The Christian Brothers' Lodge
In decades past, one of the aspects of the Beaver Island ambiance that made a powerful impression on summer visitors and Islanders alike was the arrival of the meditative novitiates for another tranquil season at the Brother Domnan Lodge just outside of town. To see the Christian Brothers walk down to the dock on their regular evening trek in their long, black robes, either in silence or in prayer, provided a tangible symbol that spiritual concerns were still an important part of the modern world. Many of the Brothers came back year after year, and became good and helpful friends to the Island. To realize that this era has now ended creates a sadness that is tempered only by the many fond memories they have left in our collective heart.
Planning for the Lodge started in the mid-1920s, when the Chicago Order of the Christian Brothers began exploring ways in which they could build a combined retreat house and summer home for its members. J. P. Maloney, who had been in charge of the Booth Dock on Beaver Island, donated some of his property to this cause in May of 1928. Joe Burke, who had married J. P.'s sister Rose, was made the head carpenter when construction began in July of that year. The plans grew from input by various Brothers and former students of the Brothers in and around Chicago, and changed again during construction. Enough of the work was done by the summer of 1929 for the first Thirty Days' Retreat to be held.
As the Order grew in the 30s, its Island Retreats became more popular. After World War II the 20- and 30-day Retreats grew into 100 days, and Brothers from all across the country as well as Canada and Mexico looked forward to their time here. The 45 cubicles were frequently full. On many summers they brought underprivileged children to the Island, and they formed a baseball team to challenge the locals and the Coast Guard team. In the evening the Island kids would gather behind them as they sang in Latin around their campfire. Nearby neighbor Liz LaFreniere was engaged as the cook. Family reunions were hosted, and the parents of any child in a Christian Brothers school were welcome to come. Although they had their own Chapel, the Brothers were frequently seen taking Mass at Holy Cross Church. Brother Domnan himself passed away before the Lodge was open, but other Brothers made their mark in the Island's memory, particularly Brother Luke, Brother Kevin, and the kind and witty Brother Paul. For over seventy years they did whatever was asked of them--except to give a discount on Christian Brothers' brandy or wine.
The custom upon arrival was for the Brothers to carry everything they required from the dock on foot, as would befit their mission of contemplation and self-examination. When the Brothers departed for good a few weeks ago after the transfer of the title to their Island property, Brother Paul, the last to leave and struggling under multiple suitcases and backpacks, was asked by John and Joyce Runberg if he'd appreciate a ride to the ferry. "No thanks," he replied, his trademark warm smile beaming on his face. "After all, this is the way we arrived, so this should be the way in which we leave."
He promised to return; not in an official capacity, but to say hello to all his good Island friends.