Mary Alice Wilson Guenzel, April 29, 1926 – February 28, 2017. A native of Denver, Colorado, Mary spent most of her life in Ft. Worth, Texas. Feeling the call to return to Colorado, Mary returned in the early 1990’s where she purchased and rehabilitated the house which today is known as “Annunciation Hall.”
As Mary completed the rehabilitation of her home, she began to use the property for a larger good. With a spirit of generosity and hospitality, born of her Catholic faith, she would go on to purchase the two surrounding properties giving her approximately seventy forested acres for the purpose of enlarging her retreat center. The now completed plan includes Annunciation Hall, Visitation Hall and Conference Room, Seraphim Hermitages, Casa Jose, San Francisco Javier Oratory, and the administrative building–St. Mary Hall.
Since she began this effort, dozens of churches and organizations and thousands of people have experienced El Tesoro de los Angeles Retreat Center in its unique home-like retreat setting. Mary leaves a lasting legacy by her endowment to the Nuestra Senora de la Paz Foundation which will continue the mission of El Tesoro de los Angeles in perpetuity.
Only fear the LORD, and serve him faithfully with all your heart, for consider what great things he has done for you. 1 Samuel 12:24 (ESV)
The Spurs love to travel together and always look forward to the quality time that retreats provide. When thinking about when and where we might go, I mentioned that I had a friend, Mary, who had a beautiful retreat home that slept a lot of people and was located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I called Mary and asked her if she would be open to hosting the Spurs. She welcomed the idea with graciousness and enthusiasm. She would not consider payment from us. As far as she was concerned, the Lord meant for her to use the property to further His work. She welcomed the idea of a Christian group of women having a gathering with her.
When we learned that her home slept twenty-two people, we had the idea of including our daughters. We wanted them to spend more time with the Spurs and experience what a wonderfully supportive group of Christian women could mean in their lives. Perhaps they would be encouraged to start a group.
Not as many Spurs and their daughters could attend as we had hoped. Scheduling retreats is always a challenge but we knew that it would be meaningful for those who could be there. Six Spurs, five daughters, and Mary, our host, were in for an intimate and special time together. The retreat was so wonderful that the following year we went to Mary’s again with eleven Spurs and two daughters.
After six months of planning, the time finally arrived for the Spurs first trip to Mary’s home. The eleven of us flew into Colorado Springs at two different times. I was part of the first group that gathered early in the morning at the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport on the Thursday after Labor Day, 2003. We were blessed to arrive early enough to have lunch at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. What delicious food, a beautiful setting, and a fun way to begin our time together.
Since I was in the first group to arrive in Colorado Springs, we had the envelope of money that was collected ahead of time to spend on groceries. I was amused at the amount of food the others thought was needed for only a four-day retreat since I was the one who had raised and fed seven children and their friends. We were able to bless Mary with a lot of extra food when we left!
After purchasing our groceries, we continued our drive through Pike National Forest to our destination at ten thousand feet. As we approached Mary’s house, we were amazed at her majestic mountain home and her surrounding pastoral setting. There was a bridge over a pond near the entrance to the main house. Mary was on the porch with a huge grin to greet us. She had not met any of the other Spurs and yet we felt she had known each of us a long time. What a gracious and selfless hostess!
We entered the house and immediately sounded like a choir singing “Ohs and Ahs.” Large windows framed the beauty of the surrounding mountains, forest, sky, and clouds in all directions. Porches and balconies provided an uninterrupted view of Pikes Peak. We were surrounded on three sides with panoramic views of the Pike National Forest.
Mary purchased this beautiful home and majestic property in 1999. It was originally designed as a retreat for a church. All the rooms were large. We were intrigued that each room had different ceiling decors. The bedrooms and baths were scattered throughout the multi-level home. There were signs over each bedroom doorway with a name of a saint and the name of one of her children or grandchildren. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in her home, which did not surprise me since Mary was a devoted Christian and devout Catholic!
The home included a small intimate chapel, an extensive media room with a wide selection of classic movies to watch, a physical fitness room and a hot tub. I asked her how she managed to furnish all 22,000 [sic] square feet of the house since she had moved from a much smaller home. She replied, “The Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, and St. Vincent de Paul’s Associations!”
Mary had created in the woods surrounding the home, many areas of interest. Situated among the tall trees was a path with the fourteen Stations of the Cross. There was also a full-size teepee for her grandchildren. A mini-amphitheater was constructed for outdoor services. A separate building housed a full kitchen. We were very amused that what appeared to be an outhouse, was actually a modern bathroom furnished with a hanging chandelier and red velvet wallpaper!
Another building on the property slept twelve. Mary was a planner and a dreamer. Mary talked of future plans to remodel the building to include meeting rooms. She also has plans to construct a separate chapel building to accommodate a larger group of people.
When the second group of Spurs arrived later that afternoon there was another round of “Ohs and Ahs.” We had the first night’s meal planned, but little did the Spurs know what a treat they had in store for them. Our daughters decided that they would prepare the meals as a gift to their mothers during the retreat. It takes a good bit of work to prepare meals for a large group. What a precious gift of service! The daughters were caught up in the spirit of the Spurs.
The mothers and daughters spent the next three days immersed in faith sharing, praying, eating and celebrating a birthday. There was a perfect balance of togetherness and alone time. We enjoyed our time inside the home, often gathered around the beautiful rock fireplace, as well as time outside where we enjoyed walks in the beautiful surroundings of nature.
On Sunday, we lingered with our coffee out on the deck one last time before leaving our mountain top experience. The early morning sun was outlining Pikes Peak in spectacular beauty and color. We all agreed we were in God’s country and in God’s presence. We had a special closing devotional where we went around the room and gave each other a blessing. The Spurs left feeling all blessed and inspired after spending time with us. We unanimously agreed that Mary was now an honorary Spur. We drove away with a memorable, breathtaking view of Pikes Peak against a glorious blue sky. Thank you, Mary, and thank you, God, for this refreshing retreat. We give Him all the glory.