Less Traveled 2012

Ernie Wiggins



The Rock Hill Oratory offers visitors oasis from worldly concerns

Posted 5/24/2011 10:56:00 PM

On an overcast Saturday in May, I arrived at the Rock Hill Oratory and saw that a powerful storm had split a hardwood shade tree near Newman Hall, leaving the nearly severed piece draped across the lawn and part of the sidewalk.

A dozen or so members of Friends of the Oratory -- mainly volunteers from York County Roman Catholic parishes and other non-Catholic churches -- were gathering with saws and other tools to finish the job that mother nature had begun. While one crew of workers was on the ground reducing the fallen tree to cords of wood, another team was atop Walsh Hall, the residence for the priests, replacing a roof that was badly in need of repair.

Friends of the Oratory support the congregation of priests and lay brothers by tending to the grounds and raising funds to offset the cost of running this center for spiritual retreat, which is open to all faiths and denominations.

“We support the Oratory because the Oratory has supported this community for years,” said Jon Varvel, a member of the Friends of the Oratory.

Founded in 1934, The Rock Hill Oratory is the first community of its kind to be founded in the United States. It offers its facilities to area self-help and recovery groups free-of-charge and rents the use of its Pope John XXIII Center other groups that are able to pay and whose mission is consistent with that of the Oratorians.

Father Elbano Munoz, C.O. (Congregation of the Oratory) who has been with the Rock Hill Oratory since 2000, said the 15 priests and brothers support themselves by working in the community as they are able and needed; the priests are assigned to five York County parishes as pastors or parochial vicars. Each of the men have made a promise to stay with the Rock Hill Oratory for life.

Though the Oratory offers a variety of resources and services, the Oratory is mainly a center for reflection and contemplation.

“We are a community of prayer,” Munoz said.

Travelers can stay at the Oratory for a private or group retreats, and day travelers are welcomed to visit the Oratory church, which is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and most of the day on Saturday and Sunday. Visitors who tour its grounds might explore the Prayer Labyrinth behind the Pope John XXIII Center. The labyrinth is a tool for reflection that merges Roman Catholic and Eastern spiritual traditions.

Getting there:

The Oratory
434 Charlotte Ave., Rock Hill

If you’re interested in going to the Rock Hill Oratory and Center of Spirituality for a visit or retreat, you may click here or call (803) 327-2097.