February 25, 2015 — It all began in Chicago in 1998 when Jesuit Father Bill Creed was asked by his provincial to find a way to make the Spiritual Exercises available to the economically disadvantaged. Along with Ed Shurna, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Fr. Creed developed a format for providing Ignatian retreats to men and women who are homeless and in recovery from addiction.
Today the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) is a national network with overnight retreat programs in 26 cities across the United States and Canada. With ongoing training and support from ISP’s Chicago-based office, dedicated volunteers in each city deliver the retreats.
Jesuit Ted Penton is one of them. A Jesuit in formation from English Canada, Penton is now in his second year as a program officer with ISP. “When a fellow Canadian Jesuit told me about ISP, something clicked for me,” he explained. “I’ve always had a passion for working with men and women on the margins and since entering the Society had developed a strong desire to work in spiritual direction as well. In doing training in spiritual direction I felt that a lot of these resources could benefit people who lack the means to attend typical Jesuit retreats.”
Blending elements of Ignatian spirituality and the 12-Step recovery program, ISP retreats help participants establish a fundamental foundation of hope, community and healing. By offering a safe space in which to share with one another, ISP retreatants come to see that they are not alone in their struggles.
For many, ISP is the spark that leads to long-term transformation, thus altering the cycle of despair and loneliness that has kept them out of healthy relationships with themselves, others and God and kept them on the streets.
“Working with those on the margins is a very important part of Jesuit charism,” Penton said. “Reaching out to those who are neglected by so much of our society, by using a retreat format adapted to their needs, has really helped deepen my own sense of what it means to be a Jesuit.
“By somehow living through situations of abuse, addiction and incarceration that I haven’t encountered even in my nightmares, many of our retreatants have developed a reliance on God that is truly inspiring,” Penton said.