In 1986 the Archbishop of Denver, J. Francis Stafford invited Fr. Thomas Keating to offer a half-day of
centering prayer presentation to his staff in Denver. (Keating had founded the national organization—Contemplative Outreach Ltd in 1984) After the presentation, the Archbishop invited Fr. Thomas to start a program of teaching Centering Prayer in parishes throughout the diocese. In turn, Fr. Thomas suggested to the archbishop that Sister Bernadette Teasdale would be an excellent choice to lead the project. Sr. Bernadette, after returning from a sabbatical leave in 1987 agreed to accept the offer to teach Centering Prayer in the parishes, a Pilot Project of the Archdiocese of Denver. She was soon joined by Fr. Carl Arico and Mary Murkowski, who developed courses and offered retreats based on videotapes that Father Keating had recorded. Father Keating was recovering from serious injuries suffered in a car accident.
By 1989, a pattern of offerings –all provided by Sr. Bernadette- - had been established: a 6 week Centering Prayer course, one Advanced Course, weekend intensive retreats, a mini-retreat (with Keating) and a Facilitators’ Workshop. (The facilitators were trained to lead prayer groups—called “support groups”-- in Denver and elsewhere.) Events were scheduled at Spirit of Christ and elsewhere in the state. In the fall of that year, 150 people attended the Keating mini-retreat. The quarterly “Update” announced 9 retreats and 4 mini retreats to be offered in the following year. While retreats continue through the history of Contemplative Outreach of Colorado, along with the Center Prayer courses they have been the foundation for the community. Introductory Workshops were held in seven locations at various churches of several denominations across the Front Range.
Finally, in 1992, our organization moved from its desk at Spirit of Christ Church to a house on Clarkson Street in Denver and became the Center for Contemplative Outreach. This coincided with the successful transition to the 501(c) 3 –non-profit corporation status—for Contemplative Outreach in Denver and its partner, the Retreat Center in Snowmass affiliated with St.Benedict’s Monastery. The Clarkson St. site, with kitchen, classrooms and office space, provided Contemplative Outreach with a physical home of its own. A “new sense of Mission” was announced: “our mission is to assist the laity in their formation of contemplative spirituality.” In support of that program, “an 8 Month Intern program for facilitators” was initiated, strengthening the development of prayer groups. New courses were offered, and additional staff members were added to assist Sr. Bernadette. The Center also offered off-site events at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church. The Center sponsored events in Boulder and Fort Collins as well as retreats in Sedalia and at Camp St. Malo.
In 1997, the Center relocated to a larger facility, a former convent, located on Warren Street. The move required significant remodeling to create classrooms, offices, a dining room and a kitchen. The Warren St. center had a chapel, and we were fortunate to obtain an Italian marble altar from Mercy Hospital in Denver, which was closing. Stained glass windows—made by a volunteer--were added. The move to Warren St. saw an increase in attendance and mini-retreats and the annual conference were held in newer, larger venues. In addition, more centering prayer groups were being organized throughout the Front Range area.
By 2002 the annual conference drew 540 people, a half-day mini retreat included 350 participants, and course registrations reached almost 550. Fr. Thomas Keating remained the anchor, participating in mini- retreats, annual conferences while maintaining his presence in national and international activities. In 2006, the Archdiocese, needing the building for seminarians, notified The Center that its 10 year lease would expire. Sr. Bernadette was inspired to approach Episcopal Bishop Rob O’Neil –a long time practitioner of Centering Prayer and a close follower of Fr. Thomas--who suggested an alternative. All Saints Episcopal Church on Yates Street was closing. The new facility on Yates, where we currently reside, seemed tailor made for The Center’s mission. It contained all the classrooms, a huge kitchen and dining/conference area, and a large chapel.
In 2008, Sr. Bernadette announced her intention to consider retirement. Recognizing the upheaval that her leaving might cause for herself and for the Center, she sought advice from a group of consultants to support the transition to other leadership. Contemplative Outreach of Colorado, beginning its third decade-- 2008 to 2017—decided on a mutual leadership model of Lay Leadership with an administrator and a coordinator supported by an Advisory Council.
In addition to the basic offerings of the Spiritual Journey classes, retreats and annual conferences, the portfolio of “advanced courses” has continued to expand. Volunteers supported the many activities of classes, talks, lectures, retreats, book store, and hospitality for all events. Changes in leadership roles occurred with regularity as the structure of Lay Leadership continued.
The death of Father Thomas Keating, in October of 2018, was a great loss for the center. We were fortunate to have an extensive body of his books and videotapes, as well has taped discussions he’d had with other religious leaders. In 2019, many of the people who had worked at the center with Sister Bernadette, announced their retirement, and the advisory council searched for a new director. Today, Kit Snyder is the Coordinator of The Center for Contemplative Living.
The Center has relied on its volunteers to promote and support centering prayer, and will continue to do so. However, we realize, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, that there are more effective ways to provide outreach to those interested in a growing relationship with God. We would like to make available online much of the material that Father Keating left us, and that Sister Bernadette and the pioneers of Contemplative Outreach were able to develop over the years. We hope that will permit people who are interested to explore what we teach and practice, and that it will generate greater interest among younger practitioners.
We will continue to offer classes, both online, and in person. Because centering prayer, through a private practice, is intended to guide one to unity with God, all people, and all beings, classes where practitioners can ask questions and share experiences are essential to developing a better sense of practice and true self. Our facilitators, while versed in centering prayer and the teachings of Father Keating, need to learn how to effectively use interactive media to teach these classes. We will also continue to partner closely with St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, and their retreat center, to partake of their contemplative practice and to use their retreat facilities. Likewise, we will continue to foster interfaith participation in the Great Mystery of our relationship to God and to one another.