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A spiritual journey leads to western Minnesota, now home of Coeur de Rose contemplative retreat

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Julie Ann Stevens is preparing to welcome guests to her contemplative retreat at 240 Elm Ave. in Watson. 1 / 4
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Julie Ann Stevens is converting a house in Watson to serve as a residence for contemplative retreat. The comfortable home offers a rural setting for those seeking time away from their normal routines. 2 / 4
Tom Cherveny / Tribune The Coeur de Rose offers three guest bedrooms, the smallest and coziest being the most popular. Julie Ann Stevens purchased the house in Watson to serve as a contemplative retreat.3 / 4
Tom Cherveny / Tribune The modest bungalow at 240 Elm Ave. in Watson offers a quiet, rural environment for those seeking time away from their normal routines. 4 / 4

WATSON — A spiritual journey led Julie Ann Stevens from Minneapolis to a modest, three-bedroom cottage in Watson.

She believes others on this journey will find this place too, no matter where they might start.

She calls the cottage the Coeur de Rose, or "heart of the rose,'' in memory of her mother, Rosemary. Stevens is opening its doors as a contemplative retreat.

It is a place where those on the contemplative path of prayer and meditation can spend time with others in reflection and study amidst the open spaces of the prairie and the quiet of a small, western Minnesota community.

She has furnished the home, added a fireplace, and made repairs to the plumbing and heating. She has filled its bookshelves with contemplative writings, and decorated the walls with her original art, much of it with a spiritual theme.

"All of that has been done with the intention that others will find their way here,'' Stevens said.

She found her way to Watson through friendship with a colleague at her work.

Stevens is originally from Rochester. She earned a degree in marketing and mass communication at St. Cloud State University, and made her career and lived much of her adult life in Minneapolis.

She was marketing manager for Towers Watson in Minneapolis when she began her contemplative journey in earnest. She had reached age 50, and realized that she sought more in life than what her professional and external life offered.

She studied with the Sisters of the Visitation in North Minneapolis, and contemplated joining a lay community. She was accepted and studied with the The Living School for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

And occasionally through the years, she made trips to the Watson and Montevideo area with her colleague and friend at work, Sally Phillips. Phillips lived in Plymouth but kept her family's farm home in rural Chippewa County. Stevens said that the more she visited the area and became engaged with its residents, the more that she came to enjoy both.

Her spiritual journey led her to leave her marketing career. She was about to start a master's program in spiritual studies in 2016 at Loyola University in Chicago when she asked Phillips if she could spend some time at her rural home that summer. She had sold her Loring Park condominium. During that summer stay in western Minnesota, she made the decision to purchase the small home that is now Coeur de Rose.

She has heard expressions of bemusement when she explains that Watson is where she has chosen to offer a contemplative retreat. She understands why many feel Watson to be the most unlikely of places for a retreat of this sort. She has made her own trips to retreats offered in plush settings and often secluded locations.

But the contemplative path is one of humility, she said. It requires a willingness to put yourself in circumstances not always on your terms and to open yourself up to those around you.

A cottage in a modest, prairie community offers those opportunities in a real way, she explained. It's not a curated experience. Those devoting themselves to a retreat at Coeur de Rose will not be sealed off from the real world.

Stevens said she has discovered a constellation of people and places in western Minnesota that those seeking the contemplative path will want to open themselves to.

Coeur de Rose is well-suited for overnight stays by small groups of three or four, she said. Stevens also believes that larger retreats could be held, possibly arranged by spiritual directors and with some participants staying at other locations in the region.

She's willing to help lead retreats or play a role in them, but is also just as happy to stay away and let others manage on their own. She keeps an apartment in Minneapolis and offers classes in her art studio there.

Yet more and more, she said she's come to feel that Coeur de Rose and Watson are becoming her home. She creates much of her acrylic art here, inspired by the open sky and horizon of the prairie.

She maintains a website — — and has a brochure printed to let others know about Coeur de Rose, but is deliberately not applying her marketing mind to promoting it. She's convinced others will discover it, just as she had.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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