New Center for Ignatian Spirituality Launched at Fairfield
Over 200 invited guests were on hand at the Kelley Theatre on Nov. 23 as Fairfield University launched a new center —The Center for Ignatian Spirituality of Fairfield University.
The mission of the center is to train spiritual directors and supervisors in the Jesuit tradition, to serve the campus community and the diocese of Bridgeport. It will become the home of a program for the development of spiritual directors that Fairfield currently sponsors in North Carolina.
Joining University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., in announcing the launch of the center were the Most Rev. Frank J. Caggiano, Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport; the Rev. John Cecero, S.J., the Jesuit Provincial of the newly formed Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus; the Rev. Paul Holland, S.J., Rector of the Fairfield Jesuit Community, and the Rev. James Bowler, S.J., Director of Ignatian Spirituality Programs at the University. Also on stage during the ceremony were Christopher Lowney, author of "Heroic Leadership," who spoke to the gathering about the tradition of Jesuit leadership, Dr. Donna Andrade, Academic Dean of Fairfield College Preparatory School, and Rev. Mr. Patrick Toole, Deacon of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Fairfield, and the chair of the Advisory Board for the new center.
In his remarks to the audience, Fr. von Arx emphasized that the launch of the center was very much in step with a larger movement within the Society of Jesus — the recognition that the future of the Ignatian charism will rely increasingly on lay companions.
"I would suggest that the foundation of this Center for Ignatian Spirituality is a truly inspired recreation of our institution here in Fairfield County, dedicated to meet the needs of today’s world, and to do so with our lay collaborators with an unparalleled mutuality of trust and dedication to mission," Fr. von Arx said. "It is worth being reminded that Ignatius himself was a layperson through the deepest period of his conversion and in the earliest stages of his ministry. Indeed, one could make the argument that under the circumstances of his period, becoming a religious for Ignatius was more a matter of practical than spiritual necessity.
"Be that as it may, Ignatius’ experience as we know was one of a profound one-on-one relationship with God. He came to believe that God was in fact educating him, personally, “from above,” leading him purposefully step-by-step, from the life of a soldier, to that of a pilgrim, a student, a missionary, an administrator, and on and on throughout his life. It was this experience of God’s immediate guiding presence in the life of each one of us that Ignatius wanted everyone to appreciate — he believed it was true for everyone, and that through a guided spiritual direction — everyone could be brought to this appreciation, and through this, to a deeper discernment of what each one of us is called to do in our lives. It is this rich, indeed critical, experience that is the essence of the Spiritual Exercises, and it is this experience that is the overarching, animating principle of Jesuit education.
"With this new center for Ignatian Spirituality, it is our hope that this Ignatian spiritual tradition will continue to thrive and indeed to grow. If history is any guide, we can be confident that this will be so. If we are going to succeed however, we will need the support and the encouragement of our community — just as we were supported and encouraged by the families of Fairfield County when we founded Fairfield University in 1942."
Bishop Caggiano in his remarks said that he was "absolutely delighted" and grateful for the "great graces that will come from this center." He noted that a recent diocesan synod showed that there was a great need in the diocese for spiritual direction. He said that all of us have a "deep, abiding hunger" for God, and that we are all looking for a spiritual path — and to be part of a community that expressed a higher unity of purpose. "I can foreseee this center will help feed your hunger and mine to see the face of God, to discern the path we must walk, and do it together as brothers and sisters."
The stated mission of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality of Fairfield University is to keep the Ignatian charism alive, both at the University and the College Preparatory School, as well as offering this to the local Christian community of Fairfield County. Its goals are: To establish a lasting infrastructure to serve as a repository and holder of the Jesuit values foundational to the culture of the Fairfield University Corporation; to create a symbol that personifies the commitment of the corporation to these Ignatian values; to promote vibrant and attractive expressions of Ignatian spirituality at an individual, group, and the larger community levels, both on campus and for the Diocese of Bridgeport.
Among the programs that the center will offer are a one-week directed retreat, a 10-week directed Ignatian prayer experience, and the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius — approximately a five month program of daily prayer and spiritual direction. The center will also train spiritual directors and supervisors, as well as offer communal spiritual experiences for parishes and other groups.
During the program the Fairfield University Chamber Singers performed "The Prayer of St. Ignatius" from Salutations to the Dawn, by Randol Alan Bass. The singers perform under the direction of Carole Ann Maxwell, conductor.