The Jesuit Centre of Spirituality and Culture in Galway closed on Saturday 16 November 2019. Jesuits, friends of the centre and colleagues gathered on the day to mark the closure. The day included prayerful reflection for all associated with the centre over the past 13 years and an account of its influence in helping to spread a movement of prayer to the people of the West. Listen above to an interview with Charlie Davy SJ from the Jesuit Community in Galway. He tells Pat Coyle about the history of the centre, the work carried out there and the people who made it such a special place.
For Charlie, the Jesuit Centre of Spirituality and Culture has accomplished some great things over the last 13 years since its inception. It held courses on Deepening Faith and Prayer and it trained spiritual directors and prayer guides who now work in the basilica at Knock. There was Women of the Well reflection days, Lenten prayer, RCIA, the reading of Laudato Si, and a lecture course on Mystics Old and Modern. The centre hosted well-known speakers such as Michael Paul Gallagher SJ, Fr. Orobatur SJ, Paul Coutinho, Brian Grogan SJ, Brian O’Leary SJ, and Mary Colwell teaching on ecology and held on-going training days for spiritual directors and courses in supervision for them also.
Behind the scenes, these courses, oases days and other events were planned by the team that from the start met fortnightly. “Over our short existence of thirteen years, the team went through many changes,” he recalls, adding,” and I found that a challenge at times.” The work began in 2006 with John Humphreys SJ and Conall O Cuinn at the helm. The following year Charlie joined them. Angela Marson and Sr Moira McDowall helped on some of the courses at the start though they weren’t members of the team. “Then came a brave decision, spearheaded by John Humphreys to invite Moira, Angela and Una Allen onto the team. Una had just finished the spiritual directors training course.” Charlie recounts noting that “They brought their own talents to the team and opened up the Jesuits to new and creative events such as the conference Voices of hope: echoes of the Divine, with guest-speaker Sr Helen Prejan, the nun of Dead Man Walking fame.”
Conall was moved to Dublin and Enda O’Callaghan came on, he calls. “But a bigger shock for us all was in store. John suddenly became ill and died some months later of a brain tumour. It was traumatic for us all, both individually and as a team.”
Moira McDowall stepped into the breach and acted as coordinator for more than a year until Gerry Clarke SJ was appointed. “Gerry came with big plans, but whilst he injected a new dynamism into the team, his stay was to be short-lived when he was appointed as PP of Gardiner St,” says Charlie, adding, “Then came Eddie Cosgrove to steady our ship and bring us steadily forward.”
Once again, the centre lost its director when Eddie was reappointed to Manresa Spirituality Centre and Willie Reynolds came as the centre’s director for our final years. “But his coming was tinged with a dose of stark realism. Given the shortage of manpower, the Provincial felt we could no longer run this small spirituality Centre in Galway,” says Charlie.
Despite the challenge of the internal changes, the work continued and thrived. Charlie welcomes the fact that the centre brought those working in it into contact with men and women searching on a journey, people on the margins regarding the faith. And they began to network with and support other organisations in Galway. “Through John Humphreys’ initiative, we made contact with others in the city involved in similar work. These became regular meetings each term. We supported each others’ work and tried to ensure that we are not duplicating courses,” he recalls.
One of those connections with was with COPE, an organisation working with the homeless. In conjunction with COPE, the centre is still hosting up to six homeless people daily for dinner cooked in the house and this service
The centre also offered some outreach to parishes with weeks of guided prayer, and Advent prayer in the Diocesan Pastoral Centre. One course repeated over several years was Women of the Well which was held especially for women, focussing on different women from the Bible. Each Lent the centre offered some form of guided prayer experience over the five weeks.
One excellent and unexpected development, according to Charlie, has been a growing link with Knock and preparing prayer guides for pilgrims from Easter to October. Moira McDowall and Angela Marson will continue their two year Prayer Guides’ course in Knock.
“Working as a team is really important”, says Charlie, recalling that they had regular fortnightly team meetings which they tried to keep to ninety minutes. “We began with quiet prayer and a check-in. This excellent simple yet personal sharing helped us to appreciate the challenges in each others’ lives and the pressures one or other was going through. I valued that sharing and prayer together. It helped form us as a team. At the end of each year in June, we had a review and planning day, usually with an outside facilitator and in a different setting. Several of us travelled to the annual national meeting of retreat houses as well as the Jesuit one.”
The Province has been giving us an annual subvention of €25 000 to the Galway centre for the past five years. The team worked voluntarily but received remuneration for specific courses. This subvention enabled the centre to employ, Amy Hallet Cusack as a part-time administrator. “She provided great secretarial backup. The methods of advertising of courses required careful attention. we not only had to decide what to put on but also how to advertise it,” Charlie recounts.
The Centre was also used by different groups who paid modest rents. The Ignatian Identity Group availed of the centre as did a Wednesday night parish prayer group, a Monday morning group that reflected on the Gospel for the following Sunday, the Coláiste chaplain and his Kairos leaders, and a few spiritual directors who met directees there. Coláiste Iognáid, the Jesuit secondary school in Galway, situated almost next door to the centre also used it for state oral exams.
“We had a lovely drop in farewell day at the Centre on Saturday,” says Charlie. “Some 50 passed through the doors. It was a bittersweet day. A joy to see people who had done courses with us in the past and a sadness that the Centre is closing.”
The house will remain open for two years for groups who are already meeting there. “Now that the centre will be no more, I hope that some of the seeds sown will flourish and bear fruit in many families and parishes,” Charlie concludes.