Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

On Jan. 19, The Catholic Spirit reported “a group of private donors in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis signed a $6.25 million purchase agreement” for a resort in northwestern Wisconsin for use “as a Catholic summer camp for middle schoolers and for conferences, retreats and faith and science camps in fall, winter and spring.”

The property purchased was the 700-acre Heartwood Resort near Trego. The facility is now called Trinity Woods Catholic Retreat Center, purchased by donors as the nonprofit Minnesota Catholic Youth Partnership, founded in 2019, with Tim Healy as the organization’s president.

Healy said their mission is “to take kids out of their environment; get them into a beautiful one in nature, and also get them into relationship,” and ultimately invite them into personal encounter with Jesus through prayer and the sacraments.

Healy visited the Trego center in early February, attending Mass with his family at St. Francis de Sales Church in Spooner and introducing himself to local pastor Fr. Phil Juza. He is aware of the need to build local relationships, although the primary purpose of the center will be to serve the more than 700,000 Catholics living in the Twin Cities area.

MCYP had initially intended to purchase a property near Stillwater, Minnesota, in 2022 but ran into challenges obtaining local approval, which later led them to Heartwood and the signing of a purchase agreement in October. The closing of the sale took place in late January.

The Diocese of Superior’s men’s retreat was the first event to take place under the new ownership. John O’Sullivan, founder of Extreme Faith Camp in 2001 and now also parish liaison for Trinity Woods, introduced himself as the men gathered; he shared the MCYP’s excitement in having the opportunity to serve Catholics in the Diocese of Superior and be a blessing for Catholics of the entire upper Midwest.

At that point, Bishop Powers stood up at the back of the conference room and asked for clarification regarding who purchased the property. O’Sullivan responded that it was neither the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis nor the Diocese of Superior, rather a group of Catholic families investing in youths, but with the express permission and blessing of both Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Bishop James Powers.

Bishop Powers affirmed that blessing, congratulated the work of those involved and those who will benefit “as one family,” and said he just wanted to be sure the correct information was being circulated.

Speaking with the Catholic Herald, O’Sullivan shared that MCYP had been seeking a permanent home for Extreme Faith Camp for youths of the archdiocese for some time, as they’ve spent millions of dollars over 20 years renting camps, none of them expressly Catholic.

He said the purchase of Trinity Woods was “truly a fulfillment of prayer and hopes that we could have a Catholic facility.” He looks forward to the prospect of supporting the church’s mission of bringing renewal and encounter for parishes.

O’Sullivan added that faith and science camps are something they hope to offer Catholic schools for their students and would be open to homeschooling families and co-ops as well. He acknowledged that much of the overall planning is still in the “dream stage,” but that their main priority is to serve the church and support renewal in parishes and dioceses.

Healy also addressed this renewal: “I believe there’s a revival taking place, and I believe that this camp is a part of that because we’re connecting with youth and disconnecting them from technology, their phones and social media and helping them have that connection and encounter with Jesus.”

He said that inviting the youths into encounter with Jesus, “which I think all of us have had at some point in a retreat or camp setting,” is facilitated by an environment of beauty. He commented on the beauty – inside and out – of the Trinity Woods property, including sunset views from almost every lodging room.

Healy spoke about statistics available under the “Our Story” section at trinitywoodscatholic.com. The website gives information from a CDC study about hopelessness of youth and the concerning increase in depression and attempted suicide.

“It’s a mental health crisis for our youth,” Healy said. “We have to offer them something real, something lifegiving and Jesus, and the church and the sacraments are all that. We have to get them to the sacraments and get to know the person of Jesus.”

Iterating O’Sullivan’s comments, Healy said, “We’re doing this to serve the church.” He also clarified that they are a private nonprofit, “separate from the archdiocese but very much working with Archbishop Hebda.”

He added that MCYP has brought together about 50 families, with some priests on the board as well, who raised more than $4 million to buy the camp but are hoping for a total of $10 million to cover some facility improvements. The group hopes Trinity Woods will be a place for generations to look back on as a place of encounter with God and others, and from where the effects of these experiences will ripple throughout the surrounding dioceses and to the world.
Healy commented that this is the type of work the laity should be doing in the church.

“Lay people are capable and knowledgeable” in many areas, he said, and it’s a “no-brainer” that they do their part to support the priests and sacramental ministry of the church.

Trinity Woods plans to keep existing staff, and the new owners want to work with local residents. They are working to introduce themselves via regional Wisconsin newspapers and other connections as they prepare for their first summer offering Extreme Faith Camp in Trego. Already, more than 2,000 youths from the archdiocese are registered.

Moving forward, Healy said there will be a lot of weekends and gaps in the calendar Trinity Woods will want to fill with adult retreats and other events. They look forward to working with groups from within the archdiocese, as well as from the dioceses of Superior, Duluth and Rochester. O’Sullivan said a usage inquiry section is now available on the website.

Diocese of Superior Director of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship Chris Hurtubise shared some comments on the change of ownership.

“We had a great relationship with Heartwood and the various owners that have previously run it, but to have Catholic owners now that want to make it a retreat center is such a massive boon to our diocese,” he said. “The heart of the church’s mission is prayer. We now will have a place set aside to gather the various groups and demographics of our diocese for retreats: priests, deacons, men and women and more. Our parishes and our homes are obviously our primary places for prayer, but Jesus regularly invited his disciples to come away with him, to a deserted place.

“Something happens when you step away from the normal, to a quiet place of seclusion and beauty. Thanks to Trinity Woods, we are blessed to now have a Catholic retreat center right here in our diocese,” he added.

Hurtubise shared an anecdote from preparing for the men’s retreat: “As I was unpacking our traveling Mass kit and statues for the men’s retreat back in January, John O’Sullivan, the parish liaison on staff at Trinity Woods, smiled and said, ‘The next time you’re here, you won’t have to bring any of this!’ What a gift.”

Formerly known as Heartwood Resort, Trinity Woods Catholic Retreat Center in Trego will serve youths, parishes and families of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul and surrounding dioceses, including the Diocese of Superior. (Submitted photo)