Ignatian Spirituality Retreats help homeless find spiritual backing to help them through challenges

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Alcohol eventually led Delnita McGhaw to homelessness. She found help through a women's shelter, which referred her to St. Patrick Center for treatment. There, she learned about a spiritual retreat for women.

"I didn't really know what it was," she said. At that time, her only sense of God was found in a bottle of alcohol. Abused by her father as a child, McGhaw said she "had no self-worth, no self-esteem, no nothing. I just had a love for that bottle and that's all."

McGhaw went on a weekend women's retreat offered by the Ignatian Spirituality Project. Then she went on another one. And then one more, this time as a witness to other women who were just starting their journeys of coming out of homelessness.

The national project, which started about a decade ago in the St. Louis area, offers men and women who are homeless and in recovery from addiction the opportunity to change their spiritual lives. The retreats lay a foundation of hope, leading to further and long-lasting transformation. Next month, a fundraiser for the project will take place at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet motherhouse, where the retreats are held. (See related item.)

The retreats incorporate Ignatian spirituality exercises — a series of meditations, prayers and mental exercises to help people discern God's will for their lives and grow closer to Him. The format is an initial weekend retreat, followed by a daylong follow-up session.

"The exercises stimulate your spiritual inner being," said McGhaw, who now works as an intake receptionist at St. Patrick Center. "I didn't know you could have a moment alone with God."

McGhaw found solace in meeting other women in similar situations. "It lets you know that you are not alone," she said. The retreats also helped her to build a spiritual foundation that would later help her in other challenging moments, including when her son was murdered in 2014.

Through the retreats and counseling, McGhaw said she's learned the benefits of sharing her story with others. She encourages other women to share their stories as a way of learning how to heal and find forgiveness.

The Ignatian Spirituality Project began in the late 1990s when the Society of Jesus' Chicago province invited Jesuit Father Bill Creed to present the Ignatian spiritual exercises to the poor. His 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.

The project is active in nearly 30 cities across the U.S. and Canada and includes more than 800 volunteers serving more than 2,000 retreatants a year through more than 200 retreats. In St. Louis, the program was introduced when project coordinators in Chicago approached St. Patrick Center, a Catholic Charities agency that provides services for people who are homeless.

McGhaw, who enjoys her work greeting clients at St. Patrick Center, said she is convinced she'd be dead without her faith. "I've learned a lot about God and I have been able to accept it and get through it with strength," she said. "Looking back, I say that's got to be God who led me through. My understanding of God grows every day." 

>> Company of Grace fundraiser

WHEN: 2 p.m., Sunday, March 11th

WHERE: Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet motherhouse

MORE INFO: Guest speaker is Father Paul Coutinho, SJ. An hors d'oeuvres buffet will be served. The Company of Grace awards will be presented to Ann Rotermund and Fred Domke for their work with those living on the margins.

CONTACT: Tickets are $30 per person. To register, visit www.stlouisreview.com/jPy or email catherine@ispretreats.org. 

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