St Francis Retreat Centre on Hillsborough Rd in Auckland is closed for renovations until the end of August. This is the first time the friary has been closed for retreats since it was opened in 1940.

The current work is the second stage of a project which grew from earthquake strengthening work to include renovation, refurbishment and maintenance work.

The $2.5 million project will include seismic strengthening and installation of a new lift to provide access to second floor for those with disability and limited mobility. Renovation and refurbishment of bathrooms and the conference room will improve the space available.

On the ground floor, work is being carried out on an administration office, kitchen and dining room. This will result in new spaces being created as a meeting room, reception space and a new kitchenette with coffee- and tea-making facilities. The new facilities will ensure the friary can better accommodate several small groups at a time. The additional meeting room can also be used as a break-out session by large groups.

The kitchen refurbishment will meet modern hospitality standards and will result in an organised working space for kitchen staff. The old boilers and lighting are being replaced with more energy efficient units. Maintenance will be carried out on the heating system to ensure the building is comfortably warm during winter months.

The work also involves complying with requirements in terms of seismic strengthening and compliance with fire regulations. The work will help the friary meet the new building code requirement for safety.

The friary has a Heritage B classification from Auckland Council, which means the external appearance of the building must remain the same. The first stage of the project to improve the friary happened in 2015 when it became apparent that the veranda canopy and pillars were deteriorating. Between July and October 2015, the verandah canopy and pillars were demolished and replaced with a structurally different replica, to conform to heritage requirements. Retreats and conferences continued throughout this project.

“Such is the quality of the work that many have no idea that the new veranda canopy and pillars are not the originals,” said Fr Anthoni Selvaraj, OFM.

Guardian of the Franciscan community at the friary, Fr Selvaraj said some of the cost of the project is being drawn from a bequest from a deceased benefactor.

Some $1million is being sought from other sources, and any contributions from NZ Catholic readers would be welcomed, he said.

Fr Selvaraj said the Franciscans are committed to the latest improvement work at the centre primarily because the friary and grounds continue to serve many groups for retreats, and spiritual and human development programmes. The retreat centre is not only popular with the Catholic community and schools, but serves other Christian denominations too.

“The Franciscans want to provide a wonderful space to encounter the divine, through retreats, prayer and reflection days. For many of our guests it a sanctuary for healing, rest, hospitality and renewal.”

“The friary is also a popular venue for many not for-profit groups who find the spiritual atmosphere enhances what they are setting out to do,” Fr Selvaraj said.

“It is our desire that the friary will continue to be a point of contact and engagement with the Church for our secular society. St Francis of Assisi has a wonderful way of inspiring people to embark on a spiritual journey.”

Some of the upgrading work on the friary will continue into September and October, even though the friary is heavily booked during this period, including for Auckland/Hamilton clergy retreats.

A celebration of thanksgiving to mark the reopening of the friary is planned for when the work is completed.

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