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Fr. Barney Nixon Men’s Retreat

July 29 - July 31

History of Our Men’s Retreat

In 1947 the property for the new Jesuit Retreat House, to be called “Manresa”, was purchased from two descendant sisters of the early Slauson family in Azusa, California. The land was once part of the old Rancho Azusa from the early 1800’s. A large portion of the property was sold to the Monrovia Nursery, and, was to become the largest potted plant nursery in the country. The Retreat center was located on an island of land within the nursery property and jutted up against the foothills at the east end of the San Gabriel Valley. A very long palm tree lined driveway connected Manresa to the outside world. The Jesuits owned and operated the Retreat House from 1947 to 1994.


Our beloved Fr. Barney became a priest in 1928 – he joined our fellowship in 1951 – and Fr. Barney began hosting AA retreats at Manresa in 1960. Many stories are told about Fr. Barney being a”Man’s man”. He played semi-pro baseball, served in the armed forces and could play a mean game of golf even into his later years and before turning his calling to serving the men and women of the fellowship. Barney started several AA and Al-Anon retreats at Manresa, Azusa and at Manresa Redlands. “Barney’s Broads” became a well known women’s group in Redlands. Our Fr Barneys Men’s Retreat group was started at Manresa, Azusa 1965 (give or take) and as far as we know it was just called the “Manresa Men’s Retreat”. Many of the early West Coast members of the program, now well-known men in our circles, attended the new retreat. Over the years the retreat split off men to form new retreats in the West L.A. and valley areas – probably even more. Even with the splits the Manresa Men’s Retreat remained “sold out” year after year. Barney remained the principal leader and speaker of every retreat up to his death at 5am on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1978. In his last years Barney bore the signs of poor health and yet he championed the principals and steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with vigorous enthusiasm and a booming voice that could scare a new-comer into a seldom visited state of alertness and understanding of the command – “shut-up n’listen!”. Seasoned members, long beyond being scared, sat up and listened to Barney never wanting to miss a word of wisdom nor the power of love for one recovering alkie to another that Fr. Barney could express so wonderfully.


The land in Sierra Madre was purchased by the Passionist Order of the Catholic Church in the 1920’s. The first monastery was completed in the 30’s. Overlooking the San Gabriel Valley the location was referred to as a Shangri-La – far removed from the increasing traffic and distractions of the Southern California growth explosion. The earthquake of 1991 damaged the monastery so severely that it had to be demolished. The retreat center of today is surrounded by beautiful gardens with meditative walks including the Stations of the Cross, abundant cypress and eucalyptus trees, and visitors often see deer, coyotes and yes, even the occasional brown bear. The buildings include, large meeting and conference rooms, commercial grade kitchens and comfortable dining room, social areas, a beautiful chapel, and individual air-conditioned sleeping rooms. Mater Dolorosa offers modern meeting rooms with up to date audio visual equipment and at the same time there is ample space for quiet reflection and study. The spirit of a retreat is defined by the men attending, but having beautiful, peaceful buildings and surroundings sure is nice. When Manresa was sold in 1994 the retreat began a search for new accommodations. The search did not go well until a call came in one day from a beautiful voice on the phone who said, “Hi, I am Sister Judy and I want to invite your men’s retreat to come and have a new home at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center in Sierra Madre”. Yes, that is exactly the way it went and the retreat has been in Sierra Madre since the summer of 1995. Farther “Pat” Brennan was the senior administrator at that time and he and his staff really put out the welcome carpet for our bunch of recovering alcoholics. With Farther Barney’s passing the retreat began a structure in the late 90’s of inviting different speakers from across the nation to come and lead us in a weekend of rejuvenation and growth. Completing our 50th year of retreats for sober men in 2015, and being of service to over 5,000 attending men, we look forward to the next 50 years of passing on the legacy of our beloved Fr. Barney.