Mud and debris fill the inside La Casa de Maria's main chapel
Mike Eliason

La Casa de Maria, a small but quietly famous retreat center off East Mountain Drive in upper Montecito, has vowed to rebuild after sustaining heavy damage in the January 9 storm and debris flow that killed 20 and destroyed 128 homes.

“We will rebuild, and we will be renewed,” said director Steve Jacobsen in a prepared statement, who clarified earlier community reports that the entire property was “gone.” “[La Casa de Maria] is far from gone, and until we are able to get better access to the property, we won’t be able to fully assess the extent of the damage,” he said.

Aerial footage makes it clear that while some buildings on the 26-acre property were severely damaged or destroyed, many remain standing. All of the retreat’s guests and staff were evacuated ahead of the storm. The retreat is situated along San Ysidro Creek, which overflowed with a soupy wave of mud, boulders, and debris, also destroying much of nearby San Ysidro Ranch.

La Casa was originally built in 1955 by a Catholic order of nuns before evolving into an internationally recognized interfaith sanctuary. “La Casa has endured many challenges over its 75-year history,” said Jacobsen. “Despite the destruction caused by this event, the organization continues to hold the land as sacred and its mission unchanged. We believe the world will always need places of renewal like La Casa, and we are resolute in our determination to recover.”

La Casa has canceled most of its scheduled courses for the foreseeable future, and a limited number of programs have been relocated. Jacobsen said he’s fielded a number of offers to help. “Soon, we will have information about how we can put those offers into action,” he said.


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