Set in 500 hectares of pleasant bush and pasture land, St. Mary’s Towers is gifted with an atmosphere conducive to prayer and reflection. St Mary’s Towers is significant also because of the well known historical figures who lived there and because of the substantial two-storey Gothic revival country residence which has altered little since the additions designed by Edmund Blacket in the 1860s.
About a third is pasture land and the remainder is eucalypt bush and sandstone ridges – so bring your walking shoes, hat and sunscreen as there are plenty of interesting walking tracks. The Nepean River gorge to the north, and Allan’s Creek gorge to the west, run the full length of two sides of the property and are home to many native animals, birds and wildflowers. If you trek into the bush early morning or late afternoon – and are quiet – you will encounter wallabies, kangaroos, possums, echidnas and wombats. Platypus are also said to be present in the waterways.
Further down Allen’s Creek off the property are rock paintings of the Dharawal people; the original inhabitants of this land. Unfortunately the paintings have been badly defaced. The Dharawal considered the land to the south of Razorback and at the meeting of the rivers to be Sanctuary land. To the north is ceremonial land. It is enriching to stand in this land, sacred from times ancient.
To the south of the property is the Illawara Coal (BHP Billiton) Tower Colliery, which commenced in 1978. Fortunately the tower and plant are not visible from the Retreat Centre but can be viewed from the hilltops behind the Centre. Douglas Park Drive (formerly Mt. Kiera Road) marks the Eastern Boundary of the property. The South-Western Freeway (Hume Highway ) cuts the property in two, with bush on the northern side and farm and buildings occupying the southern. Two of the largest freeway bridges in the country connect the property to surrounding lands. Moolgun Bridge spans Allan’s Creek, while the view of Douglas Park Bridge from the Nepean River crossing below is quite awe-inspiring.
While Douglas Park shares a similar climate to Sydney, it sits in the shadow of the Razorback Range to the north, so rain may pass over Douglas Park while Sydney gets drenched. The contrary is also true. Douglas Park averages its highest rainfalls in January and March.
Summer is generally quite hot and winter very cold. Winter frosts are not unusual. Autumn and Spring sees Douglas Park at its best. Beautiful clear days and nights. Clothing by layers is best in these seasons.
Accommodation is available for up to 42 persons. All rooms are furnished with bed, desk, wardrobe, hand basis, fan and heater. We have a number of on-suited rooms which are allocated on a needs basis.
Retreatant Dining Room
Meals served at St. Mary’s Towers are generally home-style cooking from a set menu prepared by our kitchen staff. Individuals with specific dietary requirements for medical reasons should indicate their needs when confirming their booking.
Fresh fruit, breads, spreads and other foods are available for you at any time from the retreat house kitchenettes. Fresh fruit, breads, spreads and other foods are available for you at any time from the retreat house kitchenettes.
Our office staff, cooks and house-keepers will do their best to cater for your needs.
St. Mary’s Towers Retreat Centre conducts a retreat program facilitated by a full-time retreat team and visiting directors as required. These retreats are conducted in a contemplative environment of prayer and silence.
Outside of this retreat program, the Centre can be booked by external groups for their own retreat use, silent or otherwise.
There is a data projector and sound system available in the main meeting room which can seat up to 60 people.
There are three prayer rooms in the retreat house. Retreatants can also use the Church and Jenkin’s Chapel, the chapel used by the resident community for their prayer and Eucharist.
At the other end of the corridor is another room for personal prayer. Bathed in golden light in the mornings,
Another beautiful space for prayer is found at the end of the east wing. From this place one can watch the rising sun edge its way over the horizon in the distance recalling the rising of God’s love in our hearts. The timber stump in the room reminds us of the wood of the cross on which God’s heart of love for us was revealed.
The community ‘Jenkins’ Chapel is also a lovely place to pray. It was built by Dr. Richard Lewis Jenkins after he retired from Parliament in 1860 and purchased Parkhall, which he renamed Nepean Towers. Jenkins intended to make Nepean Towers the religious centre of the area. The Chapel was designed by the celebrated architect Edmund Blacket.
A deeply religious member of the Church of England, Dr Jenkins gained a licence from the Bishop of Sydney for worship in his chapel. It became a dining room for students of the Apostolic School in 1915, however, fortunately, it was reclaimed in 1971 for use as a chapel by the local MSC community. The rich tiling of the entrance way, the perfectly cut masonry and magnificent timber beams and ceiling, and the wonderful stained-glass tryptic window designed by William Macleod, provides a tranquil ambience which is uplifting to the soul. While the Jenkin’s Chapel is for the use of the local community, visitors are welcome. For times of community prayer and daily Eucharist just check with the retreat house staff or community members.
Next to the Retreat House is a single story, white, timber building. The Douglas Park Mass Centre is a part of Tahmoor-Picton Parish. Built in 1918 for use by novices and scholastics, it was originally planned to build in stone, but instead the existing timber structure was built. You’re welcome to use the church for prayer and reflection anytime. Times of Masses and other parish information is available at the back of the church. For parish related enquiries click here.
Grounds and Gardens
We are fortunate to have exquisite grounds around the buildings and lovingly well-kept gardens for our guests to enjoy.
In 1842 Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, Surveyor-General for the colony of New South Wales between 1828 and 1855, laid the foundation stone of his country residence Park Hall on a property of 4500 acres. He grew grapes and fruit trees. In 1860 Park Hall was purchased by Dr Richard Jenkins and renamed Nepean Towers.
Dr Jenkins continued to cultivate vineyards up on cemetery hill and sowed other crops. He also developed further the lawns and gardens and improved the grand avenue of trees leading from the main gate up to the house (that is the unsealed original avenue). It is thought that it was Jenkins who planted exotic species such as the Bunya Nut trees (Araucaria bidwillii). In 1868 one of the visitors to his Nepean Towers property who came by rail and then by carriage across the Douglas Park river crossing was Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, who planted two giant pines at the head of the old avenue.
From 1904 onwards the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart developed the farm, orchards, and vegetable gardens. In late 1922 a major fire swept up the avenue destroying the pine trees, much of the farm and threatened the main buildings. The abundant free labour of the Apostolic School students, novices and brothers saw many developments in the grounds over the next fifty years. However, with the closure of the school and the relaxing of the enclosure around the novitiate many hedges were removed and garden space opened up. In 1974, Fr Leo Hill was appointed with the task of developing the retreat centre, during which time a big effort was put into improving the gardens and grounds. Many of the existing beds were established at that time.
Of special note is the wonderful rose avenue in front of the retreat house. The roses bloom up to three times a year with a festive array of colour and perfume. The other flowers beds too offer such resplendent colour, full of buzzing bees, and rich diversity reflecting the glory of God.
Also worth a mention is the Tower’s cemeteries full of rich spiritual heritage. Click here to browse the M.S.C., Good Shepherd Hill, Appin and Wilton cemeteries.
The Retreat Centre provides transport to and from Douglas Park train station if required. Transport arrangements including times and requests for ‘pick-up’ or ‘drop-off’ from train stations should be made with the Administrator at the time of booking.
Flight arrivals can connect with the train service from the Airport rail stations located beneath both International (T1) and Domestic (T2 – Virgin, T3 – Qantas) Terminals. When travelling out to Douglas Park board the trains on the Airport-East Hills Line or Southern Highlands Line heading to Campbelltown/Macaurthur. At Campbelltown, cross from platform 3 to 4 for the train service to Douglas Park. * Please note there is a cost for pick-ups from Campbelltown Station.
For more information and maps to assist with travelling by vehicle, or for links to train timetables and maps, go to; How to get here …