In the summer 2021, during the Ignatian Year, the Jesuits of Canada offered to all the Ignatian family an eight-day retreat called The Gift of Ignatian Community in a World Experiencing Crisis, inspired by their shared spirituality.
The year 2021 marks the 500th anniversary of the conversion of Saint Ignatius, a date that is of particular significance for all of us, but particularly for the Society of Jesus and the Christian Life Communities. As such, the Superior General of the Jesuits has announced an Ignatian Year to begin in May 2021 and end in June 2022. But the year 2021 also marks the 400th anniversary of Mary Ward’s Institutum, the first complete plan for what would become the IBVM-CJ communities; the 170th anniversary of the first arrival of Sisters of Saint Joseph in Canada; and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Xavière Sisters, Missionaries of Christ Jesus by Claire Monestès. 2020 was also the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Faithful Companions of Jesus by Marie Madeleine d’Houët. It seemed important, in this context, to invite all the members of the wider Ignatian Family in Canada to celebrate together this Ignatian Year with a common retreat. – The Gift of Ignatian Community in a World Experiencing Crisis, Introduction
What was this retreat? “It was composed of eight “movements” that led the retreatant through the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius,” explains Fr. Joe Newman, SJ. “A downloaded retreat booklet was available to all, with the structure of each day and of each prayer period: Preparatory Prayer; Composition of Place; the Grace sought; Scripture passages; a dialogue or colloquy; conclusion and review.”
“I was grateful for the opportunity to participate and appreciate all the collaboration and work that went into preparing the booklet, the opening and closing.” – Sister Ann McGill, FCJ – Toronto
According to the testimonies from multiple retreatants, the openness to all the Ignatian family was a gift, and the retreat bore many fruits leading to a renewed commitment to our common mission.
An Ignatian Family
Reflecting on the communities’ charism and the common Ignatian spirituality were appreciated by the participants. Indeed, as Sr. Joanna Walsh FCJ – Edmonton, explains:
“The Introduction to the Retreat included the reflection that Ignatian community is “rooted in an experience of ‘friendship in the Lord’ that fosters the building of an apostolic body that goes out to share…”
She then adds: “During the retreat, I found that reading from the documents and experiences of various Founders and Foundresses gave me more insight into what we share because of our Ignatian roots, and therefore how much the ‘multiplier effect’ is actually happening across Canada as men and women, clergy, religious, and lay, live this spirituality. Those quotations helped fill out for me some aspects of the various Mysteries to be pondered during the retreat.”
Sr. Ann Marie Walsh, FCJ, adds: “It was so enriching to reflect on the various charisms and to see the common rootedness in Ignatian Spirituality. I recognized the embodiment of the Two Standards…with Christ gathering persons and sending them to share the Good News. The section on Partners in Christ’s Mission had the same sense of gathering and sending. In our own FCJ documents, we are called and sent to “engage in whatever work contributes to the salvation of souls and in the manner which appears most conducive to the service and glory of God and the good of the neighbour.”
Being particularly challenged by the theme of the community charism, Andrée Richard, CLC President, was looking forward to this retreat with joy. “The circumstances in my life that foster an intimate and precious relationship with the Lord, however, have been slower to take shape in community. The readings chosen for this retreat helped me to understand the community charism at a deeper level.
They invited me to move from “I” to “we.” My vision and my sense of community life were broadened and blessed with profound graces.
My identity was enriched by this Spirit-led experience. Knowing that I was accompanied by members of the great Ignatian family of Canada helped me to solidify my sense of belonging to this communion of saints. Family, my CLC community, my parish, work, etc. helps me to feel rooted in a local, national and global family, broadening my desire to serve. There is no shortage of needs and I pray that I will be able to respond to the call that is addressed to me.”
Finally, the openness to all Ignatian groups, including feminine groups, was appreciated, for example by Sr. Susan Donohue FCJ -Toronto:
“I appreciated the inclusion of the feminine, also the sense of family and community through the contributions of women religious.”
Fruits of the Retreat
Being with others, linked to all humanity and following Christ seems to have renewed retreatants‘ engagement with their mission: the retreat bored great fruits for many participants.
Marc-André Veselovsky, SJ, writes: “My retreat this year was a reminder of my call to service. God loves me, and therefore I can love others. Jesuit community is an opportunity for me to witness to the love that God shows us. This was one of the fruits of the retreat. I also wrote a song for the first time in my life, and I thank God for that gift.”
“I was called and challenged to recognize myself as part of the web of brokenness in a world in crisis, but I am not alone. I am called into companionship with all humanity and with all creation. Jesus is the Saviour not me! We need community,” shares Sr. Susan Donohue FCJ -Toronto.
This sense of companionship was also important to Andrée Richard: “The identity received from God, the call to follow Christ, the reconciliation between the forces of good and evil always being part of my life, the peace in grey times and above all, the serene joy dwelling in me every day are the graces received, renewed in this time of intimacy with the Lord. My sense of community lived in this union of heart and mind in community in Christ gives me great joy. It is knowing that we are all on the road to Emmaus and that our collaboration will contribute to the coming of the kingdom of God that tells me…it is good and pleasant to be together.”
For others, reading and praying the Scriptures and Ignatian texts was a great consolation during the retreat.
“I appreciated the format-especially quotes from our Foundress. It gave me a new appreciation of Marie Madeleine in the context of the Scripture we were reflecting on for that day,” explains Sr. Lois Anne Bordowitz FCJ – Toronto.
As for Fr. Newman: “In my case I had asked for a retreat director, and my director guided me through the basic dynamics of the retreat with some unique concentrations of Scripture passages and graces to seek, taking account of my experience in prayer. Some prayer periods took me back to images from a much earlier retreat, over 40 years ago. My director then gave me passages to pray on, and repeat, that could lead me forwards in the way that God is leading me. An important part of this year’s retreat was the emphasis on community: “loved by God in communion (belonging) with others…”, “To know Jesus more intimately, who becomes human for us in a human family”… At Villa Saint Martin, we – twelve men and women – were part of a larger community, praying together in three different places hundreds of kilometers apart, one in sharing the gift of Ignatian Community.”