Adult Ministry

Given the declining numbers of priests and religious at SI, the question arose: How can SI remain a Jesuit school with few Jesuits? SI answered that question with the Adult Ministry Program, which had its start in 1998, when Fr. Greg Goethals, SJ, the rector of the SI Jesuit community, attended a meeting where he heard one administrator proclaim that the five Province high schools 20 years down the road “will soon be Catholic at best but not Jesuit.”

“That got me to thinking about what makes a Jesuit school Ignatian,” said Goethals. “His pronouncement disturbed me. Why should I give my life to a cause that will be over in 20 years?” Goethals realized that Jesuits share much in common with other religious traditions, but that they also have one thing unique to their Order: the Spiritual Exercises. “The question then became: How can we figure out a way to give as many people as possible the Exercises? Ignatius founded his institutions primarily as a means of offering the Exercises, to give people the radical experience of God’s love in their lives.”

Goethals then created an Adult Ministry Office, funded through $50,000 of donated Jesuit salaries, so that he and a co-director could begin leading retreats and prayer services for SI’s faculty. “I wanted to put my money where my mouth was,” he added. He then hired Rita O’Malley, a former SI faculty member, to work with him to begin the task of helping the faculty become more fully Ignatian.

It did not take long before faculty recognized the need for this office. For the first time in its modern history, not a single scholastic worked at SI starting with the 2002-2003 school year. In 2005, only one Jesuit served as a full-time faculty member, and three priests taught part time. (Other Jesuits, both brothers and priests, also work at SI in a variety of capacities.) If SI were to stay Jesuit, the faculty would have to learn even better how to grow as Ignatian ministers.

In the first few years of its existence, about 80 of the 120 faculty participated voluntarily in at least one of the several programs offered by Greg Goethals, Rita O’Malley and, later, by Mary Abinante, who became a part-time member of that office. Faculty lined up for retreats ranging from the full 30-day Spiritual Exercises to shorter, individually-directed experiences. They participated in prayer groups during Advent and Lent, and they met with priests or with members of the Adult Ministry Team for spiritual direction.

To allow the faculty to go on extended retreats, Fr. Goethals established a fund so that “teachers would have as few obstacles as possible to perform the Spiritual Exercises. This is a legacy that will keep SI Ignatian and keep the charism alive and vibrant.”

The Adult Spirituality Office now offers 19th Annotation Retreats (year-long versions of the 30-day retreat), the Arrupe Project, summer eight-day silent retreats, individual spiritual direction, a morning prayer group for young faculty called Lightworks, Advent and Lunch prayer groups and group retreats for administrators, women faculty and male teachers. In addition, all teachers take part in Ignatian Evenings, the faculty retreat and ministry mornings.

“We’re not turning lay teachers into Jesuits,” Fr. Goethals added. “We’re providing people the opportunity to participate in Ignatian spirituality. St. Ignatius was a layman when he created the Exercises and when he directed his followers in their practice. The Exercises are easily translated into the lives of everyday people. Teachers now know how to speak the Ignatian language. They know what cura personalis and magis really mean, and they see their jobs as ministry, not merely as careers. Kate Kodros, the assistant principal, says that teachers with good spiritual lives are better teachers. They don’t see themselves as having a product to give students but as human beings offering a connection to students. They also are better at ministering to students on retreats because they, themselves, are in formation.”

Fr. Goethals praised O’Malley and Abinante for their contributions to the Adult Ministry Office. “Rita was hired because, as a mother, wife, woman and lay person, she can relate to the faculty in ways that I can’t. Mary has helped us institutionalize the office, to make it more based on programs rather than personalities.”

O’Malley believes that this office is unique among all the U.S. Jesuit high schools in that it involves a layperson and a priest and is funded entirely by the Jesuit community. “Greg Goethals envisioned this as a pioneer project. Other schools do similar things, but on a less formal basis. The credit goes to the Jesuit community for supporting us the way it does.” For his sabbatical in 2005, Fr. Goethals hopes to translate SI’s program to other schools as they, too, face the same challenges as SI.