January 7, 2016 — The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola have been adapted and modernized over the years, but one Jesuit has given them a whole new meaning: through dance. Jesuit Father Robert VerEecke plays the role of St. Ignatius in his combination dance and theater performance, “For the Greater Glory of God.”
Originally created by Fr. VerEecke in 1990 for the 450th anniversary of the founding of the Society of Jesus and the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Ignatius, the work weaves together music, dance and scripture in dialogue with the text of the Exercises. Over the past 25 years, “For the Greater Glory of God” has been performed in many theaters and churches associated with Jesuit parishes, colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada and Jamaica.
Fr. VerEecke always loved dance and choreography — but he was never able to undergo formal study until he entered the Society of Jesus. At Santa Clara University, Fr. VerEecke found his life’s passion after enrolling in a Jesuit dance class.
In the movements and expression, Fr. VerEecke saw a deep connection between the symbolism of prayer and worship and that of dance. Throughout the course of his formation, he studied dance and choreography, always seeking connections between religious experiences and their expression in dance.
Fr. VerEecke said that choreographing and staging “For the Greater Glory of God” held special significance to him as a Jesuit. Each part of the performance reflects a different part of the Spiritual Exercises. Through movements like reaching upward, leaping and turning, the dancers express the joy and worship of a relationship with God. “Dance has an extraordinary power to visualize and express one’s inner life,” said Fr. VerEecke. “In this context the dances express outwardly what is experienced inwardly in prayer.”
The production continues to change and adapt. Last fall, Jesuit Father Jeremy Zipple, executive editor of America Media, premiered his film of a 2014 performance at Boston College, where Fr. VerEecke has been the Jesuit artist-in-residence for more than 35 years and pastor of St. Ignatius Church for more than 25 years.
Fr. VerEecke hopes that “For the Greater Glory of God” will help audience members recall the beauty of the Exercises, as well as introduce newcomers to their power. View a part of the performance below or view the whole video here.