Our History

History and purpose

In 1962, Gertrude and Evan Scholl donated their six-acre home to the Franciscans Friars of the Holy Name Province. With this gift, the cornerstone of the Villa Cortona Apostolic Center was laid in 1963. For the next thirty years, the center was dutifully run by the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ, a Franciscan Secular institute.

In 1993, however, then archbishop of Washington D.C. Cardinal Hickey contacted the Legion of Christ asking whether they would be interested in buying Villa Cortona for their retreats and youth and marriage programs. Fr. Richard Gill and Fr. John Hopkins, LC visited a local coffee shop to discuss the offer.

“We remembered St. Teresa of Avila’s famous quote,” Fr. John Hopkins said. 'Teresa on her own can do nothing. Teresa with God can do a lot. Teresa, God, and money can do anything!’ We had the first two parts of the equation, but lacked the third.”

Fr. Richard and Fr. John teamed up with a group of Regnum Christi lay men and women to raise a down payment, secure a bank loan, and make it happen. The name was changed to Our Lady of Bethesda (OLB) to invoke Mary’s maternal care for those who would visit the center seeking guidance and strength.

On the grounds of the retreat center Fr Richard Gill and Art Bennet also opened the Alpha Omega clinic, yet another means by which we provide spiritual and emotional care to our growing community. Staffed by clinicians who share our reverence for the Lord, the clinic helps individuals, couples, and families flourish through affordable mental health services that integrate with the fullness of the Catholic faith.

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Offering a sacred space

We aspire to reveal Christ’s love to all those who enter this sacred space. Our center is nestled among mature trees in a quiet Bethesda neighborhood minutes away from major highways, airports, and of course, our Nation’s capital. Our hope is to inspire the spiritual renewal of men, women, couples, and families with programming for every stage of life. Through an array of retreats, workshops, and experiences, we offer opportunities to have profound encounters with Jesus Christ.

At the heart of all that we offer is the charism of the Regnum Christi, which is predicated upon Christ- centeredness, the living of charity, and a contemplative and evangelizing spirit. We aspire to reveal Christ’s love to those who are ready to receive it. We yearn to form apostles and send them out in their God-given mission to help Christ build His Church.

We are living in providential times for personal holiness and the mission of bringing fellow souls closer to Christ. Now, as ever, Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center is committed to supporting our local parishes and dioceses in this transformative work. In everything we do, we strive to amplify the message of God’s mercy — the good news so many are searching for.

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