Serra Retreat, Malibu: The Place that Preaches Peace

Serra Retreat: The Place That Preaches Peace  – Hidden among multi-million-dollar mansions in idyllic Malibu lays a historical gem that’s a virtual secret … even to some of its closest neighbors.  –  by Jenni Keast

Click here to read this article published in the Sept-Oct issue of Southern California Life Magazine on Cloudup (may not work on mobile site) or read text-only version below:

Serra Retreat: The Place That Preaches Peace  – Hidden among multi-million-dollar mansions in idyllic Malibu lays a historical gem that’s a virtual secret … even to some of its closest neighbors.  –  by Jenni Keast

Once upon a time, there reigned a king and queen who ruled over a magical kingdom—an untamed land where sun and clouds kissed the earth and a pristine coastline saw few footprints.

The year was 1892 and the “royal couple,” Frederick and May Rindge, had just purchased their 13,330-acre Rancho Malibu private paradise for a mere $10 per acre. They seemed an unlikely couple. He was a wealthy, Harvard-educated east coast businessman. She was a modest, straightforward Midwesterner who preferred managing home and hearth to holding court …

May’s role would change, however, when her husband’s untimely death in 1905 led to a 16-year-long legal battle with the state of California. The state wanted to build a coastal road through Rindge’s property, thereby opening up her “Shangri-La” to a bursting-at-the-seams Los Angeles—a city Frederick Rindge had ironically helped to build. May was determined to keep her private paradise free from encroaching humanity—and their Model T’s.

It was not to be. Rindge ultimately lost the fight, along with most of her fortune, to rough-and-tumble homesteaders and wily politicians—creating a landmark case that would redefine the term “eminent domain.”

In June of 1929, the floodgates to paradise, now known as Pacific Coast Highway, officially opened—allowing not just the stars to align over Malibu, but everyone else as well. Frederick Rindge, a deeply religious man who cherished peace and quiet, would no doubt be horrified to see his then-17,000-acre sanctuary turned into a bastion of Hollywood drama and detox centers.

But Frederick, if he was looking down from heaven, would find some silver lining in it all. His posterity would go on to deed the 128 acres upon which Pepperdine University was built, and in 1974, 8,215 acres was designated as Malibu Creek State Park. But even before all that, in 1942, the Franciscan Order would purchase the 26-acres surrounding May’s lavish, unfinished 50-room knoll-top mansion to use as a spiritual retreat center.

Today, Serra Retreat remains an achingly beautiful and serene place—a mecca for modern-day pilgrims who are longing for a little piece of heaven as they navigate the increasing complexities of a modern world.

No matter where you live in SoCal, a trip to Serra is worth the drive. As you make your way up the long, steep driveway, you’ll come across several Mediterranean-style buildings. There are 60 guest rooms in all, along with a chapel, conference rooms, and a meditation garden. On any given day, guests and visitors wander the impeccably maintained gardens and walkways, gazing out at the spectacular Pacific Ocean view in one direction or the Santa Monica Mountains in the other. Some sit quietly on the meditation benches that dot the property—serenaded by scolding parrots, fluttering hummingbirds and a host of other wildlife. A large statue of Saint Junipero Serra (canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis), looks down approvingly, arms extended upward.

And that’s just how Serra Retreat’s director, Father Mel Jurisich, would have it. In this place, he believes, nature preaches peace to weary urban pilgrims who seek respite from soul-numbing technology, help with an addiction, or solace after a deep loss.

“Our mission for each person—whether they’re part of a church group, a 12-step program or are making a personal retreat—is that they leave with a little more lightened soul than they came with,” says Father Mel. “If that happens, then we’re doing our job.”

Few come to Serra Retreat without experiencing some level of transformation. One high school athlete broke down in tears after he received an unexpected letter from his father. “My father just told me he loved me … something he has never done my entire life,” he shared with Father Mel, then quickly added, “And it’s not all his fault. I’ve given my parents a really hard time.” Impressed by his honesty, Father Mel told the teen, “You came up here a teenager; you’re leaving here a man.”

“Transformation happens to people here because this land is sacred,” Father Mel emphasizes. “And that’s not because of us friars wearing ‘brown dresses,’ but because of all the people who have come here over the last 75 years to pray, think and sort out their lives—allowing the land to gently envelop them. ‘I feel safe here.’ That’s what people always tell me.”

True to the contemplative spirit of the place, Serra Retreat flies under the radar; in fact, it’s so low key that some of its glitzier neighbors are barely aware of Serra’s existence. That’s fine with the friar, who admonishes those with “other” reasons for coming here: “This is not a cheap place to stay so you can land here and go hike, surf or do whatever you want to do in Malibu. Sincere seekers and those who intend to remain on the premises are welcome—the rest … well, simply put, Serra Retreat is not the place for you.”

Serra Retreat is located at 3401 Serra Road in Malibu. For more information, including rates, availability and day visitor hours, call 310.456.6631. https://serraretreat.com/

 

 

 

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