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October 1, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 24

ARTICLE

photo: Retreatants have wooded grounds on which to walk.
Retreatants have wooded grounds on which to walk.

The Well in Smithfield seeks to provide spiritual help

Abusinessman, whose work has become everything to him, realizes he needs to redirect his life.

A woman, struggling with remorse from having an abortion, finds peace.

A teen-aged boy, faced with peer pressure to use drugs and be sexually active, finds the strength to live a more wholesome life.

The Well Retreat Center in Smithfield, which celebrated its 25th anniversary on Sept. 15, has helped approximately 25,000 people like those above who have walked through its doors.

Through group and individual retreats, the center has been “a place of peace, solace and quiet,” said Tom Ashe, who co-directs the retreat center with his wife Linda Ashe.

Bishop Emeritus Walter F. Sullivan, who presided at the anniversary Mass, commented on The Well’s inspiration.

photo: Cutting the anniversary cake are, from left, Sister Nancy Healy and Diane Weymouth, former co-directors, and Linda and Tom Linda Ashe, current co-directors.
Cutting the anniversary cake are, from left, Sister Nancy Healy and Diane Weymouth, former co-directors, and Linda and Tom Linda Ashe, current co-directors

“The retreat center has been a spiritual oasis for countless numbers of people in Tidewater,” Bishop Sullivan said in a later interview. “I think we all need a spiritual cleansing or spiritual renewal sometimes. The Well provides these opportunities.”

The Well derived its name from the story in the Gospel of John in which Jesus speaks to a woman at a well in Samaria. When the woman made a routine trip to get water, Jesus was there and told her “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I will give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

photo: A typical bedroom has twin beds and a private bath.
A typical bedroom has twin beds and a private bath.

The Well retreat center, which sits on 23 acres in a rural area, provides a scenic place for people to nourish their spiritual relationships with Christ. Individuals can study and discuss scripture in one of its meeting rooms, can pray in the chapel and reflect on the teachings of Jesus in a tranquil setting.

For example, people on retreat may ponder the teachings while swinging in the shade, relaxing in a rocking chair, or praying the Stations of the Cross along a wooded lane, Mrs. Ashe explained.

“When people come here, I hope they get the sense that they have walked the path with Christ, that they have been healed in body, mind and spirit and know that the road they are traveling on will lead them home to Christ,” she said.

Although the Diocese of Richmond owns The Well property, the center’s focus is ecumenical. People from all Christian denominations refer individuals to The Well, and some corporations use the facility as a place to train employees, Linda Ashe said.

People may come to The Well, open year round, for a few hours or several days, even a week.

The center can lodge up to 32 people in its four cabins, or hermitages. Each hermitage has four rooms, each with their own entrance. The rooms, which are air conditioned and heated, have two beds and a bathroom. Two rooms are handicap-accessible. The meeting rooms have a homey feel, with sofas and chairs arranged much like one’s living room. One meeting room has a gas log fireplace and piano to complete the intimate feel, and wireless Internet is available throughout the conference center.

A library with more than 2,700 spiritual works provides reading materials, and a chapel with a tabernacle and a hand-made stained glass window offers a place for prayer and reflection. There are several areas for meditation on the property, including a Memorial Garden where one can have quiet time.

“People feel comfortable here. We give them a sense of being welcome and being at home,” Mrs. Ashe said. “A lot of people come here and they are really confused and hurting, and they need a safe, private place where they can pour out their hearts.”

Most organizations come with their own retreat plan and facilitators, but the Ashes will step in as spiritual directors when needed. For example, people on individual retreats sometimes want a guided retreat tailored to their personal needs. In such cases, the Ashes suggest scriptures for the person to read and encourage journal writing. They then guide them in discussions on the readings.

photo: At the 25th anniversary Mass are, from left, Father Oscar Paraiso, pastor of Good Shepherd Church, Smithfield; Father Joseph Majewski, retired pastor of St. Jerome’s, Newport News; Bishop Emeritus Walter F. Sullivan and Deacon Jim Tormey of the Diocese of Wilmington.
At the 25th anniversary Mass are, from left, Father Oscar Paraiso, pastor of Good Shepherd Church, Smithfield; Father Joseph Majewski, retired pastor of St. Jerome’s, Newport News; Bishop Emeritus Walter F. Sullivan and Deacon Jim Tormey of the Diocese of Wilmington.

“We ask them, ‘What is Jesus saying to you today in the scriptures regarding the life you are living? What changes do you need to make in your life that will change the way you respond to God’s word?” Mrs. Ashe explained. “We don’t have the answers, but God does.”

As Mr. Ashe explained, “I think a retreat experience helps a person have a personal relationship with God. I think in doing that, it helps us to change. If you are alone with God, and if you have a hunger and thirst, then a lot of things happen. God shows us a lot of different things.”

The Well has remained strong through the years and is self-sufficient, Mrs. Ashe reported. The Well supports itself with retreat fees ($50 per night for room and board), private donations and a strong volunteer force which helps with everything from ground maintenance to website design.

The Ashes also credit the center’s success on their frugality (they prepare all the meals for retreats) and for their willingness to go beyond the scope expected of a retreat center. For instance, the center hosted its first family reunion this year.

The Ashes also know that word of mouth is a great promotional tool, so they strive to offer the best experience they can.

“Our marketing plan is simple,” Mr. Ashe said. “We try to love people and serve them beyond what they might expect. Happy people tell other people.”

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