SpIRE, the Spirituality Institute for Research and Education, was launched on Tuesday 22 March in Milltown Park, Dublin and the new SpIRE website was also launched by web designer Janet Carey, of Redsox Media. The institute aims to raise awareness of spirituality as an applied academic discipline. SpIRE was founded by Dr Michael O’Sullivan SJ along with Presentation sister, Dr Bernadette Flanagan, his colleague in the school of spirituality in All Hallows College. Both were previously on the staff of Milltown Institute.
SpIRE offers an MA in Spirituality to students under the auspices of Waterford Institute of Technology, and in time doctoral research will become accredited too. In addition to the academic course and research, the institute is also involved in organising conferences, public lectures and summer schools.
A number of people spoke at the launch where prospective and former students from all over the world packed into the Arrupe Room in Milltown Park. Launching SpIRE, Ms Pat Coyle, Director of Irish Jesuit Communciations, spoke of the need for and worth of such an institute as SpIRE. She quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran Pastor, theologian and spiritual writer, executed for his part in a plot against Hitler. As he moved through his life he became more and more convinced that theology was almost too sedentary and static to deal with what was truly important – namely lived experience of all things under God – spirituality – which he characterised as ‘restlessness.
In 1928 in a prophetic stance common to spiritual writers he captured the need of his age when he wrote: “A thirst for contact with divine things has come upon people, a burning thirst demanding to be quenched. The most important thing is to keep our eyes open to see where we find God”. This is what an institute such as SpIRE is doing and responding to, she said.
Michael O Sullivan SJ said it was lovely to see so many people who had studied at All Hallows turning up for the launch. He knew from working with them through their studies how important it was to have like-minded people on the Masters journey which was not just about academic development but personal spiritual development also. He recalled meeting people before the programme would start and then watch with real joy their growing in so many ways through the course modules, workshops and academic study. He said he looked forward to continuing in SpIre. He said SpIRE benifited greatly from an international presence and support in their work and he welcomed at the launch Dr Phyllis Zagano of Hofstra University, New York, who is on a Fulbright scholarship at WIT.
Co-founder of SpIRE Dr Bernadette Flanagan noted that a key characteristic of Applied Spirituality as taught in All Hallows and SpIRe is its dialogue and interaction with other professions such as health care, or businesses such as the tourist industry. She said Spiritual Tourism was the largest growth area in the tourism market. “There are ninety two different professions that have questions they want to explore around spirituality today,” she said.
Dr Andrew O’Regan of All Hallows College also spoke. He said he could feel the energy and happy buzz when he walked into the room for the launch. He said that was due to the people here tonight who value the area of spirituality in the academy and know its worth there. He said it was vital that the questions raised and explored in a place like SpIRE continue to be part of third level education. Questions like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why am I here?’ Where are we going and what are our values and beliefs are too often sidelined nowadays, he said, to the detriment of students and the education process.
Dr Richard Hayesof Waterford Institute of Technology, SpIRE’s accrediting body, said he came with the greetings of his colleagues who are delighted that this night had come. He said WIT believed in innovation and imaginative responses to the needs and signs of the times. He said WIT worked from a position of insistence on excellence in performance and measured success against international standards and he was confidant this stance would add to what SpIRE had to offer. “Our President is a computer engineer, I work in the humanities but we all understand the importance of the spirituality programme here,” he said, adding that technology and spirituality were not mutually exclusive but worthy of academic scrutiny.
This was a theme echoed by a number of former MA scholars who also spoke. Martina Breen said doing the Masters in Applied Spirituality was a literally life-changing experience for her. She started it as a trained psychotherapist who had long since lost her faith. She finished the course by recovering a much deeper faith based on real understanding and experience of what a faith stance means. She said that whilst it was controversial, she happily brought spirituality into her psycho-therapeutic practice. “Some people believe you shouldn’t do that, but I disagree. I bring it in, and people I work with really appreciate it.”
Noel Keating, another student and retired teacher, is now completing his PhD. He said the MA was a unique programme, “but what I liked most was that it combined academic rigour with the possibility of journeying into the ambit of your own soul and being skillfully accompanied as you did so.”
Photo: From left to right. Dr Andrew O’Regan, Dr Richard Hayes, Dr Michael O’Sullivan SJ, Pat Coyle, Dr Phyllis Zagano, Dr Bernadette Flanagan.