What is St. Mary’s Sewanee: The Ayres Center for Spiritual Development?

St. Mary’s Sewanee: The Ayres Center for Spiritual Development exists as a place where all are invited to respond to the invitation by God to “withdraw to a quiet place to pray” (Luke 5:16). Through quiet and simplicity, warm welcome and spiritual companionship, St. Mary’s Sewanee seeks to nurture the innate human capacity for relationship with God. Resting on 230 acres atop the Cumberland Plateau, St. Mary’s Sewanee provides a sacred space to groups and individuals for a wide variety of opportunities for spiritual growth. Individuals may come to one of our retreats or workshops or for a period of personal retreat. Faith communities and not-for-profit organizations may bring their own programs while St. Mary’s Sewanee provides hospitality.

What types of programs do you offer?

St. Mary’s Sewanee offers programs and retreats designed to support spiritual growth and to appeal to a variety of interests. Presenters have been carefully selected for their expertise in biblical, contemplative and practical spirituality. The roots of the Center are firm in the Episcopal tradition and its emphasis on openness and comprehensiveness.

Though broad, many of our retreats, workshops and programs seek to address the practices of living in Christian contemplative tradition while rediscovering ourselves daily. Since 1997, St. Mary’s Sewanee has worked in partnership with Contemplative Outreach, Ltd., offering a wide range of Centering Prayer retreats.

Our emphasis on silent prayer and other contemplative spiritual practices sets us apart from other conference and retreat centers.

Centering Prayer is offered on Tuesdays (3:30-5 pm in the Hearth Room) and Wednesdays (4-5:30 pm in the McRae Room). New and experienced practitioners are welcome.

What housing options are available?

Anna House is our newest building. It has 20 motel style-rooms, each with exterior doors opening onto a broad porch. Every room has two twin beds, a private bathroom, and air conditioning.

St. Mary’s Hall is a dormitory-style building with 31 rooms.  Most rooms have two twin beds; a few have double beds. There are communal bathrooms on each hallway. This building is not air conditioned but all rooms have fans and large windows.

The Woodland Hermitage offers a cozy place to rest for individuals who would like to stay in an intimate wooded location on campus. Located a short walking distance from St. Mary’s Hall, the Woodland Hermitage includes air conditioning, a private bath and shower, kitchenette, queen-size bed, and living area.

How do I make a reservation?

For individuals: Call, email, or use our online submission form. A $50 deposit is required before we can confirm your reservation.

For groups: Call, email, or use our online submission form. A Group Contract will be sent via email. The signed contract and deposit are due within 30 days of the contract’s issuance to confirm the reservation.

For partner group reservations: Call, email, or use our online submission form.  The signed contract and deposit are due within 30 days of the contract’s issuance to confirm the reservation. If the contract and deposit have not been been submitted within the 30 days, reservations are subject to be released to other groups. Partner Groups are responsible for their own program materials and handouts. Partner Groups handle their own room assignments unless St. Mary’s Sewanee’s staff is notified in advance. Final numbers are due 30 days from the reservation.

What does the program package price include?

Thw fee includes single room (unless otherwise noted), all meals, program fees, and program materials.

How do I get to St. Mary’s Sewanee?

Visit our Directions page to get links to Google maps as well as detailed driving directions from major cities in the area.

Does St. Mary’s Sewanee provide transportation?

No, St. Mary’s Sewanee does not provide transportation to and from the retreat center. Various airport shuttle services are available from Nashville, Atlanta & Chattanooga airports. In addition, there are a few private transportation providers that serve this area. For referrals, please, contact the Reservations office at least 10 days in advance to the date of your arrival.

Is your campus accessible for all persons?

Yes, St. Mary’s Sewanee’s public meeting spaces are handicap accessible. The bedrooms on the first floor of St. Mary’s Hall are all accessible, as is one room in the Anna House.


Can my group book space at St. Mary’s Sewanee?

Yes. Each year, many churches, nonprofits, and schools use our facilities to host their own retreats. We provide a comfortable space and healthy, nutritious meals, while you organize the program. We host church gatherings, women’s groups, men’s groups, youth groups, nonprofit boards, cross-country teams, faith communities, meditation groups, quilting clubs, 12-step programs, or any organization needing a tranquil venue for rest and renewal.

What meeting rooms are available for groups?

In St. Mary’s Hall, there is the Hearth Room, the Common Room, the Reading Room, a Chapel, and the Dining Room.

–The Hearth Room, which has a gas-log fireplace and has a bluff view, seats up to 30 in an auditorium-like format. This space is used often by Centering Prayer groups for seating of about 20 in a circle.

–The Common Room also has a bluff view; it seats up to 100 in an auditorium-like setting. It can also be used for smaller break-out gatherings.

