Community-based Ministry of the Spiritual Exercises

By Alice Poltorick

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Fr. Jim Conroy, SJ, is passionate about helping people deepen their relationship with God, and he brings his zeal for spiritual direction and the Spiritual Exercises to his role as executive director of The Jesuit Collaborative.

In 2006 the provincials of the Maryland, New England and New York Provinces helped launch The Jesuit Collaborative to promote and make more available the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. Today, through a collaboration of the laity and religious men and women, The Jesuit Collaborative offers innovative programs of prayer and retreats in diverse settings and formats to meet people where they are in their spiritual lives and to help them draw closer to God.

The Spiritual Exercises—the great legacy St. Ignatius gave to his first companions— are as important today as they were during the time of Ignatius. Conroy and his colleagues are extending the experience of the Spiritual Exercises, traditionally made in a retreat house setting, to people where they are—in their parishes, school communities and even their homes.

“These different formats and settings demonstrate the flexibility of the Spiritual Exercises,” said Fr. Conroy. “Our staff may begin by presenting a series of introductory prayer programs—Thursdays with Ignatius and Meeting Christ in Prayer for example—which may prepare participants for longer programs. The variety of program offerings allows people to grow spiritually at their own pace and to see how the Lord is leading them. There are many forms of Ignatian prayer and retreats that people find useful and consoling. Some ultimately make the full Exercises as outlined by Ignatius.

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Fr. Jim Conroy, SJ, addresses friends at a reception following an Ignatian Advent reflection.

“In designing our programs, we look for a hunger —a need —at a parish or community. We establish contact and build a relationship with a key person, the pastor or someone on staff, a director of religious education or an administrator at a school, who has had the experience of Ignatian prayer, who is prayerful and loves the people of the parish or community and wants to provide for a deeper prayer experience.

“We teach people to pray, starting with the Examen, during a day or evening of recollection. They might be interested next in experiencing a weekend of prayer or a 5-day directed retreat or perhaps an 8-week prayer experience during Lent, or a Retreat in Everyday Life offered over a 9-month period.

“In a school community, the mission is to educate students. A school may offer retreats for students. We can help by presenting spiritual programs to alumni and parents, as well as a board of directors.

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Fr. Damian Halligan, SJ, leads prayer during a Thursdays with Ignatius at an in-home gathering.

“We also offer training and formation for those interested in becoming spiritual directors. Some of our ongoing programs—Ignatian Conversations for Women, Ignatian Leadership for Mission (ILM) and MAGIS—are designed to work with the Jesuit provinces on the East coast to meet the needs of specific audiences. And we have programs for young adults, Contemplative Leaders in Action (CLA), and for our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters.

“One of our challenges—and it’s a challenge of our Church—is how to support this work financially as more lay people take on responsibilities previously held by religious. With fewer religious and more laypeople involved, the Church, the people of God, needs to be responsible for caring and feeding those who are providing this ministry.”

Fr. Conroy talks about the graces he experiences as head administrator of The Jesuit Collaborative. “I’ve seen men and women grow in their relationship with God and that becomes a turning point for them—in their personal lives, their professional work and in their communities. As I’ve said before, as a spiritual director, I have a front row seat to the best show in town. And as an administrator, the best part of my job is working with our staff. God is blessing us with a fabulous staff. ”

Visit The Jesuit Collaborative website for programs, schedules of events and more: www.jesuitcollaborative.org. Watch for an article on Carlos Aedo, director for Hispanic ministry at The Jesuit Collaborative, in the next issue of JESUITS magazine.

Adapted from JESUITS magazine, Summer 2014. To read the full magazine online, click here.

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