Wayne learned after his parents died and his grandfather kicked him out “that people would hurt me for amusement, that people could and would be cruel, and that it was a normal part of life in the world.”
He began to use, ”but not enough to recognize a problem.
I depended on the drugs more and more to relieve the pain of living, the boredom of dead end jobs, and the lack of nurturing relationships in my life.”
He was lost, high, homeless, and desperate. “I was ready to end my life. I sat under a traffic bridge with a gun in my mouth, tears in my eyes. Now my descent was complete. My final thought as I was about to squeeze the trigger was, ‘God why wouldn’t you love me?’ And then it happened.”
“In that instant it was as if time stood still and I heard a voice as clear as my own, ‘Get up, leave here; there is something else for you to do’.”
“I knew I had to find freedom from the bondage of anger, bitterness, pity and ignorance of self. I desperately needed to live without the fear and loneliness that had guided my actions. And to do it I had to give God the lead.”
During his stay at a transitional center, Wayne attended an ISP retreat.
“During the retreat I began to examine the continuous presence of God in my life,” Wayne says.
That was in 1999. Since then he’s stayed clean, gotten a job at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and helped lead more than 60 retreats.
“I continue to go on retreat,” Wayne says, “because I see God move men on the retreats to faith and hope.”
Cathy Reid, Former Jesuit Volunteer at ISP
In April, I was a facilitator on the Ignatian Spirituality Project’s overnight retreat for homeless women in Chicago. I was glad that I got to have this final experience of the overnight retreat before the end of my JV year; the overnight retreat is the real center of ISP ’s work.
The retreats are always incredibly powerful, intense experiences: 12 to 14 women from different Chicago homeless shelters gather together to share their stories and find hope and strength through building a sense of community with one another. It sounds so simple when I describe it, and yet it’s genuinely life changing.
The retreats are a deeply cathartic experience for the women. Many of them had never before talked about their experiences. Several of them named as the grace of the retreat the fact that they had found a language with which to speak about their experiences; that meant they could heal. They shared with and drew strength from each other.
One woman said that she had always thought, before, that her body just existed for men’s pleasure. “But now I know,” she said, “that my body belongs to me, not to anyone else. I can say ‘no.’” Her sense of empowerment was contagious.
There is always at least one story that stays with me from any retreat.
After this retreat, I know that I’m carrying all of these women with me now.
Shelly, Boston retreatant
Women To Women | a poem about my retreat experience.
We gather together to share our stories and strength and even our pain in a place where we don’t feel any shame.
Welcome to bond and complete ourselves where maybe something has been left out with other women.
Who share similar stories, and only then we can allow God and our new bonds with these women to take their rightful place in our lives while we are together in peace of mind body and soul.
So as women to women we can take a healing journey together and we all can be like beautiful butterflies and spread our wings and grow from these experiences.
Catholic Community of Faith Radio Interview
ISP Executive Director Tom Drexler and Consultant for Leadership Development Wayne Richard were interviewed on “Catholic Community of Faith”, which airs on Chicago’s Relevant Radio (950 AM). Hear about the impact ISP is making in this 35 minute interview.
It was late Saturday night when I went into chapel and said to the Lord in prayer:
“What is going on? I have been leading retreats for decades, retreats to teens, married couples, priests and nuns, all sorts of leaders.”
“I’ve led privately directed retreats, group retreats, preached retreats. But I have never experienced being so moved so quickly and so deeply. I feel as if down deep in my center I have been opened up to You, God.”
I walked out of chapel and explained my experience to another homeless retreatant. I asked him what he thought was going on.
He said these men have been homeless and addicted to alcohol and drugs. They have lost their jobs, their families and their self-respect. Now they are trying to turn their lives around, have come on retreat and are being ruthlessly honest about themselves and their true needs. They are attempting to put aside a lifestyle of isolation, withdrawal, individualism and addiction and entrust themselves to God.
In that first retreat with those who have been homeless, it became clear that these men were evangelizing me.
(This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Review 9/30/09)
Todd McGuire has had his share of challenges in the past year, but he said he’s determined to keep his chin up with the help of God.
Once a prelaw student at the University of Illinois, McGuire eventually dropped out and found himself addicted to drugs and alcohol.
“I worked as a machine operator, but a year ago, I started having seizures,” he said. “I’m on disability now.” Homeless for a while, McGuire recently got into Oxford House, a residence for recovering substance abusers, with help from St. Patrick Center.
McGuire said he’s had an interest in meditation and prayer as a way of keeping close to God. It came as no surprise when St. Patrick Center invited him to attend a weekend retreat for homeless men last month at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cardonelet motherhouse in South St. Louis.
The retreat was the effort of the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that offers retreats, based on the Ignatian spiritual exercises, for homeless individuals. The goal is to help them develop a deeper relationship with God and find meaning and purpose as they get their lives back on track — and someday end their homelessness.
“The whole atmosphere, the surroundings, the people I was with, the building — it was amazing,” McGuire said of the experience. “I felt God’s presence there the entire weekend. You realize you’re not alone … and as long as you keep your head up, you can get along with the help of God.”
“An experience they can benefit from”
The project was initiated in the late 1990s when Jesuit Father Bill Creed was invited by the Society of Jesus’ Chicago province to present the spiritual exercises to the poor. Composed by St. Ignatius Loyola in the 16th century, the exercises are a series of meditations, prayers and mental exercises to help individuals discern God’s will for their lives and to grow closer to Him.
Father Creed’s work captured the interest of Ed Shurna, director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, who was looking for ways to build a sense of hope and community among members of the local homeless population. The two joined forces, and by 2006, the Ignatian Spirituality Project became a nonprofit organization.
