By Colleen Hogan
Many congregations are oriented by Ignatian spirituality, and Ignatian formation typically involves significant classroom time. Dan Leckman, a Jesuit brother, and Sonal Castelino, a Xaviere Missionaries of Christ Jesus sister, can attest to that.
But reflective of Ignatius of Loyola’s conviction that God can be found in all things, Ignatian formation also happens beyond the classroom, through every experience, interaction, and prayer over a person’s lifetime. Dan and Sonal share how Ignatian spirituality and formation have shaped them and their ministries, embodying what it means to be formed in an Ignatian way for ministry today.
What academic formation did you receive?
This is not only learning and growing in our faith, but it’s meeting people of faith who are mission-minded.
Sonal: Related to Ignatian spirituality, I did my theology studies at Regis College — the Jesuit Faculty of Theology in Toronto — with Dan. In the Master of Divinity program, we were trained in pastoral work and explored how to make theology more accessible to the people we encounter on a regular basis.
Dan: I went into studies very reluctantly because I’m not great at school, and I had already done two degrees from McGill University and a degree at Concordia University. But I met people like Sonal and realized this is an extension of community. This is not only learning and growing in our faith, but it’s meeting people of faith who are mission-minded.
What was your noviciate experience like?
Dan: Novitiate was a very intense experience of community and exposed me to the Ignatian way of being, praying, seeing the world, etc. During my first couple weeks, I was feeling like the Radiohead lyrics, “I don’t belong here,” because in my novitiate class alongside me and my measly undergraduate degree there was, you know, a fellow with a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Princeton and another with a law degree from Harvard. It was intimidating.
Within a couple of weeks, I learned it’s not about the studies but about the gifts you have and how you live them out together. Everyone that comes to the novitiate is needed. We all have a role to play.
Sonal: The Xavière sisters are a French congregation, which meant that I was in France for my novitiate. The first year’s intention is to know more about who Jesus is and to desire to be his disciple through conversion and ongoing conversion. The second year is oriented toward being willing to be sent on mission anywhere in the footsteps of Christ. Ignatian spirituality and formation were means that allowed me to be more available in that.
How have the Spiritual Exercices been a part of your Ignatian journey?
Sonal: During my novitiate, the Spiritual Exercises were a concrete part of my formation. It’s essentially this recognition of who we are, created in God’s image and likeness, created in love to live in love—to see how we have or have not responded to this invitation and to experience God’s mercy regardless. Through that, we enter into a full relationship. It’s not by work or act but by simply being.
As Sonal was saying, it’s not about doing but being, which is so cliché for this world but is crucial to learn to live out.
Dan: The Exercises are a very human, lived, and engaging experience of meeting your God. When I did my Gospel meditation during tertianship with the Nativity scene, I was standing around asking, “What am I supposed to do here? This is not my story. This is Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ story.” It must have been inspiration from the Holy Spirit when Joseph reached out to me and said, “Hey, you made it! Thank God. You’re just going to be with us, and that’s it. That’s your job. Be with us.” As Sonal was saying, it’s not about doing but being, which is so cliché for this world but is crucial to learn to live out.
What else has particularly influenced your formation and spirituality?
Dan: [Fr.] James Martin, SJ, is one of the biggest influences, and I tell people what I read in his book years ago. Your prayer is basically showing up and shutting up. You’re present, and you let go of all your own misconceptions, and you connect. It’s amazing how many people I see healing through that process. For me, that’s part of Ignatian learning — learning to connect in a real way to engage with God and the world.
Sonal: For me, it’s the examen. That was really my first taste of Ignatian spirituality. When I was discerning religious life, this prayer was very foundational. You ask for the grace to look at your day through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, and you see moments that were life-giving and that were difficult, life-taking. You ask for a spirit of gratitude for the good moments, for forgiveness for the moments where we weren’t up to the mark and for the grace to be faithful the next day.
How have you formed others in Ignatian spirituality through your ministries?
Sonal: I made my first vows on August 15, 2021, and then was sent to Toronto. I now work in campus ministry at the University of St. Michael’s College. A lot of my role is to be a listener to students who are exploring freedom and pushing boundaries for the first time. Ignatian spirituality helps me in how I create a space that is open and welcoming for students to be safe and to belong, so they can have the courage to explore.
During Lent last year, we used a resource called The First Spiritual Exercises. People can choose a way that speaks to them, so it might be a passage of Scripture through Lectio Divina—listening to and remaining with the passage. For some, it’s imaginative, like painting a picture. For some, it was the conversations and the group they found most helpful.
Ignatian spirituality helps me in how I create a space that is open and welcoming for students to be safe and to belong, so they can have the courage to explore.
Dan: I work as a spiritual director in Guelph [at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre]. One of the challenges but also joys of my life is giving the Exercises and eight-day retreats. Some retreatants will tell me, “Whenever I talk to God, it’s only myself that I hear. I don’t so much hear from God”—at which point I always point them to Genesis, chapter one, which says we are created in God’s image. Could God not be in their own thoughts, emotions, and experiences? And that’s an eye opener for a lot of people.
What resources would you recommend to others who want to grow in their Ignatian spirituality?
Dan: Fr. James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa’s The Ascent of Mount Sinai, America Magazine’s podcast Jesuitical, and the Reimagining the Examen app.
Sonal: Mark Thibodeaux’s Reimagining the Ignatian Examen and God’s Voice Within, Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s The Discernment of Spirits, and Margaret Silf’s Inner Compass.