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Serra Retreat Celebrates 75th Anniversary of its Stations of the Cross

station of the cross at Serra Retreat

"The Stations of the Cross combine art, sculpture, and movement to recreate Christ's walk to Calvary within the walls of the church, allowing the faithful to make a 'pilgrimage to Jerusalem' and be drawn closer to the Christ who walked there."
    -Reverend Thomas L. Weitzel

Holy Week, observed from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, presents Christians with the opportunity to practice individual reflection and communal commemoration. Ahead of Good Friday, visitors to Malibu’s own Serra Retreat can participate in sacred remembrance through its Stations of the Cross. This year marks the 75th anniversary of its installation.

Western Christians, including Catholics and some Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists, participate in the Stations of the Cross. Available for prayer and reflection throughout the liturgical year, the 14 stations are most commonly visited on Lenten Fridays, especially Good Friday. The Stations of the Cross have roots in Europe in the middle ages. Taken from Scriptures or broader church tradition, the scenes depict Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion, spanning from the condemnation and arrest to the entombment. Saint Francis of Assisi wrote devotions for the 14 stations that still guide the faithful through prayerful visitation. Serra Retreat venerates the Italian friar and founder of the Franciscan Order – who was canonized in 1228 – with a statue of him in a front garden. 

st. francis sculpture at Serra Retreat and historic photo of Serra Retreat (https://pepperdine.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15730coll18/id/372/rec/44 )  

In May 1942, the Franciscan Friars of Saint Barbara Province purchased the property where the retreat now stands from the Rindge estate. The hill, which the Rindges referred to as Laudamus Hill, was the in-progress site of May Rindge’s fifty-room Malibu mansion. Due to bankruptcy from ongoing court battles, the mansion was never completed and was listed for sale shortly after May Rindge’s death in 1941. All 26 acres of the property were purchased for $50,000. 

The friars initially conceived of the site as a seminary, but later they decided to create a spiritual retreat center for laypersons. The brothers named their new center in Malibu after Junípero Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan who founded the first Spanish missions in California. Serra Retreat was the first of many retreat centers they would establish throughout the West and Southwest. Along with photographic documentation of the retreat center over the decades, the Malibu Historical Collection at Pepperdine houses a Serra Retreat welcome packet from 1966. 

historic photo of Serra Retreat - https://pepperdine.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15730coll8/id/207/rec/6

At Serra Retreat, those who follow along the Way of the Cross during Holy Week proceed through curving paths canopied by eucalyptus trees and dotted with flowers. While the stations were first ready for Holy Week in March 1948, plans for the 14 statues of the stations began around the time of the center’s purchase. Serra Retreat staff member Cristina Villalobos shared documentation that traces the stations from an initial Serra Retreat Bulletin announcement and call for financial support in December of 1946. She also explained that individual retreatants and groups helped to pay for the project. These supporters are acknowledged through small plaques affixed to the side of each station’s base. 

two of the stations of the cross at Serra

The sculptures were constructed by Drapato Studios, Chicago. A September 1947 Bulletin acknowledges that delivery of the stations was an eight-month-long process. By December 1947, the friars secured sponsors for many of the pieces, and Michael Braun, who worked at the retreat from 1942 until his death in 1966, was constructing pedestals for the statues. Braun was also responsible for installing the Malibu Potteries tiles originally created for May Rindge’s mansion.

In March 1948, Braun and the Franciscan brothers installed the stations. As Villalobos noted, “The stations have since then been walked by men and women who come up to Serra Retreat to reflect on the Passion of Jesus and the way to a better life.”

station of the cross at Serra Retreat

Interested in experiencing the Stations of the Cross? Members of the Pepperdine community are invited to Serra Retreat on Good Friday morning for unstructured time of contemplation and reflection while navigating the stations and the rest of the retreat grounds. 

“The Serra Retreat Story.” Serra Retreat. https://serraretreat.com/serra-retreat-story
“The Way of the Cross.” Liturgy by TLW. https://www.liturgybytlw.com/Lent/Stations.html 
Netter (Lani) Collection of Malibu Photographs, Special Collections and University Archives, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA. https://pepperdine.quartexcollections.com/malibu-historical-collection
Wienberg, Eric Collection of Malibu Matchbooks, Postcards, and Ephemera. Special Collections and University Archives, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA. https://pepperdine.quartexcollections.com/malibu-historical-collection