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Cedars of Peace: Retreat hermitages in the sacred woods of Kentucky

Posted on February 20, 2023, by Christina Manweller

… rest a while

Sojourners on life’s journey find gifts abounding at Cedars. Quiet is interspersed with bird symphony. Solitude rocks you in gentle arms. Body and soul encounter deep rest.

The eight Cedars of Peace hermitages nestle into the woods on the Motherhouse property, each featuring a small kitchen and cozy sitting, dining and sleeping areas; a tranquil screened porch beckons. Cedars invites individuals to come experience the woods for a weekend or a week. Some stay longer — for several weeks or eve months.

A small wooden cabin is visible through the green trees.
Above, a Cedars of Peace cabin waits to welcome a retreatant. Below, the Peace Path brings visitors along a secluded walk in the woods.
Photo by Christina Manweller

Starting in 2004, the cabins, originally constructed beginning in the 1970s, were rebuilt by Susan Classen CoL using wood salvaged from other locations. A new cabin, Gratitude, recently completed, incorporates yellow poplar and Osage orange salvaged from a house built in the early 20th century that was slated to be burned; yellow pine was reused from the old Loretto Heritage Center floor; ash trees decimated by the emerald ash borer live on, their beauty a gift to us today.

Wooden sign reading "Peace Path" marks a path leading into the woods.
Photo by Christina Manweller

Cedars’s origins go back to the 1960s when Jane Marie Richardson SL yearned for a life of solitude but had not found others in Loretto with that desire, prodding Thomas Merton, monk at nearby Gethsemani, to ask, “How many do you need?” The answer: “None.” She moved ahead with her plans.

In 1975, Loretto’s Executive Committee approved Jane Marie’s request that cabins be built in the woods. Cedars of Peace was born three months later when construction began on the first four cabins and the chapel. Sisters, including Jane Marie, completed much of the interior and finish carpentry.

Two deer pass through a snowy woods.
Above, two deer pass through the Cedars of Peace retreat area on a quiet winter day.
Photo by Peg Jacobs CoL

I found I needed to seek God in greater silence.

Carol Kokocinski
In a clearing in the woods, a labyrinth made of stones invites people to walk the mulch path.
Below, the labyrinth at Cedars offers walkers a contemplative experience.
Photo by Christina Manweller
Archival black and white photo of two woman working together to saw a board.
Helen DoBell SL, left, and Carol Kokocinski cut wood as they complete finish work on a cabin.
Photo by Jeanne Dueber SL, Loretto Magazine, 1982

With time, additional Community members showed interest in living at Cedars for varying lengths of time. In a 1982 Loretto Magazine article, Carol Kokocinski commented, “I really discovered I couldn’t be at home except in the woods. I need this to survive. I found I needed to seek God in greater silence.”

Susan arrived in 2003 when Karen Knoll CoL was director; she was transitioning from Central America where she’d lived for more than 20 years. Susan spent a year working with Karen, then decided to stay, stripping and transforming each cabin, using elbow grease and salvaged material. Always on the lookout for wood she might repurpose, she shares the story of a Motherhouse housekeeper who, on her drive home, spotted a house being torn down. She stopped and said, “I know somebody who’s going to want that wood! Don’t burn it.” And so Susan procured the wood to renovate the interior of the chapel.

Woman holding a chainsaw partway through a log with logs neatly corded behind her.
Susan Classen CoL cuts cedar logs for a cordwood cabin in 2005.
Photo by Peg Jacobs CoL

One woman, after a recent stay at Cedars, found the small space so comfortable that she went home, sold her house and built a house about the size of one of the cozy cabins.

‘Gratitude’ springs forth

Woman holding a sander to the wall turns and smiles for the camera
Katie Leitch, volunteering during her stay at Cedars, sands the new shower.
Photo by Susan Classen CoL
Cozy sitting room with a easy chair, table and small heater. Big windows allow light to flood the room.
A beautiful room with a comfy chair lends itself to reflection and contemplation. The floor is yellow pine salvaged from the Heritage Center.
Photo by Susan Classen CoL

Nature has a wonderful power to take you out of yourself, letting you recognize yourself as part of God’s creation. Your own troubles are minimized. It’s sheer praise .

Jane Marie Richardson SL
Loretto Magazine, 1982
View looking through an old wooden gate of an old house.
This house was slated to be burned when a friend asked Susan Classen CoL if she could use the wood. She said yes, and wood from the house lives again in the newest cabin at Cedars of Peace.
Photo by Susan Classen CoL
Small wooden cabin with a front porch.
The finished cabin nestles into the woods.
Photo by Susan Classen CoL

To learn more about Cedars of Peace, visit the Cedars webpage.

To read all the articles in the Winter 2022-2023 issue of Loretto Magazine, click here.


Christina Manweller

Editor of Loretto Magazine, Christina’s nonfiction and poetry has appeared in numerous publications. For many years she served as Director of Communications for a Colorado-based peace and justice organization. Her background also includes English and writing instruction at a local community college, digital and print design work, and photography. One of her joys is visiting the Loretto Motherhouse once or twice a year.
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Loretto welcomes you

Learn more or plan a visit to the Motherhouse!