Since its inception, about 150 overnight retreats have been held in a dozen cities across the United States, with the hope of expanding to several other cities by 2010. In St. Louis, the program was introduced about a year ago, when the project’s coordinators in Chicago approached St. Patrick Center, the Catholic Charities agency that is Missouri’s largest provider of services for the homeless.
“What we found out early on was a great kind of connection between the traditions of 12-step work (often found in recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous) and Ignatian spirituality, which in a way is finding a sense of freedom from something that is binding you,” said Jordan Skarr, associate director for the project. “The exercises offer a sense of spiritual freedom, and you can turn your care over to the God who loves you.”
The structure of the program is an initial weekend retreat, with a daylong follow-up session later on. Retreats are held for both men and women and focus on the four pillars, or “movements,” of Ignatian spiritual exercises.
“We open with naming what’s binding me, such as fear, and take an honest stock of where I am in my life and what I need help with,” said Skarr. “There’s a witness talk in the afternoon, someone who invites you to look at your story and how, by claiming your story, you can claim those hidden parts in your life.
“Later on, they are invited again to look at their lives and what healing needs to happen. We look at the struggles and letting God transform my cross. And then the last day is about moving forward, or the Resurrection, and taking the retreat back to our lives.”
Retreat size is limited to about a dozen participants at a time, with retreatants hand-selected by agencies and other organizations that work with the homeless.
“We found that we need to keep the facilitator to participant ratio low,” Skarr said. “Participants are generally homeless, but some might be formerly homeless. We want to make it feel like this is for them and an experience they can benefit from.”
Meet me in St. Louis
Ann Rotermund, senior director of mental health programs at St. Patrick Center, said she “jumped at the chance” when leaders at the agency were contacted by Chicago organizers about offering the retreats in St. Louis.
“We’d been doing meditation (with clients) three times a week,” said Rotermund. “So we knew people were hungry for this sense of quiet and peace. It’s funny how this kind of fell in our lap.”
In mid-2008, the Ignatian Spirituality Project connected with members of St. Francis Xavier “College” Church, on the campus of Jesuit-run St. Louis University in Midtown, to drum up support for the effort. “There were about 10 people at that meeting,” Rotermund recalled. “Jordan (Skarr) explained to us the process, and somehow I became the point person” along with Dr. Darryl Zinck, who continues to help with facilitating the men’s retreats.
The first weekend retreat for men was held in December 2008 at the Mercy Center in Frontenac. A follow-up day of reflection was held shortly after that. A similar effort was held for women the following summer.
The group of volunteers helping with the retreats has grown to nearly 40 members, said Rotermund. In addition to St. Patrick Center, retreatants are chosen from other local agencies serving the homeless, including Peter and Paul Community Services and Project MORE with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of St. Louis. Volunteers include staff from other areas of St. Patrick Center, individual volunteers who work with the homeless and spiritual companioning, members of the Catholic Worker Karen House, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who have offered the use of their South St. Louis motherhouse as the new site for retreats.
Volunteers provide help with making food for the retreats, helping transport retreatants, being facilitators and listening to retreatants tell their stories.
Retreats are funded through the Ignatian Spirituality Project for the first year, said Rotermund, but eventually, the local team of organizers will need to start looking at ways to fund themselves.
“This is so easy when you ask this little group of folks to help out,” said Rotermund. “There’s such a wonderful sense of community.”
Helping “the dear neighbor”
When the Sisters of St. Joseph were approached last year to offer the retreats at their motherhouse, Sister Marion Renkens, motherhouse administrator, saw it as a new opportunity for the religious community to live out its charism of service “to the dear neighbor.”
The sisters learned about the effort through Diana Oleskevich, the community’s social justice chairperson.
“We have involved the other sisters and (lay) associates in the community,” said Sister Marion. “We have asked them to provide a gift bag for the retreatants,” which includes personal hygiene items. “We have had an overwhelming response, and everybody seems to know about it. I even stopped at Nazareth Living Center (a residence for retired Sisters of St. Joseph), and they said, ‘We heard you are having retreats for the homeless.’ People are excited about the fact that the motherhouse is being used for this purpose.”
“Our charism is to the dear neighbor,” she said. “That’s what we always say our ministry is. Having retreats for the homeless is a service to neighbor.”
Getting closer to God
For the past year, Christopher Webb has called St. Louis home. Before that, he had traveled from Minnesota to Illinois, and then St. Louis, seeking treatment for cancer.
“There was nothing for me, and they kept saying I was bound to die in the next 60 days,” he recalled. When he arrived in St. Louis, Webb had no treatment and no home. He found help through St. Patrick Center and currently is in a hospice program.
When Webb was invited to attend a retreat, he said, “I just wanted some spiritual growth and development — and, boy, did I find it. It was one excellent place,” he said of the motherhouse.
“Thanks to St. Patrick, I was able to find housing and get closer to God,” he said. “And I lived. I’ve been living for over a year now — no one expected it but me and God — and all of this happened because St. Patrick gave me a chance.”
He said the retreat weekend “was one I’ll never forget. I shared with people who had different trials. God wanted me to be there to establish a relationship with Him and talk to Him everyday. I want to share with all of the guys that God exists and it’s all about having a relationship with him and praying on a daily basis.”
Hosia Taylor, who was at one time addicted to drugs and alcohol and is now seeking help through St. Patrick, said he enjoyed the retreat because “it was spiritual. My faith with the Lord is much better now. And I met some good people there. The sisters were real good to us.”
“My serenity is staying focused,” he said. “I look forward to growing closer to the Lord, and I have made some friends because of this.”
Ignatian Spirituality Project | 1641 South Allport Chicago, IL 60608| 312.226.9184 | email@example.com