Development Of The Personally Directed Retreat Movement
Work Of J. J. English, S.J.
Through The Guelph Centre of Spirituality (1)
by J. Veltri,
First of Three Sections
In The Beginning ...
When I first began to work in the retreat movement in 1967, the week-end preached retreat, the parish mission and some youth programs were practically the only forms of renewal in our RC diocese. I started immediately to use audio-visual helps, many of which I made with my colleague, John Matheson, S.J. In one series of preached retreats with him, we used slides showing the biblical themes behind the then current cigarette ads. Through these slides we attempted to engage the imaginations of the retreatants in order that they could enter more fully into the scriptural creation stories. We used film and music to help people enter into prayer. We fostered the use of scriptural prayer with the use of the bible and the help of an article of my famous cousin Armand M. Nigro, S.J.. Since the retreat house was not willing to supply bibles for each room, we encouraged a benefactor to place a bible in every room. (Even hotels had bibles in every room at that time but not retreat houses dedicated to spiritual direction and the Spiritual Exercises!)
John Matheson went on to teach film and media at Campion College, Regina, while I continued what we had begun at Loyola House, Guelph. During these weekend preached retreats, I encouraged participants to pray with scripture. As well, I encouraged group sharing and discussion in the place of the question-box session in which the priest retreat-giver answered questions put to him by the retreatants. My continued use of media was to help people experience God's word by engaging their affectivity through the use of images with sight, sound, and by encouraging their use of imagination in their prayer. However what I did not realize was that the adults who came to our retreat houses were more of a programmatic bent (stage three of James Fowler's theory of faith development). With the use of film, slides and sound in the chapel setting, they were more confused than impressed. The numbers went down. In any case by that point in time, the days of the engaging and sometimes entertaining preachers for the weekend preached retreat were coming to an end. Except for our youth programs, our innovative retreat programming did not attract new participants.
Meanwhile, most Jesuits continued to stress the spoken and written word over any other approach in education as well as in retreat work. As typical RC clerics in leadership positions, my Jesuit colleagues were skeptical about the value of media in the communication of religion and spirituality. Most of them believed that my use of the media was gimmicky.
There Was A Man Whose Name Was John
Then 1969 happened. John English, S.J., with whom I was to collaborate until 1995, invited me to participate in the first Spiritual Exercises Institute. It was new. It was exciting. In North America certainly, and perhaps in the world, this was the very first experience of the 30-day Spiritual Exercises given by a team in a retreat house setting using the silent, personally directed, retreat method with a large group of persons. We started that May with 39 women who were in formation work in their religious congregations. John wanted to begin with such a group because they were ready for such a renewal experience. They were eager to learn effective methods in their formation ministry. But there was also another advantage, namely, women were more likely than men to influence male religious and clerics to make directed retreats. And so it happened; by 1971 diocesan priests and male religious began to make the personally directed retreats!
During the next few years I came to realize that the experience I was intending to foster through the use of the media and scriptural prayer was actually and profoundly being achieved through the personally directed Spiritual Exercises, particularly in the eight-day and thirty-day formats. Although I did not have any proof that my use of the media and scripture in fostering prayer could achieve the same depth of experience as the techniques of the personally directed retreat, I did have, from my own observation, the evident religious experiences of people making the Spiritual Exercises according to the directed retreat mode.
Unfortunately, most of the experiments to adapt the personally directed retreat into the weekend format that we attempted never quite worked. But since it was so effective in the longer formats, we did not pay much attention to the fact that the so-called traditional or "Ignatian" weekend retreat in its various forms was dying.
Among the great blessings of God's care for me was my work with John English over three decades. I was affected by John English's love for the Spiritual Exercises, his conviction of their power, his authenticity and his constant grappling with their meaning and practical applications. John was convinced that the church needed to recapture the art and skill of spiritual direction and that this should not be the preserve of a clerical class. He was also convinced that the Spiritual Exercises could be used to help faith-filled people with appropriate natural gifts, even without graduate degrees or extensive training, to become spiritual directors.
John was one of those people who spontaneously did that form of critical reflection which we call "theological reflection." Through many encounters with him, through discussion and argument over this point or that, more formally at meetings, and very often less formally by living with him in community, John English did for me what years of academic training failed to do. I can now reflect and theorize on my present life experiences from the perspective of spirituality, theology, philosophy and psychology. Also, I have come to deeply appreciate how this critical reflection is essential in the ongoing development of the spiritual director.
