Enrique Narvaiz, longtime caretaker of La Casa de Maria, Montecito’s legendary retreat center and former novitiate, owned by our St. Paul’s Commons, Echo Park, partners the Immaculate Heart Community, was in Mexico when his son Michael called from their home on the property on Jan. 9, 2018. It was 3:30 a.m. San Ysidro Creek had breached its banks, sounding like rolling thunder — and like a bomb after waters ruptured a gas main that spanned the creek, on the underside of a footbridge.

Enrique told his son to leave. The explosion awakened other neighbors, too, enabling them to get to safety. Attentive retreat center managers had already evacuted staff and guests. Twenty-three people died in Montecito that morning, though none at LCDM. It lost nine of its 17 buildings.

The floodwaters lifted a massive boulder and deposited it 50 feet away against the south wall of the majestic chapel, designed by Mother Regina, the onetime novice mistress. While a tree branch shattered the wall, and the church was flooded, the building remains structurally sound. The boulder’s still there, as though keeping watch. IHC’s president Sherry Purcell, board chair Ray Mattes, Enrique, and their colleagues showed this miracle and more to the Rev. Canon Melissa McCarthy, Canon Bob Williams, and me last week during our three-hour tour of the magnificent grounds.

When it was still part of the Roman Catholic Church, IHC bought the property from the Wicks family in 1943 for its novitiate. In the mid-fifties it opened a retreat center for Catholic couples from Los Angeles. Bob and Dolores Hope were among those who made it possible. IHC left the archdiocese in 1970, which let it keep the retreat center but removed the blessed sacrament from the altar in the chapel.

Until the mudslide, 12,000 people visited each year. Unrepaired damage, including chunks of rebar everywhere, has kept the retreat center closed all the years since. Yet the Center for Spiritual Renewal — once Sister Regina’s home, and before that, the Wicks’ manor house — stands ready, its beds made and bookshelves bulging, awaiting retreaters. The deluge also spared 42 rooms next to the chapel that were once used by those visiting couples on retreat.

Over lunch, Sherry and her colleagues gave us a briefing on ambitious plans for rebuilding, still in formation. Our diocese hopes to be part of La Casa de Maria’s next chapter, perhaps in conjunction with other ecumenical and interfaith partners. Episco-Pals miss visiting LCDM as well as our own Mount Calvary, once owned and operated by the Order of the Holy Cross in Santa Barbara. It was destroyed by the Tea fire in 2008.

Melissa, Bob, and I remembered visiting the disaster-stalked neighborhood in 2018, a week or so after the floods. All Saints by the Sea Episcopal Church’s people welcomed and comforted victims and first responders that long day. We’d also driven through a residential neighborhood that the waters etched into moonscape seconds after flowing across the grounds of La Casa de Maria. It doesn’t reveal too much of Sherry’s team’s dreams to say that little if any new construction is planned for the flood zone. Expect open spaces and gracious walking trails, opportunities for reflection on the providence of God and the relentless power of creation.