On April 20th 1954, the Late Bishop John R. MacDonald,
Bishop of the Diocese of Antigonish,
presided at the Blessing
and Dedication of Villa Madonna Retreat House in Little Bras d'Or,
Nova Scotia, Canada.
Built in 1927 as the Diocesan Orphanage,
the building was first known as the "Little Flower Orphanage",
in honour of St. Therese of Lisieux who was canonized a Saint in 1925. The Sisters of St. Martha began their
long association with the building. At first, there was a separate Convent, Sacred Heart Convent, located ajacent to the Orphanage property; several of the Sisters lived in the Orphanage to provide round-the-clock care for their young charges.
In March of 1953, a fire erupted and caused extensive damage
to the interior of the building. Evidence of the fire can still be seen in
the attic where the charred timbers remain. Structurally, the building was
still sound - and it was decided to repair and renovate the building to
have it serve as a Retreat House, primarily for women.
Since 1954 was a Marian Year, it was suggested by one of the Sisters to
name the building in honour of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
An important feature of the new facility was the "Home Economics Room"
where the present 'Conference Room' is located - classes were conducted
for people of the local area; also, it was used by the School Board for
Home Ec. Classes for students from Bras d'Or.
Fr. Peter Nearing was appointed as the first Chaplain of the
new Retreat House. Women from all over Cape Breton came to Villa Madonna
for Spiritual guidance and silent reflection. The Sisters of St. Martha
provided support for the operation of the facility; they were often
assisted by local teenage girls and women from the area. The Sisters also
were involved in teaching at Bras d'Or School and in parish and community
The Sisters continued to make Villa Madonna their home until 1985
when they moved to a much smaller residence on Shore Road in Sydney Mines.
The Diocese, under the leadership of Bishop William E. Power, decided to
operate the Villa for a trial period to determine if there was sufficient
demand to warrant its' operation as a Retreat House.
Various Renewal Movements - such as Cursillo and Challenge were
holding their weekend programs in Church basements or parish halls for lack
of a Retreat House. Others, like Marriage Encounter were forced to hold
their weekends in Hotels and Motels. Villa Madonna Retreat House provided
a place for these and other Renewal Movements to have their weekend
Upwards of 1900 people use the Retreat House each year.
Renovations continue to be made to the building to enhance the facilities
for those who come here seeking to deepen their relationship with God.