Couple opens Catholic center for retreats, programs

A group hikes around the 5-acre lake at Heart Ridge Retreat and Cultural Center in Sunset, near Table Rock and Lake Jocassee. (Provided)

SUNSET—For years, Keith Kiser, the headmaster at St. Joseph’s Catholic School, and his wife Tami, dreamed of owning and operating a retreat center, inspired by their own experiences attending retreats.

Their dream became a reality with the opening of Heart Ridge Retreat and Cultural Center in March — 37 acres between Table Rock and Lake Jocassee with a 5-acre lake, a stream, small waterfall, gardens and trails.

Diocesan leaders are excited about the opportunity for parish retreats and the many events and programs that Heart Ridge sponsors. Groups such as Marriage Encounter, Emmaus and vocations have already expressed interest.

The property includes a renovated Lakeside Lodge that sleeps up to 40, a dormitory-type building that sleeps 25, and five cottages. There’s also a gym with a basketball court, a cafeteria, a game room, six group meeting spaces, a large covered porch, and a small chapel.

As a family, the Kisers, who have 10 children and 10 grandchildren, attended Marianist camps and Catholic Life vacations and went camping with other Catholic families. These experiences helped deepen their relationship with God and each other.

They also developed a love for the outdoors. The new center combines all of these aspects through a retreat experience in the beautiful mountains of South Carolina.

“This retreat is right in the center of so many beautiful sites in our state,” said Tami, who has been involved in planning women’s online conferences and retreats in the diocese and internationally. “There’s waterfalls and mountains, as well as lakes and gorges. You can go on hikes or choose just to sit and take it all in.”

The center is not just for groups or for retreat programming, but also for individuals, families or couples who seek renewal on their own.

“We envision writers and musicians coming here to create, as well as the frazzled couple who needs time away,” Keith said.

The story of how the Kisers found the site is a miracle in itself.

After searching for more than a year for just the right property, the Kisers had settled on the former Milliken center in Campobello.

It was a beautiful piece of property, but the buildings were in disrepair, and new buildings were required to sleep more people. With all of these costs, the Kisers turned to St. Joseph for help.

Then, as Tami was searching the realtor site, the Heart Ridge property turned up. After making several visits, the Kisers made an offer, and it was accepted. They closed on March 19, 2020, the feast of St. Joseph. As the pandemic hit, the Kisers spent their quarantine cleaning out and fixing up Heart Ridge.

“We named it Heart Ridge after the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Tami said.

“And after following our hearts’ desires,” said Keith, “which we believe came from God.”