Presentation Center is rooted in the history and mission of two very different entities: the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the work of Ernest Rogers who founded the Montezuma Mountain School for Boys in the Santa Cruz Mountains outside of Los Gatos, California.
Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Sisters of the Presentation trace their roots to an extraordinary Irish women of the mid-eighteenth century. Nano Nagle lived in the period of Irish history when Catholics were persecuted under English penal laws, when they could not hold property, worship, or be educated. The resultant squalor and ignorance along with the accompanying social ills drove Nano to action. Grounded in her life of prayer and worship, and with indomitable courage and perseverance, she established schools and supported other works of charity. Wherever need called, she was committed not only to charity but to works of justice and human development. To give stability to her work and with the approval of the Catholic Church she established the Sisters of the Presentation in 1776. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the community had spread throughout all of Ireland and even extended to England, Newfoundland, and India.
Aware of the serious need for sisters to serve the growing population that flooded California in the wake of the Gold Rush in 1849, Archbishop Alemany recruited, among others, the Sisters of the Presentation for the spiritual and educational needs of San Franciscans. In 1854, four Presentation Sisters arrived in San Francisco to establish a religious presence and educational and pastoral services that last to this day, not only in San Francisco, but throughout the state of California and elsewhere in the United States.
As membership grew in the 1950’s the sisters recognized the need for a new center outside of San Francisco for their spiritual and educational formation. Their search led them to the site outside of Los Gatos in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the former Montezuma Mountain School for Boys.
What characterized the Montezuma Mountain School was Professor Roger’s commitment to a family spirit, which expanded into a little democracy in which the students governed themselves by mutual consent. In a non-sectarian, non-military school, the authority of the faculty rested upon recognized sympathy and respect for each person. Students were challenged to develop responsibility, stand on their own two feet, work hard, learn by doing, respect the environment, and prepare for their life as American citizens. In 1934 Professor Rogers expanded his horizons by establishing the Junior Statesmen of America, an organization designed to help high school students develop the skills and knowledge necessary for effective civic leadership.
Just when the Presentation Sisters were seeking a site for their own members, Professor Rogers found it necessary to close the school. Thus, in 1956 the property was purchased as a training center and spiritual renewal site for the religious community. The atmosphere of education, love of nature, and respect for person, which had characterized the Montezuma years, would continue in a new and different modality. The Montezuma Mountain Ranch School for Boys was transformed into Presentation College, an affiliate of the University of San Francisco.
From 1958 until 1971 Presentation College buzzed with the activity of young sisters in their formative years preparing through prayer, theological and other academic studies, and collaboration with other religious communities, for their lives of witness and service.
Within this same period, in the 1960’s, the Catholic Church experienced the Second Vatican Council, an intense period of study and renewal. Religious communities were called to examine their service and their spirituality in the light of the changing needs of society. The consequent restructuring led the sisters to move their training site back to San Francisco and undertake a transformation of Presentation College to Presentation Center, a retreat and educational center.
For the next twenty-five years, Presentation Center continued the fundamental purpose for which it was originally purchased: to be a site for prayer and growth. It also began to reflect in its uses the purposes for which the Sisters of the Presentation originally came into being—to meet an imperative social need of the day. Presentation Retreat Center became a haven for those who had become frazzled in the fast pace and pressures in the society around them, especially in Silicon Valley. They sought a quiet place for prayer and peaceful contemplation. Presentation Center offered an environment modeling service, support, charity, reverence for nature and it became a place where faith deepened, wounds were healed, vision could be shaped and hope could be rekindled.
Although the Center’s sisters remain grounded in their own Roman Catholic spiritual tradition, they are now open not only to members of religious communities, but to all who seek this healing, spiritual, and educational environment. As they sought to heal the wounds caused by the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 not only to the environment but to people who were its victims, they were awakened to a new aspect of their mission. They came to recognize that the natural beauty of the Center, the plant and animal life which characterized it, was calling them to awareness of a new obligation to preserve the earth. Thus they began to think “green” that is, to become environmentally sensitive in all of their planning and their actions.
The most dramatic response to this realization has been the opening of a new Welcoming Center and the replacement of their dining and kitchen area with a totally green building, one which can teach all who come practical ways to integrate their responsibility to preserve the earth into their life and actions and spirituality. Destruction of the natural resources of the earth for economic gain is a principal cause of continuing of poverty in world. The daughters of Nano Nagle are still concerned for the poor especially all who are being impacted by destructive practices against the earth. Presentation Center continues to reach out to shelter, support, and teach all those who seek true peace and renewal of life and spirit.