“Spiritual retreats ending homelessness” is the tagline of the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP), an IVC partner agency. Ignatian Volunteers serve as Retreat Coordinators in three of ISP’s 24 cities: Boston, Chicago, and Cleveland.ISP’s successful retreat model cares for the interior and spiritual lives of those living with homelessness and suffering from addiction. Through a blend of Ignatian spirituality and the 12-Step Recovery Program, ISP retreats provide hope and healing for those living on the margins. This gift of hope leads to the empowerment of participants to access further and longer-lasting transformation, including housing stability, ongoing sobriety, and furthering education and job attainment. The Ignatian Spirituality Project was founded in Chicago by Ed Shurna and Bill Creed, SJ, who served for many years as Chaplain to IVC Chicago.
Tom Drexler, ISP’s Executive Director, states, “ISP provides the spiritual resources and a fundamental foundation of hope where different choices can be made. The spark gained on an Ignatian retreat can lead to long-lasting hope and transformation.”
“Retreatants tell their stories and locate God in the story—in the beauty, struggles, joy and pain. For many who haven’t experienced this type of spirituality, the idea of finding God in the struggles, in the darkest moments of life, is astounding.”
Tom continues, “The benefit of an IVC Coordinator for ISP is that he or she is giving 16 hours a week. We encourage them to visit shelters and form ongoing spiritual companionship programs. They bring positive energy. It’s so beautiful. A lot of our coordinators have full-time jobs. Ignatian Volunteers have the time to give. They allow that energy to bubble up and go places.”
The following quotes come from interviews with five members of the IVC national community who are involved with the Ignatian Spirituality Project.
Jan O’Halloran, Chicago
“So many of the women don’t think they deserve God’s love because of mistakes that they’ve made. They’re going through life trying to get sober and live a clean life. They feel undeserving because of the way they’ve hurt others. They talk about having made ‘bad choices.’ They feel unlovable. At the retreats, it’s like a light bulb goes off—God always loves them and God has always been there no matter their past. This changes their outlook on life. It changes their goals. Now they don’t want to just get sober but get sober with a purpose—to be more caring, to mend relationships with their families. They feel that they are loved and have always been loved. It changes them.”
“Here I am in this middle class, pretty affluent suburb. My problems have been what my children and I call ‘first-world problems.’ IVC put me into a different place, in community with women who I wouldn’t have known otherwise. It has transformed my life. Even though they’ve had struggles that I haven’t had, we’re so much the same. We’re looking for purpose, to build better relationships, to feel God’s love. That has been my transformation.”
Jay Burke, Boston
“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 reflection and lesson for all of us.”
“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?”
Tim Boyle, Cincinnati
“These guys that come, they’ve been in and out of prison multiple times. They’re kind of at the end of their ropes. There are all kinds of issues with drugs. Their criminal records are mostly about cash flow, petty crime to support their drug habits. They’re the proverbial people on the streets. Those we work with live in Halfway Houses with rules and the 12-step program. They’ve made positive decisions. At the retreats, we present God loves you no matter what. It’s a leap of faith for them. Their response to the retreats is very positive. Some make life changes now, and some may get the message later. We just hope that they open their hearts to the Holy Spirit and change before it kills them.”
“In my life I’ve been blessed way beyond what I ever deserved. I just want to give something back.”
Fr. Richard Roos, SJ, Boston
Fr. Roos is a Jesuit priest who has been an IVC Reflector for 4 years and serves as Jay Burke’s Supervisor for ISP Boston.
“When the men and women come for the retreats, they’re a little hesitant, cautious. They are used to being in situations that can be threatening—on the streets, or sleeping on a couch in a home with others who may steal from them or can’t be trusted. They come on the retreat and get their own room and they’re amazed! They discover that the people they’re with care about them, want to listen to their stories, and do so with respect, care, and concern. This may be the first time this has ever happened for them. They finish the retreat, and ask, ‘Can I go again?’ In the car on the way back, they’re chatty and full of spirit and life. It’s really a transformative experience.”
“I was Coordinator for ISP in Boston but Jay has really taken over for me. He does all the managerial work to coordinate the men’s retreats and is helping with the women’s retreats now, too. I have a full-time job and other commitments with IVC, ISP, I go to three prisons for Masses, and don’t have time for the work anymore. Jay has been absolutely fabulous. He’s a self-starter, organized, and has a vision and dreams. He sees things and implements them. He is working to increase the number of retreats, increase the number of shelters that we work with, and increase the size of our volunteer team. The collaboration between IVC and ISP has been extremely positive.”
Mariah Snyder, Twin Cities
Mariah is an Ignatian Volunteer in the Twin Cities and her IVC placement is with Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. She is also a member of the Twin Cities Ignatian Associates, through which she volunteers with ISP.
“My work with ISP has given me a greater appreciation of what these women are facing overall in their lives. They confront addictions and are just fighting to keep stable. They’ve had relapses and come back and fight again. The women really want to change their lives and keep falling. I keep thinking of the Stations of the Cross and Jesus falling and getting up three times.”
Note: This article was originally featured in the April 2014 issue of IVC Connections.