St. Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th-century hermit who founded the Society of Jesus, also designed the "Retreat in Daily Life." St. Michael Parish in Buffalo regularly offers these directed, group retreats at its downtown church.
The Ignatian exercises are a journey of prayer, which can be a time of deep personal conversion and renewed commitment. They are commonly used in a months-long program of daily prayer and meetings with a prayer group. This is known as the 19th Annotation retreat or the "retreat in daily life."
Retreatants are asked to dedicate one hour of each day to prayer and journaling, at the same time each day if possible, to truly make it part of one's lifestyle. During the biweekly meetings, retreatants share from their journal how they saw God working in their lives.
Participants follow the book "Place Me with Your Son" by James W. Skehan, which arranges the spiritual exercises into a 32-week retreat with four phases according to the 19th Annotation.
Father Peter J. Murray, SJ, parochial vicar at St. Michael's, has joined the program as co-director, replacing Father Richard Hoar, SJ. He has been using the exercises in his own life for over 55 years.
"I first ran into the Spiritual Exercises when I was 17 years old. I like the fact that I have been using them and growing with them all my life," he said. "I like the fact that they're universal. They can be used by all kinds of people in different walks of life and stations of life. I think that's a plus."
The St. Michael's retreat focuses on the 19th Annotation, which makes it unique. Most people familiar with Ignatius' work would know of the 30-day Spiritual Exercises or shorter variations.
The 19th Annotation is designed to be ingrained into a person's life, not just a short time of prayer, and sees people sharing in groups, instead of one-on-one with a spiritual director. The retreat has a reputation for helping people make good decisions for their lives from a spiritual point of view.
"The Ignatius retreats are prayer in everyday life," said Jan Sheridan, co-director with Joseph Ritzert and Father Murray. "They incorporate our lives into our prayer, and our prayer into our lives. The difference between the one-on-one spiritual exercises and the group spiritual exercises is, as you can imagine, some people feel more comfortable in a group, sharing and getting insights from other people. Other people feel it's very private and confidential, so they want to keep it to just one individual who has been trained in the exercises."
Josephine Meli, one of five participants in one of the three retreat groups wrapping up in June, had heard about the retreat from a friend. The retreat brought her back to the Church.
"I was away about nine years. I still believed in God, but I stayed away," Meli said. "I know I had a reason, but for myself. I remember when my friend recommended it to me, I said I don't need it. She said, 'Go once.' But it really opened my eyes to trust in God. I didn't go to confession for about 12 years. This retreat brought me back to God."
Marcia Diemunsch had been looking for a retreat and came on the recommendation of Meli.
"I didn't know what to expect. I'll tell you that right now," she said. "And I hadn't been at a retreat for a long time. So, when Josephine suggested that, I thought it would be a good idea for me to start. I didn't find it that easy. I think (St. Ignatius) was a complicated man and a very knowledgeable man. It intrigued me, and I wanted more, to find my way."
Kylie Mackenzie explains her feelings on the retreat through pictures.
"Words do not define adequately for me, that's why I use images," she said, explaining that she sought out a retreat to deal with depression.
"I was at a point in my life where I was very desperate and restless and distracted and had no peace. I had a spiritual guide who recommended I come to this," she said, holding up a series of pictures.
Her first picture shows a tent pitched in the Arctic. "I was afraid. I was in the dark world and afraid to go out, and didn't know how to go out or get out of my little world," she explained.
The second picture shows a lovely wide path in a forest.
"At the end of the retreat I find myself in the middle of a beautiful forest surrounded by creation and a broad path. That's the path St. Ignatius is showing me. I'm on that path now. I know where to go to find peace, how to remain mindful and aware of what is happening by the exercises, prayer, using Scripture for inspiration and also helping me from being distracted and desolate."
Her future is painted as a starry night sky. "It's the best representation of me. I'm just a little star here. It's a bright future. It's unknown in a sense, and I've got many companions. I'm very happy about that," she explained.
Sheridan and Ritzert have led these retreats a combined total of 14 years. It has inspired them to pray more and see the Holy Spirit working in each of the participants.
"St. Ignatius was a genius," Ritzert said. "He uses his genius to study and teach prayer. He has studied various forms of prayer and different ways of praying and he presents so many of those in this retreat. One of the principle ways that he teaches is contemplation, by which he means placing yourself in the story that you are reading out of Scripture. He does that through the life of Jesus on earth. That's a beautiful experience and it really does teach you a lot about who Jesus is and what He means to you."
For more information call Father Murray at 716-854-6726 or Gini Schultz at 716-837-6020.