The Bishop DeFalco Retreat and Conference Center began as a dream of the late Lawrence M. DeFalco, who was installed as the Bishop of Amarillo on June 13, 1963. Sadly he never realized his dream of a Retreat Center due to his untimely death in September of 1979. As his successor, Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen, along with a team of two Redemptorist priests, took on the responsibility of seeing “a dream come true.”
Discussions of plans for the Retreat Center began in October of 1980. Ground was broken in September of 1981 followed by the beginnings of construction. The center began operations in November of 1982 while still under construction. A formal dedication and open house took place on December 12, 1982, bringing the Bishop DeFalco Retreat Center to Life.
The succeeding Bishops of the Amarillo Diocese, Bishop John W. Yanta (1997-2008) and Bishop Patrick J. Zurek (2008- present) have always been very supportive of Bishop Lawrence DeFalco’s dream of a Retreat Center, and its mission...providing a refuge for those seeking spiritual and personal development.
At the time there was a question; “Can a retreat be made without going to the country?” This question has been positively answered after over 30 years in operation, with over one thousand retreats successfully completed, and many, booked for more than two years in advance.
The Retreat Center is located near the central business district of Amarillo on 12 acres of land. The dream of a city retreat center with a country atmosphere seemed almost impossible. However, architect Mark Hinton of Vaughan-Hinton and Associates, and Wiley Hicks, general contractor, along with the many sub-contractors, went on to prove it could be done.
The chapel of the Bishop DeFalco Retreat and Conference Center is its focal point, by being built in a circular shape, the perfect shape, the symbol for wholeness and for eternity. Surrounded by rectangular shapes in the Retreat Center complex, the chapel is designated as a “special” place, sacred space, rather than secular as other places within the Retreat Center. The gallery extending from the reception area to the chapel narthex acts as a transitional hallway from a secular space to a sacred space.
The Stations of the Cross are beautifully depicted on the circular rear wall of the chapel and were designed and executed by Drew Bacigalupa. You may walk the outside Stations of the Cross added to the grounds several years after landscaping took place in 1988.
The stained glass for the Center was designed by Drew Bacigalupa of Santa Fe, and executed by Art and Thelma Tatkoski of Albuquerque.
The outdoor shrine, a mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was designed and executed by Angelo Marelli of Milan, Italy.
The grounds and gardens were not installed until the center had been in operation for more than five years. The “Beautification Project”, the landscaping of the grounds, was the goal for the 1988 fund raising campaign. Donor’s gifts helped plant a variety of trees, watered by a drip system. Contributions also paved the walking paths made of a crushed rock that bonded when dampened and rolled. This contributed to the Stations of the Cross being built along the landscaped walking paths in later years. Cunningham’s of Amarillo contracted the landscaping and Swafford’s Landscaping sub-contracted. The grounds and gardens immediately surrounding the center are maintained by retreat center staff and a succession of ever faithful volunteers.
The Bishop DeFalco Retreat Center also hosts a bookstore. It was once the only Catholic bookstore in Amarillo and still carries some books the other stores don’t carry. Books may also be special ordered upon request. Along with books and gift certificates, there is also a selection of Christian music, rosaries, icons, cards, and various other items to select from that can be purchased through the bookstore.
Bishop DeFalco was born Lawrence Michael DeFalco on August 25, 1915 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. The eldest of nine children, Lawrence learned to take charge at an early age.
As he grew and developed, Lawrence became aware of a desire to serve the Lord in the priesthood. In 1933, at the age of 18, he entered ecclesiastical studies for the priesthood with the Diocese of Pittsburgh. This was during the Great Depression and times were formidable. Lawrence was not exempt from being challenged. In 1935 the Diocese of Pittsburgh was experiencing financial difficulties and had to let the aspiring seminarian go.
But, future Bishop DeFalco was determined to continue his studies and be ordained a priest. Lawrence found another seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas that was willing to take him. There he finished his studies and was finally ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church in 1942.
Although Lawrence was a Pennsylvanian by birth, he developed a deep appreciation for the Southwest and the Hispanic culture. This would serve him well when news arrived that he was to become bishop of the Diocese of Amarillo. On June 13, 1963, Rev. Lawrence was installed as Bishop of Amarillo.
Lawrence M. DeFalco had become the fifth bishop of this vast area. He was a spiritual man, quiet but empathetic. He was also considered a prudent and practical person. It has been said that his dark eyes looked straight into the mind and heart of others and his words were forthright. Although Bishop DeFalco seemed serious, his laughter was joyous when it appeared. He was also an ardent sports enthusiast, being an avid golfer and a great follower of the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When Bishop Lawrence assumed responsibility for the Church in the Texas Panhandle, the Second Vatican Council was still in session. Faithful to the spirit of this historic council, DeFalco was one of the first bishops to establish a Pastoral Council of Lay People. His care for the faithful entrusted to him went far beyond implementing the changes of Vatican II. Bishop DeFalco was tireless in the work of pasturing his flock. He traveled widely about the diocese, sometimes offering four Masses at different locations in a single weekend. Scarcely an invitation or meeting went unattended.
Sadly, Bishop DeFalco developed cancer that swiftly spread. He died on September 22, 1979 at the age of 64.
1 Timothy 3:2 reminds us that "A bishop must be irreproachable. . .of even temper, self-controlled, modest and hospitable. He should be a good teacher. . .gentle, a man of peace."
Bishop Lawrence M. DeFalco lived up to this mandate.