The Lay Retreat Association of St Ignatius (LRA) is ceasing its ministry after many successful years offering retreats to lay people. With the help of Jesuit Spiritual Directors, lay members of the association have organised a full annual programme of short retreats every year since 1945. The work of the LRA has reached thousands of people over the years, helping them to come away for a quiet time and find space to encounter God. The LRA has now decided to discontinue its ministry, due to the ageing profile of its officers, all of whom were volunteers. The officers of the association are most thankful and appreciative to all who have supported its work down through the years and to all who contributed to the development of the apostolate.
Fr Liam O’Connell SJ, assistant to the provincial of the Irish Jesuits said he found it “a privilege and a pleasure” to have been associated with the Lay Retreat Association in recent years. “They have been extraordinarily successful in helping people, up until the very end,” Liam said. He outlined the the reasons for the ultimately inevitable decision of the LRA to discontinue offering retreats. “The LRA officers had to take their own age and health into account in making the correct and difficult decision to disband,” he said. Liam complimented the hard-working committee on using the tools of online communication very effectively in recent years to promote their retreats, “In their final year, thanks to their mastery of new technologies, they were able to attract new retreatants, and 25% of those doing an LRA retreat in 2015/16 were newcomers,” explained Liam. He thanked the committee members for maintaining “the highest standards of welcoming and support” for the 505 people who took part in 15 retreats last year. He echoed the sentiments of many of the attendees of the retreats in saying, “I know how thankful many of these people are to the LRA.” Liam outlined how the legacy of the LRA will go on. “We are fortunate that the Oasis Days at Manresa Retreat House will be able to continue the tradition of one-day retreats in Dublin in the future,” he said.
The Lay Retreat Association was founded in Rathfarnham Castle Retreat House in 1945 by Fr Eugene Ward SJ and nine enthusiastic promoters. The last surviving founding promoter of the “Layman’s Retreat Association”, as it was known, was Brother Joe Cleary SJ, who died in 2012. The association arose out of a retreat movement that had its origins in Northern France. In 1909, Fr Willie Doyle SJ first proposed the idea of a retreat house in Dublin for working men. Eventually, the retreat house at Rathfarnham Castle opened its doors in 1921/22, when there were 722 retreatants. Sadly, Fr Willie himself did not live to see the realisation of his dreams, as he was killed as an army chaplain at the Battle of Ypres in 1917. The first Director of the Retreat House, Fr Richard Devane, ascribed the success of the retreats to the inspiration and prayers of Fr Willie Doyle and to the practical support and intercession of Fr John Sullivan, Rector of the Rathfarnham community at the time, who is due for beatification later this year.
In 1985, after the closure of the Rathfarnham retreat house, the late John Grace and the late Peter Jordan, with great courage and with unshakeable faith in the Holy Spirit – a marked characteristic of LRA officers over the years – set about establishing a radically different association, from their new base at Milltown Park. It became a model of what the Church needs today, a lay organisation that runs and finances itself. In a renewed partnership with the Jesuits, who undertook to provide retreat directors, they organised retreats at Milltown, Manresa House, St. Mary’s Tallaght, Emmaus, Avila and Ballyvaloo in Wexford. The association even responded to requests for retreats in a number of other parishes. In 1989, the association changed its title to Lay Retreat Association, thereby making way for women members. Agnes Prunty and Ann O’Hanlon, in turn, were subsequently elected presidents of the Association. The association has been blessed with many wonderful officers and promoters over the years.
The day retreats delivered by the LRA quickly grew in popularity as many people responded to the simple invitation taken from scripture, “Come away by yourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile” [Mk 6:31]. The retreat day at Milltown included talks, guided prayer, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Mass, and Blessing of the Sick. Meals were provided and the day offered a great opportunity for many people with busy lifestyles to experience spiritual rest and renewal. Each retreat was run on a suggested offering basis, with contributions never a barrier to participation. The retreats were publicised in parish bulletins, but most of the promotion was done through personal contact and invitation by the officers themselves. Those who came to the retreats were supported in prayer and fellowship by the other retreatants as all who came to these retreats joyfully mingled and shared the blessings of the day. The new conference facilities developed by the Jesuit Province at Milltown Park were much appreciated by the LRA and retreatants, and this enhanced space helped the retreats to become more contemplative, offering a quiet time and relaxing setting through which God’s Spirit could be heard.
After over seventy years of ministry, it is fitting that the work of the Lay Retreat Association be celebrated. In the opening words of the Lay Retreatants’ Prayer, ‘O Lord our God, we glorify you, we praise you and thank you’.