Salem Heights Sisters “go” on retreat via Zoom

Our Sisters at Salem Heights, our central house in Dayton, attended a retreat in March titled “Hanging onto Hope in our Beautiful Yet Imperfect World.” The presenter was Sister Melannie Svoboda, SND, a Sister of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio, for over 50 years.

Sister Melannie is a nationally renowned writer and retreat director. I first learned about her from one of our Sisters who said to me one day that I might like to try to get her for a retreat. I also read her reflections that are often in Living With Christ, which is a booklet with daily Scripture readings and reflections. I scheduled her three years ago, never realizing that this would be such an unusual year with the pandemic. We had hopes that just maybe we could do it in person, but it didn’t work, so we went with Zoom.

I knew that some of the Sisters here were not eager to participate in a retreat over Zoom, but it was a blessing that we did not anticipate. By using Zoom, we were able to invite the Sisters that do not reside at Salem Heights and so we had many others who joined us — from Chile, Denver, Michigan and others from Ohio.

Another advantage was that we could see Sister Melannie’s facial expressions so well. Also, one Sister who has a difficult time hearing said, “I could hear every word, and it was the best retreat I ever had.” Everyone loved the retreat, even those who were skeptical of using Zoom.

After listening to Sister Melannie in the retreat, I came away with the belief that hope has life and breath, especially in this past year of pandemic. Hope has walked with us each day into the unknown and uncharted future we faced. Sister Melannie’s words, stories, videos and visuals helped each of us to find the beauty in creation, the love in friendships, the time of letting go as we age, the apron of service and messiness of life, the time to be playful and enjoy leisure and also to meet our God in the still quiet moments of retreat plus much more.

May the God of all creation who made us in His image continue to bless all of our Sisters.

Story by Sister Nancy Wolf

Sisters participated in the Zoom retreat in Grace Hall at Salem Heights; Sarah Aisenbrey photo.

‘After listening to Sister Melannie in the retreat, I came away with the belief that hope has life and breath, especially in this past year of pandemic.’
— Sister Nancy Wolf

Retreatant’s view: Sister Genevieve Volk

When Sister Nancy told us that Sister Melannie was unable to be with us in person but would give her presentations via Zoom, I was disappointed. But after her first talk, my misgiving and doubt vanished. Actually, I found that making a retreat with Zoom had some advantages. We were all able to see the speaker because the screen was elevated. And the volume was easily regulated so everyone could hear well. Sister Melannie herself was so personable, her manner so warm and inviting, it felt like she was present in the room and speaking only to you.

I also liked Sister Melannie’s use of music, art, poetry and story. Almost every session started with music, usually a choral group. The song introduced the content of her talk. She managed to weave music, art and poetry in her talks throughout the retreat.

I appreciated each day’s subject, but what touched my mind and heart the most and has remained in my consciousness is the following quote about prayer: “Prayer is being with someone I love and who loves me.” Immediately I thought of our Centering Prayer Group. This is what we open ourselves to when we gather for Centering Prayer, a more contemplative prayer, a prayer without words or images but simply being in God’s presence. Being in the presence of the God who loves me. No words necessary. Just enjoying God and God enjoying me. Yes, in prayer, as in any relationship, there is a time to talk, there is a time to listen and there is a time to just BE with. “Prayer is being with someone I love and who loves me.”

How grateful I am to God for bringing Sister Melannie with her gifts and joyful spirit into our lives here at Salem Heights.

Sister Genevieve in 2008; Pat Morrison photo. Photo below by Sister Mary Lou Schmersal.

Time to reflect

Sister Melannie opened the retreat with a discussion on nature. You are invited to take a few moments to consider these questions and thoughts presented at the retreat:

Why is it so important to love and respect creation?

How did you first get acquainted with nature?

How do we show reverence for creation?

On the day of Judgment, God will ask only one question: “Did you enjoy my world?”

—Traditional Jewish saying

For further inspiration, you may wish to visit the Hubble Space Telescope website at

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