Natural springs

— At Cranaleith Spir­itu­al Cen­ter, the fo­cus is on growth that comes from ap­pre­ci­at­ing nature and from with­in.

Sis­ter Mary Train­er gives a tour of the new ad­di­tions to the Cranaleith Spir­itu­al Cen­ter in Old Somer­ton. The prop­erty has be­longed to Sis­ter Mary’s fam­ily, and in 1996 she turned her par­ents’ es­tate in­to the cen­ter it is today. Re­cently, the ad­di­tion­al Edu­ca­tion­al and Con­fer­ence Cen­ter, a multi-mil­lion dol­lar pro­ject, will en­hance the ex­per­i­ence for vis­it­ors and al­low for ex­tra space for those who want to stay overnight, Tues­day, Au­gust 21, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


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 or call 215-934-6206 for in­form­a­tion about Cranaleith Spir­itu­al Cen­ter.


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