I have the impression that there are many retreat centres which do not exercise this skill at all. Many Jesuit retreat centres simply take for granted that the people working as retreat conductors and directors believe the same things about their craft and never talk deeply to each other about what they are doing when they are doing it; or, why a program works the way it does; or, how a program relates to the human and spiritual growth that it is theorized to foster. Under the leadership of John English, it was much different. We were always talking about the meaning, nature and effectiveness of our work of the personally directed Spiritual Exercises. This critical reflection under John's influence helped us to develop the personally directed retreat modality in a multiplicity of ways. It influenced a progression of experiments and ideas around the practice, understanding, and theology of the Spiritual Exercises that coalesce into what John has called "Communal Spirituality." For John, this term came to include societal perspectives with social justice, feminine and ecological aspects. Let me list here some of the ideas and experiments that, interwoven together, form a unique tapestry:
Communal Spiritual Exercises -- In 2002, with two very good friends, Kuruvala Zachariah, PhD, and Lois Zachariah, PhD, John adapted the Spiritual Exercises for a communal rather than private experience, with many of the themes of the past three decades, in the a manual called Twenty-Four Spiritual Exercises for the New Story of Universal Communion. The description of this manual can be found on my webpage (books.htm).
1. "Guelph Centre of Spirituality' was the name (between 1969 and 2001) that included Loyola House, Ignatius College and the Farm Community at Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Loyola House was the retreat house where John English was the director for several years and where he and I were staff members for much of the time between 1969 and 1997 (when John was assigned to the Jesuit community in Winnipeg). Ignatius College was a Jesuit residence and novitiate. At one point during this time it housed the Institute for Communal Life which was a separate entity from Loyola House and was dedicated to the promotion of Communal Spirituality. The Farm Community was made up of volunteers, Jesuits and challenged persons requiring supervision; this grouping lived according to a L'Arche style and worked on the farm as a vehicle of personal growth. At the time of writing this article many realities had changed at this location. This change has been reflected in its changed name -- Ignatius Jesuit Centre of Guelph.
2. Sometimes we refer to these various ways that persons experience the Spiritual Exercises as Healing, or Identity, or Call Modes. To further understand this terminology read Chapter 30 from Orientations Vol 2B by clicking here:
4. This workshop was for persons who had completed the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius under personal direction. It was intended for those who are interested in acquiring a greater practical understanding of the Spiritual Exercises and their application in today's world. It presumed that the applicants would come having had some experience of discernment and decision-making according to the principles and practice of the Exercises. In fact in preparation they were asked to bring with them a serious decision which required discernment. The workshop included a practicum during which the participants were to receive spiritual direction and were to give spiritual direction under supervision. To support these efforts to achieving its goals, this workshop was conducted in an atmosphere of prayer and reflection. And the three day directed retreat within the practicum was conducted in the same silence as required during the full Spiritual Exercises.
the Canadian CLC can be found by clicking:
which is entitled Preparing for the Spiritual Exercises.
A variation and application of this for Annotation 19 can be found by clicking:
9. For two different methods for helping individuals to pray over their "Graced" history click here: bob/page7.htm#109 ; here
and for some comments
on the value of using this approach for beginning directors click here: or2ch1&2.html#N_1_
11. This is the title of a manual which resulted from an ongoing communal project from the late seventies through most of the eighties. It brings together the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises with the dynamics of organizational development theory and various psychological dynamics of group life. The late George Schemel, S.J., one time director of the Jesuit Spirituality Center, Wernersville, Pennsylvania and, later, director of the Spirituality Center at the University of Scranton, Penn. USA led the project which gathered together many practitioners of the Spiritual Exercise to further its goals. Besides Judith A. Roemer and Jim Borbely, John English continued to collaborate with the project until its completion. Information on this project can be found by clicking http://www.isecp.org/ from which site you can get contacts to follow up your investigations.
15. A quotation from John English's tentative preface for the reprinting of Spiritual Freedom -- 2nd Edition, Revised and Updated, in a completely new format and with several new chapters published by Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1995.
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