Soon after he was installed as the first to oversee the new Diocese of Orange, Bishop William Johnson noted three goals: that every parish have a youth director; that a new high school be built; and that priests have a place to call their own.
The bishop’s latter vision became a reality in 1983, the year the House of Prayer for Priests first opened its doors.
“He understood that priests work very hard, that they needed a home to relax, recharge, pray and share with other priests,” says Msgr. Wil Davis (retired), whom Bishop Johnson named Director of Ministry to Priests and was instrumental in the House’s planning and design.
One of just three such locales in the U.S., the House of Prayer in the Diocese of Orange remains the only one built specifically as a home for priests. (The others were repurposed structures.) Designed in a simple Southwestern style and surrounded by trees and California native plants, it has provided overnight space for solitary, reflection and one-on-one counseling; a community room for social interaction, including support groups; a Mass Chapel; and a Blessed Sacrament Chapel, for private prayer – all in a quiet, peaceful setting on Santiago Canyon Road, in Orange.
After 30-plus years, the House had become in need of a significant makeover. Last October, a thorough renovation that had been years in the making was honored with an official blessing by Bishop Kevin Vann, along with Fr. Domenico Di Raimondo, the House of Prayer’s director; other clergy who were instrumental in the project; the participation of the laity from the different Diocesan departments and the various contractors who were also instrumental in this project, and of course the generous donors.
“There was a lot of deferred maintenance, a lot more than cosmetic fixes,” says Fr. Steve Sallot, former Vicar General and a member of the committee behind the project. “The roof leaked. Things were broken.”
Along with a new roof and replacement of broken items, renovations to the House of Prayer include, among other efforts:
- Freshly painted exterior and interior walls
- A new A/C system, water heater, showers and toilet in each of the eight rooms
- Reupholstered furniture and new beds, flooring and artwork in every room
- Redesigned and refreshed outdoor gardens, including greenery adorning the private courtyard accompanying every room (an original design element)
- A repaved parking lot
- An ADA-compliant room, with a wider entrance, a larger shower with a seat and grab bars, and more space to accommodate wheelchairs.
Since walls cannot be painted on faith alone, the renovation was made possible through generous donations. The Orange Catholic Foundation in particular played a special role, by administering and forwarding generous donations.
“The Foundation provided funds totaling $184,500 to the House of Prayer project on behalf of two donors, who wish to remain private,” says Cindy Bobruk, executive director and president of the OCF. The Diocesan Pastoral Center, along with many of the parishes, contributed over $500,000 to the renovation project. “We are blessed to have been able to offer this support as many of our clergy will benefit from these renovations.”
A disastrous event last year could have easily changed what had been a comprehensive renovation into a complete demolition: Some 180 trees located on the House of Prayer grounds, many mere feet from buildings, were cut down or saved following the October 2017 Canyon Fire.
“It was very, very close,” says Fr. Domenico. “But firefighters just happened to set up right in our parking lot, only because our gate was open and it was so near to the main fire.”
After noticing that the beams above one of the courtyards had caught fire, they saw that the entire House was threatened, and they worked hard to save it.
“Some of the windows had been left open, and the fire was so close,” says Fr. Domenico. “If one ember had drifted into a room, the whole place could’ve been lost.” The firefighters, he added, couldn’t have saved the House of Prayer had they not chosen that one parking lot as a staging area.
“I think God was also taking care of the House. I thank the firefighters, and I thank God,” He said, noting that the House of Prayer can now fulfill its mission of providing a place of rest, prayer and inspiration for priests.