Gráinne Delaney, chaplain at Crescent College Comprehensive SJ in Limerick, describes her experience of moments of conversion, both in the context of her work among the young students in her school and during her pilgrimage to Loyola, to the very place where St Ignatius himself recuperated after being wounded by a cannonball when Pamplona was besieged by the French in 1521.
Below is the full text of her ‘cannonball moment’.
A cannonball moment where it all began
Being a chaplain in a Jesuit school, you might imagine, is a job where I do a lot of Giving. But in fact, I am on a constant journey of receiving. These experiences are best described as God moments for me, and I trip over them all the time in my enriching work with teenagers. It happens when I see them at prayer, asking questions, walking as pilgrims, ministering to each other and speaking as leaders in my school.
My faith journey, although it’s a varied one, is also a constant feature in my life. I was baptised a Catholic into a normal Irish Catholic family with weekly Mass and regular sacraments as part of my childhood. My parents taught me self-belief and encouraged me in education at every step. Added to this were ‘super’ opportunities to find meaning in my life in a very spiritual way. Being educated by Mercy nuns who treated me as a leader in their midst was a core part of my belief in myself. Even as a teenager I was drawn to church buildings and found myself lost in their wonder and awe when my peers were more distracted by shopping centres.
Despite all my theological learning in my college degree of choice, a Bachelor of Religious Science, nothing compares with the spirituality I discovered through Ignatian formation in my job in a Jesuit school. Ultimately Ignatian spirituality rounded it all up for me and from there on…. I am caught in an ever-evolving cannonball, where my encounters with students and colleagues are giving me constant reassurance that God is indeed in all things.
Being men and women for others is the truest vocation, and those special God moments are revealed in every smile and word of kindness.
I had a hunger in 2012 to walk in the footsteps of St. Ignatius and accepted the Invitation to travel to Loyola, to that place where Ignatius lay in convalescence. Walking into that room was paralysing for me, and a kind of haze came over me. I felt stuck to the ground in that place. I knew I would have to stay, and I worried how long I would be there. I too was struck in the leg with a cannonball. It was so special to stay there… lingering and waiting and enjoying the place, and with great calm praying for every person I could think of. A beautiful pattern of prayer began, and like the branches of a tree I brought to mind one person and I prayed for all the people connected to that person in the buds and twigs on the branch before moving on to the next branch. I still pray this way on my daily walks. Being in Loyola, brought the story I had been teaching my students for many years to life. It was Disneyland! I didn’t need to imagine anymore.
And the privilege continues, as Ignatian spirituality is in my bones now and not just on the pages of any book.