Phil Lemoine is pictured here as he stands on the stairwell located inside the courtyard of Our Lady of the Oaks Retreat House in Grand Coteau. He has recently completed a program of becoming a spiritual director and has since served as innkeeper of several retreats. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Keeper of the inn
Ever since the Jesuits first arrived in Grand Coteau in 1837 and built St. Charles College, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola have been spread throughout the Acadiana region as lay people flock to attend silent retreats at Our Lady of the Oaks in Grand Coteau to better know, love, and serve God and to find God in all things.
Some of those retreatants, through the New Emmaus Program, can also attend separate training sessions in order for them to assist the Jesuits in conducting the silent retreats or serving as innkeeper of the retreat house. Whether they are conducting a retreat or serving as innkeeper, those who complete the program also provide counseling as a spiritual director.
One Ville Platte native recently graduated from the program. “The program is designed to train and prepare individuals who are thirsty for not only holiness but for spiritual guidance,” said Phil Lemoine. “The whole program is based on the Spiritual Exercises that were written in the 1500s, and the whole idea behind the program is to cultivate your relationship with God.”
Lemoine began the program three years ago with 15 other individuals, and the classes were led by Fr. Joseph Tetlow, SJ. “We were very fortunate to have him as a teacher,” he said. “He’s 88-years-old and has authored several books and numerous articles on the Spiritual Exercises.”
He continued, “He’s well known worldwide for conducting silent retreats as well. To be able to have him as our mentor and our teacher is hard to compare to anything you’ve ever experienced.”
Lemoine’s interest in the Spiritual Exercises began 40 years ago when he first attended a retreat at Our Lady of the Oaks. “My life experiences here have transformed me and inspired me,” he stated. “I’ve been inspired because of the silence and solitude under the majestic oaks that give you a chance to reflect on your life to see what direction your life is taking and to take an inventory of your life.”
“The whole retreat experience,” he explained, “is like checking your moral compass to see what direction you’ve been in and what direction you want to go. It’s an experience, and the silence is something you can’t buy.”
Besides the silence, Lemoine also draws inspiration from the grounds itself. “Here in Grand Coteau,” he said, “there is really a lot of history, and a miracle took place here. There is a shrine to St. John Berchmans here at the Academy of the Sacred Heart.”
He added, “I’ll always value and treasure the memories I have from coming here, and it’s holy ground located a half-mile from the interstate.”
Since graduating in February, Lemoine has not yet directed a retreat. As he said, “We’re not guaranteed to give retreats, but we’re all hopeful we will be chosen at some point in the next year.”
“But,” he continued, “we are continually meeting every other month during the next year to continue our studies of theology, the lives of the saints, and the life of Jesus of Nazareth and His ministry on Earth. I’m blessed to have participated in this program.”
Even though he has not been a retreat director, Lemoine has served several times as an innkeeper. As he explained, some of his duties include “opening the retreat with an orientation talk to all retreatants along with giving a bio on the retreat director, and welcoming all retreatants to our Retreat House. We offer them assistance with their luggage and registration, and being in charge of the entire facility by checking lights, bells, alarms, locking and unlocking entrances plus accommodating the personal needs of each retreatant such as coordinating any special diets, medicines, toiletries, or library books.” He commented, “We are kind of like a porter in a hotel.”
The most rewarding part for Lemoine about attending the retreats and completing the New Emmaus Program is growing in his own discernment, which is a focal point of the Spiritual Exercises.
“I’ve learned how to make choices by coming to retreats and how to get closer to God,” he concluded. “I’ve also learned we should read the Gospels everyday as much as we can because, as we read them, we’ll read all about the parables and see all kinds of meanings. If we continue to do that and practice the liturgy daily, then we’re going to see a whole new point of view of what life is all about.”