By Father Michael Stearns
On the Friday after Pascha, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago celebrated more than just the Feast of the Life-Giving Fountain. Hundreds of both Clergy and Laity gathered together in order to participate in the Official Groundbreaking Ceremony of the Saint Iakovos Retreat Center. Despite the cold and rainy weather conditions in Southern Wisconsin, the flame of Christ’s eternal presence both illuminated the souls, and warmed the hearts, of all the faithful in attendance.
Led by His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago, and assisted by both His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos (Metropolis Chancellor), and His Grace Bishop Ilia of Philomelion (Albanian Diocese); these three Hierarchs, surrounded by dozens of Priests and scores of faithful, implored God to bless the work of their hands on the foundation of our Savior Jesus Christ. After blessing the sacred ground in front of the existing Chapel with Holy Water, the three Hierarchs led the Retreat Center’s Major Donors in turning over the sanctified soil at the foot of the Cross with ceremonial shovels.
Honored participants in the Groundbreaking Ceremony included the Center’s Great Benefactor Chris Tomaras, who has contributed more than $1,000,000 to the project; as well as Major Donors Harold Anagnos, Arthur Labros, Kosmas Pablecas, and Steve Regopoulos, all contributing in excess of $100,000. Parishes and Church Organizations were also recognized through individuals present, as sources of significant donations: Irene Arsoniadis, President of the Metropolis Philoptochos Society; Fr. James Greanias, President of the Metropolis Clergy Syndesmos; Fr. James Dokos, Pastor of Saints Peter & Paul (Glenview, IL); Fr. David Hostetler, Associate Priest of Annunciation (Milwaukee, WI); and Fr. Theodore Poteres of the Novak Foundation. Representing the Saint Iakovos Retreat Center Board were Bill J. Vranas, its current Chairman, and George Vourvoulias, past Chairman (under whose leadership the property was acquired).
At the conclusion of the Ceremony, several individual and organizational donors came forward to present sizable commitments to His Eminence, who was visibly moved by their generosity. All present were then invited inside the existing Log Cabin, where the Metropolis Philoptochos had prepared an elegant reception to honor the dedication of all donors to the Retreat Center. Those in attendance were reminded of not only the significance of this endeavor, but also of the important impact that the Saint Iakovos Retreat Center will have on ministry in the Metropolis of Chicago.
Construction is scheduled to begin in June on Phase II of the Retreat Center’s development. A Main Lodge Building will be accompanied by two Independent Cabins, at a cost totaling approximately $6,000,000. The project will additionally include significant improvements to the facility’s infrastructure, in order to prepare the site to become the permanent home of the Fanari Camping Program (Summer 2015). The Saint Iakovos Retreat Center’s current Capital Campaign is ongoing, with several significant gifting opportunities still available. In addition, the Board is planning a Fundraising Gala for early September in the Chicago area (www.metropolisretreat.org for future details).