Global Citizen and Activist

Global Citizen and Activist

Mary Wennes is a retired schoolteacher and has taught in Japan, Minnesota, Arizona and California. She describes herself as a “global citizen and an activist for poverty, hunger and immigration.”

Mary is a board member of Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center and also uniquely familiar with how the center came to be. In 1993, Mary’s husband, Howard Wennes, the Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) had what he calls “the million dollar breakfast.” Bishop Wennes met with Mac Estrem, a Lutheran layman who was interested in making a substantial financial contribution to the church for a retreat center. The outcome of the meeting was the decision by Mr. Estrem and his wife Maybelle to purchase facilities and land in the center of Carefree, Arizona that became Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center.

Asked to describe the center, Mary said, “It is a place of connection, surrounded by mountains, a place apart from busyness and stress where I can feel the presence of the Spirit. We have lost a son, and I feel healing about that loss when I am at Spirit in the Desert.”

She describes her role on the board as an idea person, especially in the area of promoting causes that help people in real ways. “I’ve been called a social entrepreneur.” Mary has been to Africa six or seven times and has raised over one million dollars through ELCA congregations for relief and development projects on that continent.

Mary said, “People go through transitions, losses, and trauma. The hospitality of Spirit in the Desert and retreats lead by outstanding facilitators and speakers is an opportunity for anyone and everyone. While founded by Lutherans, and continuing to be supported by Lutheran individuals and churches, all faiths and those seeking spiritual renewal are warmly welcomed.”

Mary and Howard have a feeling of deep satisfaction knowing that in 2016 more than 3,800 people from all over the U.S. and 41 countries participated in retreats.  It all began 24 years ago with a million dollar breakfast.


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