Don Gilbert, MSW, who will speak at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church this weekend, survived a 12-hour surgery to remove a brain tumor in 1988.

by Barbara Sherf

Hosted by the Center for Contemporary Mysticism, two facilitators from the Sacred Garden Fellowship (SGF) will share their spiritual journey with Chestnut Hill area residents at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church this Saturday, Feb. 17, 10 a.m., and Sunday, 2 p.m.

Don Gilbert, MSW, and Adriene Nicastro-Santos, MS, will share aspects of spiritual healing at a Saturday workshop at a private facility followed by a lecture on Sunday in the Parish Hall. Gilbert, 73, who survived a 12-hour surgery to remove a brain tumor in 1988, was led to Trinity Temple in Albany, New York, the previous year where he was introduced to Rev. Penny Donovan, founder of the church. During a sermon, he and his wife witnessed a most unusual occurrence.

According to Gilbert and their web site, Donovan, 83, got up to speak but at the conclusion she did not recall any of her words. A standing ovation erupted at the sermon’s close. She and her congregation believe that the Archangel Gabriel channeled words and messages through her that night. For 12 years Rev. Donovan claims that she channeled Gabriel, resulting in over 250 lectures. According to the minister, she continues to channel master teachers, whose lessons are offered through books, audio recordings and verses.

“My wife and I and the others sat there in this little church and said ‘Wow, what just happened?’ Everyone there knew that something important had happened,” said Gilbert.

(Gilbert and Nicastro-Santos are therapists, retreat facilitators and spiritual healers from the Sacred Garden Fellowship, a spiritual, nondenominational center founded in 1994, serving Albany and the capital region of New York State.)

A year later, after the tumor scare, Gilbert, who has a master’s degree in social work, was teaching college while maintaining a private practice as a licensed clinical social worker. He was moved to do something more with the teachings.

“When the surgeons gave me the possibilities of what could go wrong and then coming through it, I knew I was going to be okay, but it shakes your bones,” said Gilbert, who left his teaching position. In 2005, Donovan and Gilbert formed SGF “to provide and sustain a spiritual home for those seeking light.”

Nicastro-Santos, 52, a psycho-spiritual therapist, healer, teacher and author, lived in Chestnut Hill just prior to attending Hahnemann University, where she received an MS in group process and group psychotherapy. She and her husband, Peter, now live in State College. Nicastro-Santos went to a retreat in 2008 and co-facilitated her first retreat in 2014.

Nicastro-Santos and Gilbert routinely offer psycho-spiritual intensive retreat weekends through SGF along with the organization’s other retreats with Rev. Donovan. One of the core themes of the retreat, according to Nicastro-Santos, is helping participants reduce limitations that might be holding them back.

“Those limitations prevent us from tapping into our divinity. We use guided imagery, group processing and didactic techniques to help people remove the blockages,” Nicastro-Santos said. “We will focus on core themes by helping participants release the aspects of ego and personality that prevent us from reaching our higher power.”

Gilbert says participants should not have any real expectations going into the weekend.

“Having expectations just gets in the way. You will have an experience that touches your heart. We work very hard to get ourselves up from our personalities and take the group to a higher level. Then we try to get out of the way and allow the spirit to move. What happens is up to the cauldron of what people bring of themselves.”

For more information, go to or St. Paul’s is located at 22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave.