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By Philip Shano, SJ

Loyola House in Guelph celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. This is an occasion to acknowledge the countless graces of our history and the energetic generosity of so many committed men and women. Let’s take a few minutes to remember and be grateful.

From Oakville to Guelph

First, some history. The Society of Jesus began ministering in this region in the 1850s and established a physical presence on the present site in 1913. Our presence on this land was primarily focused on the formation of young Jesuits. Generations deepened their spiritual foundation in these surroundings. A significant event took place in 1964. Loyola House opened as a retreat centre for laymen of the Diocese of Hamilton on June 28 that year.

A significant event took place in 1964. Loyola House opened as a retreat centre for laymen of the Diocese of Hamilton on June 28 that year.

The new building replaced a retreat house that we operated in Oakville. We had acquired the Oakville buildings and property in the early 1950s, intending to build a seminary. In the meantime, the Diocesan Laymen’s Retreat Association of the diocese of Hamilton used the estate as its headquarters and after a while, Bishop Joseph Ryan asked if the place could be used for weekend retreats. In the meantime, the Jesuits made other plans for the seminary. Weekend retreats started in 1954 and there were 35 the first year. The work continued, but the property ended up being sold, eventually becoming the famous Glen Abbey Golf Course. Loyola House was making the move to Guelph, on these grounds where there was so much Jesuit history.

Reviving the Spiritual Exercises

A few years after opening in 1964, the weekend retreats were facing a major decline. At the same time, there was an amazing renaissance. The work of the Exercises was reborn in a way in keeping with the original gift of St. Ignatius. Fr. John English, S.J. and other Jesuits were influenced by a daring Tertian Master – Fr. Peter Paul Kennedy, S.J. – working out of St. Beuno’s in Wales. He was basically reviving Ignatius’ way of passing on the Spiritual Exercises. Loyola House in Guelph very quickly became a major international centre for the ministry of and to the Spiritual Exercises. Fr. English and other Jesuits and women religious worked as a creative team to pass on the gifts of Ignatian dynamics to generations of leaders in the Christian community. To this day, it continues to form women and men for the ministry of spiritual direction and communal discernment.

Loyola House in Guelph very quickly became a major international centre for the ministry of and to the Spiritual Exercises.

Embracing Inclusivity

The composition of our team of men and women has evolved and is in fitting with the variety of participants in our various retreats and formation programs. Those who spend a few days or a few months here come from all walks of life, faith traditions and cultures. They hold in common a desire to appropriate the dynamics of Ignatian spirituality. This growing inclusivity is one of the dominant graces of these six decades. We have gratitude for the thousands of individuals who have been strengthened by walking this land and have in turn assisted so many others around the globe.

The Gift of the Land

A significant grace has been in our growing recognition of the gift of the land itself. Those who pray in this place are helped by their prayer in the context of this land and all that has been carried out here by generations of Jesuit Brothers and their successors. Basically, the land on which one walks informs how one comes to know God.

A significant grace has been in our growing recognition of the gift of the land itself.

Adapting to Change

Recent emphases from the universal Society and from our Province remind us of the significance of the Exercises. The very language of the Universal Apostolic Preferences and Pilgrims Together reminds us about the gift of Ignatian spirituality for the world in which we live.

An Ongoing Pilgrimage

One of the ways of surviving and being known for longevity is adaptation and evolution. Loyola House has gradually shifted from welcoming men from Hamilton for weekend retreats to offering a variety of renewal and training programs for a diverse group of women and men. Our local experience is connected to the global shifts that we have seen in our church and culture. One of the greatest gifts of our history is that our changes have always been in harmony with Ignatius and his contributions to the people of God.

A world-famous sculpture stands in the garden outside the house. St. Ignatius the Pilgrim was created by William McElcheran (1927-1999). The sculpture has inspired retreatants and visitors from around the world. McElcheran describes the Ignatius he has portrayed: The Pilgrim is “the prototype of the modern Christian; going forth into the world carrying the cloister about his heart – a very large cloister that has room for the whole of creation. This going forth is symbolized in the statue by the driving stance of the figure, leaning into the wind.” The artist describes Ignatius as a pilgrim and as an adventurer. We see ourselves as continuing to lean into, and respond to the winds of change, but remaining rooted and grounded in the relationship with the Lord that our founder reminds us of.

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