–The Reading Room is an intimate space with comfortable arm chairs that seats 10.

–The Chapel, which is used for liturgical services, seats about 25.

–The Dining Room is reserved for meals, which are served buffet-style. It seats 50 comfortably at tables; additional people can be seated at tables in the adjacent Common Room, or during seasonal weather, on the nearby screen porch..

Adjacent to Anna House is the McRae Room which seats 35 in an auditorium-like format.

There is also an outdoor pavilion on the property, which is covered and overlooks the bluff; it seats about 12 people in this al fresco setting.

What meeting and audio/visual equipment are available?

St. Mary’s Sewanee has chairs and tables, easels, projector and screen, dry erase boards, podium, and a sound system with a microphone available for your use. Please ensure your computer’s compatibility with our equipment before arriving. Wifi is available but has limited bandwidth: it is not feasible to live-stream from our facility. Cell phone service is spotty and unpredictable. We do not have any televisions on campus.

Do you have a massage therapist on staff?

We do not have a massage therapist on staff, but we work closely with Kim Hibbard, LMT, who has sessions on the St. Mary’s Sewanee campus on a regular basis. You can learn more her Sewanee schedule here; contact her by email or call (615) 969-9405.

Do I need to bring bed linens? What do you provide?

St. Mary’s Sewanee’s bedrooms are all fully furnished, with the beds made up and towels ready for you. Soap is provided; bring your own toiletries; hair dryers are supplied in the Anna House rooms only. There is 24-hour coffee and tea service available in St. Mary’s Hall and in the McRae Room (adjacent to Anna House). For all guests, we recommend comfortable walking shoes, an umbrella, and a jacket.

Wifi service is available in all buildings; cell phone service is spotty and unpredictable.

What if I have special dietary needs? Do you offer meals for individuals?

St. Mary’s Sewanee’s chef is a culinary-trained, experienced cook. In keeping with our mission, her focus is on providing delicious, healthy meal options for small and large groups. She is not a nutritionist, however, and cannot know all the intimacies of each person’s diet. She works carefully to accommodate individual requests which must be conveyed by email or in writing a week before any retreat.

Our kitchen makes every effort to meet the dietary needs of all our guests to ensure they have a satisfying retreat experience. There is no “menu” ordering: the chef prepares the menus for each group, working with the group’s organizers as needed. If your group has special needs, please contact the chef well in advance of your retreat.

Ultimately, guests must be responsible for their own health and well-being during their stay. If  a guest  feels more comfortable preparing their own meals, they are welcome to use refrigerators and microwaves that are available on our campus.

The kitchen is open for groups of 12 or more. Individuals can purchase meals separately if they are staying on campus while a group of 12 or more are also here (must be arranged in advanced with reservations).

How far in advance can I make a reservation?

We accept reservations up to 24 months in advance.

What is your cancellation policy?

We have different policies for individuals and groups. Please go to our Cancellation and Deposit Policies page for complete details.

Do you offer communion?

Yes, we offer communion for group retreats.

What if I just need a place to stay?

We welcome guests for private retreats, as well as those who are visiting family and friends at the nearby University of the South campus. We can provide you with information about area church services (including those at the nearby convent), maps of hiking trails, and information about area attractions. And we are happy to give you privacy during your stay if that’s what you prefer.

Can I bring my pet on retreat with me?

St. Mary’s Sewanee is a pet-free property. Certified service animals are allowed. Please let us know in advance if you are bringing a service animal with you.

Do you allow alcohol on campus?

Yes, responsible alcohol use is allowed for adults over the age of 21. We do not have alcohol available; bring your own.

Can I bring my children while I’m on retreat?

We encourage families to enjoy our campus. However, because of our location, small children must be strictly supervised at all times. We strongly recommend that adults visiting for a retreat find alternatives for child care.

Do you allow smoking?

St. Mary’s Sewanee is a smoke-free facility; smoking is only permitted outdoors in designated areas.

Is St. Mary’s Sewanee available to host our group during the Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas holidays?

St. Mary’s does not offer retreats or host partner groups during the weeks of Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas.

Can I have a private party or wedding at St. Mary’s Sewanee?

Right now, we are not hosting weddings or other special events such as parties or receptions.

Are there plans to expand the St. Mary’s Sewanee campus?

Yes. The next project will be a new Hospitality Commons, which will be located between St. Mary’s Hall and Anna House. It will include a large dining room, three different-sized meetings rooms that may also be used as separate dining spaces, breakout rooms, and conversation alcoves. In addition, it will have a well-equipped kitchen, spacious serving area, and modern laundry facilities. To take advantage of the natural beauty of the campus, the building will have abundant outdoor spaces on wide porches facing the bluff.