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An Adventure in Following the Footsteps of the Founder

by | Mar 1, 2024

Article by Fr. Jeffrey “Skip” Thompson, MSA

March is “Fr. Menard Month” for the Missionaries of the Holy Apostles to honor the priest who founded our MSA and the seminary that bears its name. Back in 1943-46, the first ministry of the charismatic young Franciscan priest Fr. Eusebe Menard were retreats that attracted “a few good, older men” to discern priestly vocations. To facilitate his unique mission Fr. Menard built a retreat house and seminaries with significant help from a faithful layman: Mr. Hector Durand.

Fr. Menard and Mr. Durand co-founded the “Missionaries of the Holy Apostles” in Montreal, Canada in 1951. Their apostolate expanded into the U.S. with the help of Br. Joseph Barabie, a former real estate man, who founded the site that in 1957, eventually became Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT.

Br. Barabie later moved out to California to live and serve with the Camaldolese Benedictine monks, who had just founded New Camaldoli Hermitage in the magnificent Big Sur region on the central California coast as a place of retreat. One eventual retreater was Jeffrey “Skip” Thompson who went there from 2003 to 2006 and reverted to his childhood Catholic faith.

During one of Skip’s retreats in 2004, however, Br. Barabie died and Skip was invited to assist the monks move his body. He stayed for Br. Barabie’s funeral mass and noted his last words on his program, not anticipating how Barabie’s MSA identity as one of Menard’s men would guide his future vocation. In 2008 he began to discern the priesthood and flew east to meet MSA vocation director, Fr. Brad Pierce of happy memory. When he learned about Skip’s retreats to New Camoldoli. Fr. Brad recalled that Br. Barabie went out to live in that same place. He asked Skip if he met Br. Barabie and when he learned that 4 years earlier he had helped bury Fr. Menard’s old assistant he declared it “providential.” Fr. Brad concluded, “You can’t make that happen! You belong with us.” It was a moment of amazing grace!

After his ordination in 2015, the new Father Skip worked for 5 years at HACS as Dean of Seminarians along with several other Provincial jobs. What was also providential was his opportunity to return to California to pursue a Menard-like ministry of retreats in 2020. In 2022, he met with Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron. They agreed on operating a retreat house and a contract was struck with MSA Provincial Fr. Martin Rooney and the good bishop to run the new Retreat House at the Santa Clara Parish in Oxnard, CA, for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Another thing you can’t make happen! Bishop Barron’s comment to Fr. Skip was: “It’s all grace!” Indeed. Amazing.

Fr. Skip moved into the retreat house on Menard Day, March 26, 2022, and since then has partnered with laymen to support retreat offerings there and God-willing, help a few good men to discern their particular calling to the priesthood.

Reflecting on the value of retreats, Fr. Skip observes that they “involve one’s deliberate choice to make time to be with Jesus Christ in prayer and reflection. And that’s what allows grace to flow to hear his call to follow him!”

“Draw close to God and he will draw close to you.” James 4:8. Call the house at 805.330.8260 or email: retreathouse@santaclaraparish.org. Fr. Skip would love to hear from you. Get thee to a retreat house!