'Next Chapter' explores life in retirement

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Chris Brescia, and Marlene and Dr. Dan Lischwe certainly were part of the target audience for the first cohort of St. Louis University's "Next Chapter" program.

• Brescia, 64, was recently retired at the beginning of the program in September 2017. He jokingly refers to himself as "on sabbatical" while discerning his next step.

• Marlene Lischwe, 64, was semi-retired, still substitute teaching and also volunteering when the program began. She wanted to be on the same page with her husband, Dan, as retirement beckoned him.

• Dr. Dan Lischwe, 66, is still fully-engaged in his family medical practice at SSM DePaul Hospital, but that ends with retirement on July 1. What will he do next?

From always busy to an often greatly reduced schedule, retirement looms as a massive adjustment for retirees, which is where the "Next Chapter" comes in.

Sponsored by SLU's Office of Mission and Identity, the "Next Chapter" is a six-month guided journey to help retirees and soon-to-be retirees discern their futures in the Ignatian Tradition. Along with readings, videos, discussions and presentations by Jesuit Father Chris Collins, other Jesuits, SLU faculty and staff, Ignatian Spirituality gives participants the toolbox to figure out what to do next, to listen for God's call

"What attracted me to the Next Chapter was the spiritual component of assessing what the next chapter of your life was going to be," said Brescia, who officially retired in April 2017 after 41 years in government and public affairs, but doesn't actually consider himself retired per se. In fact, he has changed his online professional profile to "Discerning the Next Chapter," with the tagline "Seeking the best use of my talents for others."

"The spiritual component, discerning what is God's call, was right on target with what I flirted with for so many years," said Brescia, who had been an annual retreatant — both at White House Jesuit Retreat and on ACTS retreats through his parish, Mary Queen of Peace in Webster Groves. The retreats helped him relax, re-energize and refocus on God, but it was difficult to maintain the peaceful easy feeling upon return to the work-a-day world. "It's tough coming off the mountain," he said.

However, with a month between "Next Chapter" sessions and time to discern on his "sabbatical," he has been able to sit back and listen for God's call.

"The old saying, 'Let go and let God,'" he said. "You listen to God instead of chasing a goal. The Next Chapter helped me set a course that is to be more God-centered than I had been able to do previously."

As for exactly what course that is, Brescia still is in the discernment process, figuring out what skills and spiritual gifts to take into the next phase of his life and what to leave behind. One thing's for sure, though: He'll leave behind his days of 60-80 weeks and tendency to over-commit.

"This program gives you time to evolve," he said, adding that he found working for the first time with a spiritual director (a program option) "very helpful. That spiritual component helped me look forward to the next chapter. It's not some beleaguered thing. Some people have no idea what to do. This helps you step back and explore your inner-self."

This approach also has helped the Lischwe family prepare for Dan's big day and Marlene to "find a pace" to retirement.

"You don't know anything about completely letting go," she said, adding that her grown children jokingly refer to her as "the worst retired person ever." "You kind of get a little mixed up about how to prioritize things."

When Dan discovered the Next Chapter program was to be offered at his alma mater, he jumped on board, with Marlene in tow. She wanted to hear what he was hearing in the program so that they'd be in lock-step when Dan's retirement arrives.

Dan isn't sure where retirement will take them, but the program's emphasis on taking time discern the next step resonated with the Lischwes, who belong to Ascension Parish in Chesterfield.

"The discernment process, I hadn't really done that before," he said. "In discernment it's not just you and your wife, or you and your boss; it's you and God and putting God in the equation, what He would like you to do in the next chapter of your life. It really helps to be able to sit down and pray about it."

His plan for retirement is indefinite at the moment — perhaps volunteering, perhaps mentoring — but he'll definitely be listening for God's call. 

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