The Dominican Retreat and Conference Center offers a multitude of programs for just about everybody. You can stay in the Windmill, which is a private hermitage with no TV or wifi. (Photos by Mike Matvey)
The Dominican Retreat and Conference Center offers a multitude of programs for just about everybody. You can stay in the Windmill, which is a private hermitage with no TV or wifi. (Photos by Mike Matvey)
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You have probably passed by the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center thousands of times.

Most likely while you were sitting in your car on this noisey, traffic-clogged section of Route 7 in Niskayuna, with cellphone in hand, forever connected to the world. Or getting ready to lose your temper at the guy in the silver Ford-150 truck that just cut you off trying to make a turn onto Balltown Road.

But amid all the mayhem and hustle-bustle, you didn’t notice the welcoming sign out front of the complex on Union Street that says it all: “Solitude on a busy highway.” And that is exactly what is offered on this 10-acre campus run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. “A retreat is a place to set away. And in our world right now, there is so much to step away from,” said Sister Susan Zemgulis, OP, administrator.

“We’re constantly on our phones, texts, emails. So we have things coming at us constantly, so a retreat offers a time to unplug for a bit. And allow yourself to let go of some of those exterior distractions, so that you can really hear the voice of God within you, your own spirit, your own soul. And then a little more clearly decide some next steps for yourself. It may be a time of renewal and refreshment. It may be a time of making some decisions. It may be a time of peace and serenity."

“And to just enjoy the beauty of creation around you. There are all these studies now that say if you spend three days outside, you know what that can do for your spirit. We don’t take advantage of that. So even just have a little bit of time where you can wander around the grounds, watch the chipmunks or the hawks, look at the flowers. It does something for our spirit and our soul.”

The retreat has programs for just about everyone seeking a contemplative, peaceful space. You can go on an individual retreat, in a group, such as the knitting retreat for men and women, and they also offer many 12-step programs.

There are private rooms for up to 45 people, a conference center and chapel with mural painted by award-winning artist Tomie de-Paola, that was commissioned by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’Ricci in 1958. The mural has depictions of St. Rose of Lima, Blessed Jane of Aza, St. Catherine of Siena, Our Lady of Grace, St. Catherine de’Ricci, St. Mary Magdalen and St. Maria Goretti. And let’s not forget about that famous windmill! The private hermitage has no TV or wifi and is great if you are looking for some quiet time for yourself.

“We’ve had people come for a day, people come for a week, we had a Buddhist practitioner come for five-week retreat anddo that there,” Sister Susan said. Sister Susan said even though the sisters are most definitely a Catholic organization, all faiths are welcome.

“(People say) I have driven past there for 10 years, but have never gone in because I always thought it wasn’t for me,” she said. “We are open to people of all faiths. Yes, we are a Catholic institution, but all are welcome.” Some programs are more traditionally based, including recitation of the rosary and Mass, but everything is optional, such as the knitting retreat in which, Sister Susan says, “the focus is on spirituality and less of a
focus on Catholicity.”

The 12-step prayer services are lead by a sister or priest, but you can “take what you want and leave the rest.”

The main focus is finding contemplative time for yourself.

“I think we get so caught up in the doing, what’s the next thing I have to do, what’s the next thing I have to do. It’s a real challenge to just be,” she said. “… How do we unplug? Because with all that other noise, it’s hard to hear ourselves think sometimes. And therefore it’s hard to hear what God is calling us to. To hear that supportive whisper. Because God is there in all of it, but can we still some of the noise enough to listen?”

For more information, visit https://www.dslcny.org.