Sister Mary Trainer was certain there had to be natural springs swirling beneath the rolling hills of the Cranaleith Spiritual Center in Somerton.
Long before she recited her religious vows and joined the Sisters of Mercy, Trainer grew up at Cranaleith, a family estate purchased by her grandparents in 1906.
“When I was young, there were five streams that came through here,” she said.
Those tiny brooks percolated from the ground, merged into one and ultimately flowed into the Poquessing Creek, destined for the Delaware River. The 10-acre tract at Proctor Road and Edison Avenue remained like that until the 1970s when developers paved a nearby street and the small streams disappeared.
“I spent years looking to find the springs,” Trainer said.
She finally found them this year as builders were excavating the land for a new conference and education facility. Trainer, who launched the spiritual center in her childhood home in 1996, insisted that the project’s engineers modify their site plan to re-establish the streams.
“It’s a metaphor for the hidden stream in all of us,” Trainer said. “It may be buried very deep, but it’s always there.”
Helping people from all walks of life reconnect with the natural world and with their inner selves is the mission at Cranaleith. That’s why Trainer and her colleagues have undertaken a $4.5 million effort to expand the site’s facilities beyond its 120-year-old three-story Victorian farmhouse.
On Sept. 12, Cranaleith will debut a new 8,000-square-foot education and conference center during a seminar called “Spiritual Direction and the Pursuit of God,” which is being hosted by Cranaleith’s program director Sister Maria DiBello.
The new construction also includes a smaller administrative building and welcome center built on the foundation of a razed barn.
Future development will include a chapel and a lodge that will accommodate up to 25 overnight visitors. There is no schedule for that work. So far, the ongoing capital campaign has raised about $2.5 million, including grants totaling $1 million from Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.
“We have to raise another two million dollars yet,” said Trainer, who lives on-site with DiBello and hosts about 3,000 visitors a year.
Cranaleith is a Gaelic word meaning “sanctuary of trees.” Trainer’s grandparents, Joseph C. and Wilhelminia Trainer, named the estate that after settling there in 1906. Prominent 19th century suffragist Rachel Foster Avery previously owned the site.
Today, Cranaleith’s programs are wide-ranging, but all are meant to connect participants with self-awareness and spirituality in a non-denominational way. Many were designed with business professionals in mind, helping them develop leadership skills, understand ethical issues and manage the many facets of their lives.
In a less formal continuum of programs, visitors are invited to contemplate topics such as love, forgiveness, patience, mourning and aging, often within a context of nature and creative arts.
“When we’re in harmony with creation, it helps us be in harmony with one another,” Trainer said.
The center’s leaders encourage folks from all ethnic, social and economic backgrounds to benefit from their venue and its offerings. On Thursdays, for example, the site hosts about 30 people from several homeless programs in the city.
“For them, it’s a day in the country, a day to be under trees and to breathe fresh air,” Trainer said. “Many call it their ‘country home.’”
The new education and conference center has the persona of the old Trainer house with space and amenities to accommodate larger groups in a more efficient way. It can hold up to 60 people at once. That’s about four times the capacity of the house.
Architecturally, it’s constructed with vaulted ceilings and picture windows so visitors are never more than a glance removed from the rustic natural surroundings.
“It allows the clouds, the trees, everything to grace us,” Trainer said.
One large window faces the eastern sky and the other the western sky.
“Sunrise and sunset are two beautiful moments in the day,” Trainer said. “[Their juxtaposition] represents all creation and it speaks to people from all denominations, all spiritual backgrounds.” ••
Visit www.cranaleith.org or call 215-934-6206 for information about Cranaleith Spiritual Center.EndFragment