The Meritage Collection of resorts offers priests free stays when they celebrate Mass in onsite chapels

By Kimberly Porrazzo     12/14/2015

Father Peter Towsley didn’t look like the other guests waiting to check in at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara. While most who had just arrived at this AAA Four-Diamond luxury hotel were dressed in resort wear and had enough bags to fill the porter’s luggage trolley, he arrived wearing his Roman collar and carrying a simple small suitcase. What they all had in common, however, was the need to get away.

Father Peter is the Vicar for Evangelization for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., and Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Danbury. He says, referring to his staff, that more than his need to get away, “They needed a break from me.” He explained: “We just finished a synod unlike any other in the country. We did everything.” But he admitted that he, too, was in need of a respite.

“I needed a vacation,” he says, adding that he had heard about the unique offer from the Meritage Collection, which includes Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa Valley, Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach and Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa in La Jolla. “I came across some link about it,” he says. The offer is this: Priests are invited to stay at no cost at any of the resorts that have an onsite chapel if they celebrate Mass each day in that chapel.

“Trying to get priests to get away is not an easy thing,” Father Peter says. But he adds that this trip was well worth it. “I walked on the beach today. I prayed the rosary.” In the past, he says, he’s been invited to get involved with cruise lines. “They’ll oftentimes give you a room if you say Mass and hear confessions. But this experience is different. There’s a beautiful vibe here among the workers. There is a kindness and people are respected.”

The sprawling Bacara Resort is truly an inspired setting. The coastal property is serene and quiet. It took 30 years to construct, in part because it stands on Chumash Native American land and great care was taken to respect the property. A nature hike around the perimeter of the resort takes guests on a self-guided tour through protected land that is the only thing between the hotel and the sandy beach. The resort property boasts some 16 different varieties of beautiful plant life native to the region.

For the lay Catholic who also seeks a spiritual getaway, a stay at Bacara delivers. Guests are invited to attend daily Mass in the chapel without ever having to leave the property. Chapels also have been consecrated at the Meritage Resort and at the Estancia La Jolla Hotel. All are intimate and offer those attending Mass a spiritual experience that is, for some, richer and deeper–the result of the setting, as well as the calmer and more relaxed state of mind most are in while on holiday.

The resort helps guests settle into that state of mind. Cozy rooms and expansive suites, all with balconies or patios, are clustered into villas built onto the hilly landscape. The Mission-style architecture reflects the region’s heritage. A walk from the lobby through the center of the resort leads guests to a luxurious set of what appear to be cascading swimming pools with just steps in between one level and the next, ultimately leading to the ocean.

The Spa at Bacara is itself a destination. The 42,000-square-foot, four-level structure features 36 rooms and a rooftop outdoor treatment spot – an ideal place for a couple’s massage, complete with panoramic ocean views. An adults-only swimming pool is surrounded by lush landscaping, protecting the privacy of spa patrons. And the resort’s Spa Café is among the most popular dining venues on the property.

Perhaps one of the resort’s most singular features, aside from the chapel, is the Foley Wine Tasting Room. According to Ann Elcon, Bacara’s director of marketing and communications, the movie “Sideways” catapulted the region’s pinot noir grapes onto the world stage. “The world of pinot happens here,” Elcon says, “where the best pinot producers in the world come.” And there is plenty to sample right on the resort grounds.

Speaking about the resort, Father Peter says, “It provides an atmosphere – a deep sense of reverence for us…for a secular business staff they could not have been more kind or more hospitable. They were very sensitive to my needs.”

Visit clergyhospitality.org for information and reservations.