Originally a preparatory school for young men discerning their Marist vocation, the Center has long been a haven for young people seeking to develop and nurture a spiritual life. Each year nearly 5,000 young people walk through the gates of the property to attend retreats and volunteer their time serving others.
The Marist Brothers of the Schools, a Roman-Catholic order of religious brothers, acquired the property in 1942. In 1967, the first Encounter Retreat was held at the Center, and in the early 1970s, the Center opened its gates for summer camps geared towards serving underprivileged populations. In March of 2016, the Center’s retreat programs and summer camps officially came under one banner – the MBCE-Mid-Hudson Valley Camp Inc.
The Center stretches over 160 acres of Hudson Valley landscape: pine knolls, shale outcroppings, tended lawns, and wooded paths winding down to the banks of the Hudson. As rich in history as aesthetic beauty, the property is part of the original grand Hudson River estates of John Jacob Astor and Oliver Hazard Payne.
In 1789, Marcellin Champagnat was born as the ninth child of a struggling family in rural southern France, where the French Revolution closed all church-related schools. When the anti-religious strictures of the French revolution were lifted, Marcellin went to the seminary to become a priest. He was assigned to a poor parish in Lavalla, comprising of sixty-one hamlets, each just a few stone huts in an isolated valley. His pastor was addicted to alcohol, and the church was neglected. The young priest began visiting his scattered parish.
In October, just three months after ordination, he attended the sick bed of a dying teenage boy, Jean-Baptiste Montagne. Like Champagnat, the Montagne boy had no schooling and was dying without knowing anything about his faith. Fr. Champagnat instructed the boy and prepared him for death. He was so moved by this experience that he resolved to do something to educate the neglected young people of his parish. He had no money, no approval from his pastor or bishop, no approval from the civil authorities, and no buildings, but still knew he had to do something.
In January 1817, just six months after his ordination, Fr. Champagnat began the Marist Brothers of the Schools with his first two young recruits. Despite all the hardships, the number of Brothers grew rapidly. They taught in the winter months in the scattered villages. In the summer, they returned to a rugged valley Champagnat bought on credit. There, they worked with him to hew the rock and construct the buildings that became the birthplace of the congregation.
When Fr. Champagnat died in 1840 at the age of 51, there were some 200 Marist Brothers, and within ten more years, there would be 2,000. Presently there are approximately 3,000 brothers in 81 countries on 5 continents, working directly and sharing their mission and spirituality with more than 70,000 lay Marists, and together educating close to 500,000 children and young people.