The halls were decked with boughs of holly and undeniable good cheer filled the air at La Casa de Maria’s holiday concert Dec. 9. Featuring Christmas carols from the Vocal Point Jazz Ensemble and a reading of the timeless holiday story, The Gift of the Magi, from Vicki Riskin and David Rintels, it was an afternoon in perfect harmony with the Montecito center’s peaceful surroundings.

“There is a timeless quality to this gathering and this place,” Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said of the 26-acre, nonprofit interfaith retreat and conference center.

Once thought to be holy ground by the Chumash nation, and formerly part of the San Ysidro Ranch, today La Casa de Maria offers a quiet destination for people of all faiths to escape the stress of everyday life and deepen their spirituality through individual and couples retreats in the intimate surroundings of the Immaculate Heart Center for Spiritual Renewal, or in group gatherings throughout La Casa’s campus.

“I’m always mindful, even when I’m far away, that this place is here and will always be here,” Capps said.

She told the intimate gathering of La Casa supporters that the O. Henry story of The Gift of the Magi, in which a woman sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain for Christmas and the husband sells his watch to buy his wife hair clips, is one of her favorite stories. Its theme about the true meaning of gifts serves as a reminder of “what a gift we have in this place. I call it a sacred space,” said Capps, who first became involved with La Casa de Maria when she moved to Santa Barbara 40 years ago.

La Casa de Maria has a $7.7 million capital campaign under way. Director Stephanie Glatt announced it has now raised $550,000 toward a $1 million challenge grant, which will be used to pay off the property’s mortgage.

In addition, funds raised by the Campaign to Preserve and Renew La Casa de Maria will be used to renew the conference center’s buildings in an environmentally sensitive manner and preserve their historical and architectural integrity. Along with preservation of buildings, funds will be used to preserve the ecology of the site, including the creation of a sustainable agricultural site that protects native plants and development of an organic orchard/garden to provide the produce for the dining rooms, and improvement of the overall health of the citrus orchard and native Coast Live Oak grove. Funds also will go toward providing programs and retreats that address the spiritual, cultural and ecological needs of society, as well as building a fund to make scholarships available for programs and retreats.

To find out more about La Casa de Maria, or to donate to the capital campaign, call Stephanie Glatt at 805.969.5031 x204 or visit