Jay Burke is a first-year Ignatian Volunteer who serves as Associate Coordinator for the Ignatian Spirituality Project in Boston.
Before joining IVC, Jay had a 30-year career in marketing for community banks and then began a second career in bereavement counseling for hospice patients after completing a program in Clinical Pastoral Education. “My work with hospice patients deepened my realization of a power of the ministry of presence—giving a safe space for people to explore their spirituality. When I retired from my scheduled, money-making position, a friend of mine told me about IVC. When I learned about the service positions that were open, the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) jumped out at me.
“There’s been a real experience of coming home for me.”
The Ignatian Spirituality Project’s theme is Spiritual Retreats Ending Homelessness. Jay’s work with ISP includes all aspects of planning and preparing for retreats, which include logistics of coordinating volunteer leaders, coordinating with the retreat centers, recruiting of retreatants, and more.
Jay says that IVC’s partnership with ISP in Boston increases their capacity to serve. “IVC is providing a Volunteer that can give the administrative and communications support to really help it grow. To provide the cement to build the structures to find more volunteers to put on more weekend retreats. Before the coordinators were amazing volunteers who were doing this plus working full-time.”
“We have three men’s and two women’s retreats each year. Now that I’m there at least two days each week, we can do more. Our next steps are to extend and deepen relationships with shelters and let them know where they could benefit from ISP. As we have more retreats, those who come back share about them, which generates more people who want to go, and we want to respond by offering more retreats.”
“I think there’s a specialness when men get together in a safe space, for authenticity. I’ve been involved for years with men’s groups in my parishes.”
“These homeless men really bring themselves much more to the retreat than others do. On each retreat, we all experience the retreat on the same level—men with homes and men without homes—as children of God.”
“What is clear from the two weekend retreats that I’ve been on is that while the homeless men don’t have physical homes, they felt at home with God. I wonder if they have better homes with God than I do or others with material homes. Who is to say who is rich and who is poor?”
“My relationships that I’m being blessed with in ISP are really gifts to me. It’s very difficult to describe because it’s an experience. It’s like in the Old Testament when people received a blessing of oil on their forehead. It’s something solid, good, real, that happens on the retreats. It’s mutual, and we’re all on the same ground.”
“On one of the follow-up retreats, one man who is homeless said, ‘I realize that the weekend retreat and the Spiritual Exercises are like my GPS. The first thing it does is calculate where I am right now. Not where I was yesterday, not where I’ll be tomorrow, but it helps me deal with where I really am with God right now’. What a powerful message for all of us.”
“The requirements for attending a retreat are that the individual must have been sober for 2 months, be able to share his or her story, be able to listen to others’ stories, and be referred by a homeless shelter or homeless services’ staff member. We’re focusing on the person transitioning out of homelessness. We’re providing a tool with the Examen, and trusting relationships.”
“When we read the evaluations of our Boston retreats, the comments are amazing. When asked ‘What do you feel about yourself after the retreat?’, comments include:
That I’m not alone. God is great.
I am connected to God.
God instructs me to guard my heart.
I never told this to anyone in my life.
“They really get clarity about how choices have affected their lives. The other day, I heard from a man who had been on a retreat in November. He’s a changed man. He got a job! He has proven to himself that he can be successful in those realms.”