The first-ever retreat in Europe for people experiencing homelessness took place in Manresa Jesuit Centre for Spirituality, Clontarf, Dublin. Eight men, who live in temporary accommodation and are in recovery from addiction, joined a team of facilitators who accompanied them over the two days of the retreat, known as the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP). It took place on the weekend of 31 August 2019.
Eddie Cosgrove SJ is the co-ordinator of the ISP in Ireland. The project itself began in 1998 in Chicago when Fr Bill Creed SJ was invited to make the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius available to people who were economically disadvantaged. The ISP now runs retreats for people experiencing homelessness and in recovery from addiction in over 30 cities in the US and Canada.
The retreats are spiritual but not religious, in the sense that while they have a Christian and Ignatian foundation, they are open to people who would like to connect with God/Higher Power as they find helpful, similar to 12 step programmes. Each person is free to share about their own experience of God/Higher Power, however, they understand that.
Eddie was instrumental in bringing the ISP to Dublin and you can read his report of the retreat and his involvement in the ISP below.
A FIRE THAT KINDLED
A fire kindled in me the first time I heard someone speak about the Ignatian Spirituality Project. It was in Toronto, Canada in 2015 where I was studying theology at the time. That fire was already lit through my passion for Ignatian spirituality and social justice that I had discovered through the Jesuits. However, it was re-ignited and burned brighter as I realised that these passions could be combined to meet the needs of people on the margins, whom I felt drawn to accompany. I discerned that this was the work of the Holy Spirit leading me to explore this project.
While in Toronto, I arranged to visit the ISP head office in Chicago and was invited on my first retreat in St. Louis in December of 2015. I remember reflecting after this retreat that it was as powerful for me as other Ignatian retreats I had been on. I had often felt a great desire to help homeless people that I passed on the street and felt uncomfortable as I did not know how. This was a way that I could share the power of these retreats with those who were experiencing homelessness and had an openness to the spiritual dimension of their recovery.
The fire grew as I had the privilege to be part of the first team who set up and ran the project in Toronto in 2017, and I learned so much during that time. On my return to Ireland in 2018, I shared my passion for this project with my provincial, Leonard Moloney SJ, and he was very supportive of it. After a conversation with a friend, Eoghan Keogh, who has experience working with homeless people and those recovering from addiction, I felt the flame burn even brighter and I was sure that the Holy Spirit was guiding this project to begin in Dublin. I had been asked to move to Manresa to be on the retreat team, and the Director, Piaras Jackson, was keen to have ISP part of the ministry there.
And so a year later, after much groundwork and administrative work, and with great training and support from the head office in Chicago, we ran our first retreat. We were four facilitators: myself, Eoghan, Andrew, and Art, plus Michael, who provided a great witness of his journey through homeless and addiction.
What struck me most from the retreat was the sense of fellowship and brotherhood that developed among the group. Community spirit built quickly and the men left the retreat saying that they felt more hopeful and supported. Here are some of the men’s experiences in their own words as they responded to the question – “How did this retreat impact your spiritual/recovery journey?”
“It is a stepping stone, a good one”
“It helped me to focus on my recovery, and let go”
“I feel a sense of peace and hope when stepping out of day to day life”
“It impacted on me this morning! I had a fantastic feeling that God was laughing at me with love, and telling me to go on, because, ‘I’m here’”
And here is what some of our facilitators said of their experiences:
“One thing I felt walking away was a sense of being privileged to make the journey with the group of men and a deep sense of God’s compassion and gentleness.” – Eoghan
“It was a privilege to walk alongside these men and encourage them in their journey of faith.” – Andrew
For Art, it was a sense of “beauty and Loving Presence in our vulnerability.”
Each retreat has a follow-up day, and group spiritual accompaniment may develop in time with the aim of building a community of hope among retreatants and volunteers. We plan on running our first women’s retreat in February and our second men’s retreat in March. Denise Mc Dermott is the women’s team coordinator and has been a great support in getting the project up and running.
Our retreats are run solely by volunteers, and as we do not charge for the retreats, we rely on donations to maintain the project. We are very grateful to our sponsor for our first retreat, who wishes to remain anonymous. We ask you to continue to keep this project in your prayers, as we build on the success of our first retreat, and offer it to further groups of women and men.
I feel really grateful that our first retreat went well and that the guys enjoyed it and found it helpful for their spiritual journey and their recovery. It affirms my belief that the Holy Spirit is guiding this project and that God can help it to grow into a community of hope and transformation for those who are experiencing homelessness and are in recovery from addiction and for those who accompany them on these retreats.
Eddie Cosgrove SJ