Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, so a blessed feast day to all of my Jesuit friends and their collaborators. It’s so great to have been a part of “the family” for so many years, since my Fordham undergraduate days, through graduate school and beyond into other relationships.
One of the things I’ve admired about the Jesuits is their commitment to working with lay folk like myself. In fact, the first Ignatian retreat I went on I was invited to by a lay person. My resident director at the time was a guy named Steve DiSalvo. To brag slightly, Steve is now Dr. Steven DiSalvo and has become President of Marian University after a stint as the executive director of the Safe at Home foundation (better known as former Yankee Manager Joe Torre’s foundation to educate people about domestic violence).
I remember walking into McGinley Center at Fordham (the cafeteria and other central offices were here and still are) and finding Steve at a table that said “Peer Retreat” on it. He called me over when he saw me and said “You should go on this!” I looked at the date and it was the weekend of my 20th birthday.
“Um, you’ve got no shot in hell of me going that’s my birthday weekend!”
A lesser person than Steve would have given up right there. But instead he persisted confidently:
“Dude, you can go out to get drunk at Clarke’s anytime. Why don’t you take this weekend and look at what the last 20 years have been like and then think about what you hope the next 20 years will become?”
I looked at him and said, “You know, Steve….OK. I’m in!”
In fact the two guys behind me signed up as well. I invited them to celebrate my birthday with me away.
That weekend changed my life. It really beckoned me to ministry. The following year, Fr. John Mullin, SJ, came to Fordham and brought the Emmaus retreat program with him and it was a huge success with my generation of college students. He taught me how to lead retreats and encouraged my ministry even as a volunteer. Years later in my Ignatian Examen I noted that all of the things in my life that I was proud of has stemmed from these retreat experiences at Fordham with Steve and later with Padre John, as we called him.
But these men simply were being sons of Ignatius. They were true contemplatives in action both lay and ordained and led many into a stronger relationship with Jesus and with themselves. My friends from those retreats were among the best friends I had in college and I’m still very connected with many of them today nearly 20 years later. I’ve also developed retreats and led versions of the spiritual exercises and engaged with the exercises myself more deeply throughout these many years.
To think that it all started with the vision of Ignatius who simply wanted to go where people were. He went to the cities and wanted to be a resource for the spiritual experience of all people. He had a special love for the poor and through his experience of being in the world he led all of his followers into being sensitive to the needs of others.
And we are all better for his vision.