together with such modern amenities as a brick floor to sleep on and a lamp to read by. He lived there for the remainder of his life, teaching meditation based on the work of Patanjali's Yoga sutras, and living a simple life. Together with his devotees he built the stone meditation room in the early 1990s. Yogi Vyn (as he was called) died in February 2002 leaving behinid this wonderful legacy for other seeking simplicity and solitude.

The key for the Ashram is obtained from the Retreat House Administrator. There are several reverences asked for on the key tag. The Ashram is not available to visitors when individuals may be in residence on solitary retreat and are promised unbroken solitude. Even a friendly visit greatly disrupts that solitude. People are often too kind to say so, so please respect their solitude. Check with the Administrator, to find out if the Ashram is available.

Fr. Vyn Bailey msc built the Ashram over a period of seven years, between 1990 and 1997, after returning from time in India training to become a yoga master.

The Ashram complex comprises the prayer room, made of sandstone and the whole of the surrounding area. Numerous sacred places are scattered among the trees, caves and rock outcrops in the area. A little way behind and to the right of the prayer room is a circular area where Fr. Vyn said mass for the retreatants. Over these years, Fr. Vyn conducted many 'Ashram retreats', guiding people in the art of meditation, contemplation and yoga methods. For most of his years at the Towers, Fr. Vyn lived in the shed to the left of the prayer room, living the life of a hermit.

The prayer room itself is a simple rectangular sandstone hut, containing only some chairs and cushions for meditation.
The prayer room design is based on an ancient Middle Eastern temple dating from around 1500 yrs before the birth of Christ. The discovery was of a simple four-sided room with no adornments, carvings or religious artefacts. The fact of it being a temple arises from the multiple temples constructed in the layers above it, with increasingly complex adornments as years went by. Fr. Vyn built his prayer room on the design of this original temple.

It is for this reason there are no images or religious symbols in the room. It is a place where all people can come and experience God, no matter what their religious affiliation. It is a place to simply be in the loving presence of the creator of all things.

Many men desiring to connect with the richness of their male energies are drawn to this place. At the Ashram one can sit on the floor with just pottery vessels, nothing ornate, and sing at the top of your voice. Men today need this kind of solitude – even though it is in the midst of noise from the highway, the drone of the skydivers’ aircraft, the overhead passing of passenger jets. But it is also the place of rock and wood and earth.       to menu

GROUNDS AND GARDENS

We are fortunate to have exquisite grounds around the buildings and lovingly well-kept gardens for our guests to enjoy.

In 1842 Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, Surveyor-General for the colony of New South Wales between 1828 and 1855, laid the foundation stone of his country residence Park Hall on a property of 4500 acres. He grew grapes and fruit trees. In 1860 Park Hall was purchased by Dr Richard Jenkins and renamed Nepean Towers. Dr Jenkins continued to cultivate vineyards up on cemetery hill and sowed other crops. He also developed further the lawns and gardens and improved the grand avenue of trees leading from the main gate up to the house (that is the unsealed original avenue). It is thought that it was Jenkins who planted exotic species such as the Bunya Nut trees (Araucaria bidwillii). In 1868 one of the visitors to his Nepean Towers property who came by rail and then by carriage across the Douglas Park river crossing was Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, who planted two giant pines at the head of the old avenue.

From 1904 onwards the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart developed the farm, orchards, and vegetable gardens. In late 1922 a major fire swept up the avenue destroying the pine trees, much of the farm and threatened the main buildings. The abundant free labour of the Apostolic School students, novices and brothers saw many developments in the grounds over the next fifty years. However, with the closure of the school and the relaxing of the enclosure around the novitiate many hedges were removed and garden space opened up. In 1974, Fr Leo Hill was appointed with the task of developing the retreat centre, during which time a big effort was put into improving the gardens and grounds. Many of the existing beds were established at that time.   

Of special note is the wonderful rose avenue in front of the retreat house. The roses bloom up to three times a year with a festive array of colour and perfume. The other flowers beds too offer such resplendent colour, full of buzzing bees, and rich diversity reflecting the glory of God.  

Also worth a mention is the Tower's cemeteries full of rich spiritual heritage. Click here to browse the MSC, Good Shepherd Hill, Appin and Wilton cemeteries.     to menu

COURTESY TRANSPORT

The Retreat Centre is pleased to be able to provide you with transport to and from Douglas Park Train Station if required. In some circumstances, when Douglas Park Station is unavailable, courtesy transport may be available to Campbelltown Station. Transport arrangements including times and requests for 'pick-up' or 'drop-off' from Rail Stations should be made with the Retreat House Administrator when making retreat bookings.

Flight arrivals will easily pick up a train service from the Airport Rail Stations located beneath both International (T1) and Domestic (T2 - Virgin & T3 - Qantas) Terminals. If travelling out to Douglas Park travellers from the Airport should board trains on the Airport-East Hills Line or Southern Highlands Line heading to Campbelltown. Note that at Campbelltown you will need to change to Platform 4 for the non-electric train service.

For more information and maps to assist with travelling by vehicle, or for links to train timetables and maps, go to the Directions page.       to menu