Special Report on St. Nicholas Ranch & Retreat Center [Michael A. Pappas (Papadogiannakis)]

NOTE: The following article is taken from Krētē : monthly publication of the Pancretan Association of America, October 2010, pp. 10-11.

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The history of Saint Nicholas Ranch dates back to 1979. In that year, His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony arrived in California as the newly elected bishop of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of San Francisco. He brought with him boundless enthusiasm and energy, love and pride for his Cretan heritage, and a passion for reaching out to the youth of the Church. Soon after his arrival in the Diocese, he shared his vision for the creation of a retreat and conference center that could be used to provide programs for the faithful of the Church, especially the youth.

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While celebrating a baptismal service, he cradled the newly baptized infant in his arms and proclaimed to the congregation: “By the grace of God, I’m looking for someone to give me a million dollars, or its equivalent in land, to build special facilities for our youth, facilities to nourish and spiritually mold them in the dynamic life of Christ’s living Church.” Many in the congregation probably shrugged off the comment as the unrealistic dream of a young and inexperienced bishop. Others, however, were inspired and excited by this dynamic young bishop’s vision. A young priest, Fr. John Bakas, hearing Bishop Anthony’s words, thought of a friend who had a large parcel of land nestled in a beautiful valley in the Sierra Nevada foothills, just outside of Sequoia National Park. The property, owned by the Nick Kossaras family, had once been part of the huge Sally K horse ranch, which in the early 20th century had provided work horses that pulled wagons of ice to homes and businesses in the San Joaquin Valley. The Kossaras family enthusiastically embraced the Bishop’s dream and donated the entire 180 acres to the Diocese.

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We can only guess at Bishop Anthony’s thoughts as he drove to the property for the first time. Making his way through the seemingly endless orange groves and grape vineyards of the eastern San Joaquin Valley, followed by the steep drive up through the Sierra foothills, dotted with granite rock outcroppings and Oak forests, he arrived at a large valley surrounded by towering mountains. The landscape must have reminded him of his beloved Crete and, as he looked at the old horse corrals, ranch buildings, the rodeo arena, the grass fields and oak forest, he probably imagined all that was to come. Saint Nicholas Ranch was born.

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Immediately, it became a center for retreats and a youth summer camp. In the early days, the old ranch buildings were utilized, the centerpiece being a two story horse barn built in the 1890’s in which a chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas was built. Before long, a beautiful conference and retreat center took shape. The original 180 acres grew to nearly 300 as additional parcels were purchased. Currently, the Ranch facilities include 28 hotel style lodge rooms that can house up to 90 people, 12 dormitories able to accommodate a total of 144 people, a large dining hall, two large conference rooms and several smaller meeting rooms, along with picnic areas, athletic fields, a pool, a lake, and hiking trails. A favorite spot is the Cretan Plaza Barbeque and Picnic area. Built and maintained by the chapters of the Pancretan District 6, the Cretan Plaza is used throughout the year, especially during the annual Cretan Family weekend.

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As a young student at the Patriarchal Theological School of Halki, Metropolitan Anthony had visited the Monastery of the Holy Theotokos, the Life Giving Spring located just outside of Constantinople. This historic monastery contains a miraculous spring that for hundreds of years has worked miracles through the intercessions of the Virgin Mary.

The Late Metropolitan Anthony of San Francisco
The Late Metropolitan Anthony of San Francisco

During his visit to the Monastery, the young seminarian promised the Mother of God that if he was ever blessed to become a bishop, he would build a monastery dedicated to her. In 1993 the promise was fulfilled with the opening of the Women’s Monastery of the Holy Theotokos, the Life Giving Spring. Built on a hill overlooking the Ranch, the monastery offers a spiritual oasis of Orthodox Christian worship and spirituality to all who visit. The Abbess, Mother Markella, affectionately referred to as Gerondissa, oversees a growing community of 18 nuns. The monastery also contains the tomb of Metropolitan Anthony, located directly behind the Altar of the Katholikon (main church) of the monastery.

Gerondissa Markella & Abbot Tryphon
Gerondissa Markella & Abbot Tryphon

After his death, Metropolitan Anthony was succeeded by Metropolitan Gerasimos. Having visited the Ranch while serving as Archdeacon to Archbishop Iakovos, Metropolitan Gerasimos had a great appreciation for this ministry of the Metropolis, and a clear vision for its future potential. From the beginning Metropolitan Gerasimos has made the Ranch a priority, working tirelessly to improve the facility and grounds and to expand the ministries and programs offered at the Ranch.

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Today, Saint Nicholas Ranch operates year-round and is home to a wide variety of programs and events. It offers a teen summer camp, youth and young adult retreats, family camps, a Greek language camp, and a variety of Elderhostel programs. Many organizations, parishes, and schools use the Ranch to hold their events. These include family reunions, parish retreats, high school retreats, marriage encounters, conferences, and music camps. Some of the larger groups include the annual Philoptochos sponsored Kids and Cancer Camp Agape program, the Orthodox College Conference, the California Autoharp Gathering, the Cretan Family Weekend, and the Orthodox Senior Camp. Recently, an ambitious effort has begun to renovate the now 30 year old buildings and grounds.

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Metropolitan Anthony loved Saint Nicholas Ranch and the Monastery. He put all his heart and energy into making his dream a reality and those who live and work at the Ranch feel his presence every day. His vision, shared so long ago, continues to guide and inspire the holy ministry of Saint Nicholas Ranch.

Michael A. Pappas, Director

E-mail: mikepappas@sbcglobal.net or info@stnicholasranch.org

http://www.stnicholasranch.org

NOTE:

It’s listed as a “major attraction for Dunlap, California, an unincorporated community with a population of 131. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunlap,_California

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