Weekend Getaway: Lial Renewal Center

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By Petula Brown

The Journey 

Heading down US-23 toward Ohio was a familiar experience, but my expectations differed from past trips.  Over the years, visits to the Toledo Zoo and the Imagination Station made Ohio synonymous with family playdates and non-stop activity.  Driving south of Toledo was new territory, so missing the exit on US-24 near Napoleon led to an unexpected excursion into downtown Whitehouse.  Named for a local official in the 1800’s, the village’s rural, relaxed setting was a welcome contrast from earlier visits to Northwest Ohio and complements Lial Renewal Center’s low key, introspective environs.   

First Impressions 

The calmness and serenity of Lial reflects the intention of the Toledo Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame to create a space where all faiths can find sanctuary. Walking through the Center, the spacious, yet unassuming, setting invokes feelings of warmth that transcend religious doctrine. Windows and decks surround the building giving visitors serene views of the 94-acre wooded landscape. The Chapel honors the Christian roots of the Sisters, while the Hearth Room and Reflection Room are comforting locales for meditation, writing, reading, or nature-watching for all seasons.  

Evolution – From Sisters Retreat to Community Resource

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The Center’s name, derived from the names of foundresses Lisette Kuhling and Aldegonda Wolbring, reflects its spiritual foundation. Founded in Germany in 1850, the Sisters of Notre Dame came to the United States in 1874. Just a few years later, they were serving immigrant children in the Toledo area. In 1904, they opened Notre Dame Academy, an all-girls high school, and in 1924, because of the growing population of Sisters, the Toledo Province was established, with a large Provincial Center and Novitiate Building. Later they added a Catholic elementary school and early learning center. The Sisters purchased Lial property in Whitehouse, Ohio in the 1970s as a space for retreats and renewal.  Its large pond and wooded areas with trails are special features for reflection.

As the Sisters contributed to outreach initiatives across the globe, they also reimagined the retreat center building at Lial as a community resource to support individuals and groups seeking a respite from daily challenges. With meeting space and kitchen facilities, the Renewal Center has hosted business retreats, educational events, and social groups in an unpretentious setting. Its casual warmth also welcomes day visits arranged with staff. Individuals looking for a place to refresh and release will find ample indoor and outdoor space for walking, reading, meditating, and writing.  Lial can also provide trained spiritual directors to support an individual’s faith journey regardless of religious affiliation. For longer respites, the Center maintains affordable accommodations available for reservation. While the Center is wi-fi enabled, rooms forgo televisions and phones to minimize distractions and support introspection.  

With an emphasis on spiritual reflection, Lial offers an experience that differs from hotel or bed and breakfast facilities.  As part of a campus that includes a school and residences for Sisters, the Renewal Center is an extension of the Sisters’ outreach efforts. Whether a visit is a day trip or a longer stay, guests have an opportunity to gain self-awareness at a locale developed to support inner growth.

Beyond Lial – Oak Openings, Wheeler Farms, and the Local Dining Scene

Although you may choose to sequester within the Lial campus, visitors can also explore the surrounding region.  Less than ten minutes from Whitehouse is Oak Openings Preserve, the largest Metropark in the Toledo area. The site’s 5,000 acres includes fifty miles of trails, sand dunes, picnic areas, and fishing locations. The Preserve is also home to a variety of unique plants and wildlife including orchids, cacti, Karner blue butterflies, and flying squirrels. Nature lovers will also appreciate Oak Openings distinction as a birding “hot spot” with hawks, owls, warblers, and other species sighted often.  

Within Whitehouse, Wheeler Farms provides unique seasonal activities. During warmer months it hosts The Butterfly House, a home for hundreds of butterflies from around the world. In autumn, the site is a destination for corn mazes. With four different mazes, visitors can spend hours exploring the grounds with nearly seven miles of trails. The advent of winter means the beginning of Christmas tree season at the Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm. Thousands of trees provide families with ample choices and helpful staff supply guests refreshment while harvesting and preparing their chosen tree for transport.

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Whitehouse is also home to two local eateries. The Whitehouse Inn, a family-run eatery in a rustic lodge setting has décor emphasizing U.S. history.  At the Inn, guests can enjoy lunch or dinner at an establishment with ties to the local community for over twenty years.  Favorites include prime rib (including the 36+ oz. “Presidential Cut”) and seafood, but diners can also choose from a variety of salads and sandwiches. Gastropub Local Thyme is known for their chicken chunk creations with a side of live music on weekends. Thyme’s range of offerings include burgers and pizza as well as craft beers. As alternatives to nearby chain restaurants, both establishments provide an opportunity to experience the community that’s home to Lial.

While the Renewal Center will continue to host programs by external groups throughout the year, the Sisters also offer opportunities for spiritual-focused reflection and growth. Book studies, silent retreats, and bird watching sessions facilitated by Lial Sisters, or invited guests, are scheduled through every season. Lial also plans to expand midweek offerings for retirees that support transitions from full time employment.  As the Center continues to evolve as a community resource, it remains steadfast as a reflection of the Sisters’ commitment to provide a sacred space described as “holy ground” for persons seeking spiritual, physical, and emotional rejuvenation and renewal. 

To plan a visit to the Lial Renewal Center visit them online at www.lialrenewalcenter.org. Or you may call them at 419-877-0432 or email lialrenewalcenter@toledosnd.org. For more information on the town of Whitehall visit, www.whitehall-oh.us/31/About-Whitehall.

Posted on May 1, 2019 and filed under Columns, ISSUE 72, Retreats, Weekend Getaways.