Motherhouse Hosts Spiritual Retreats for Homeless

isp retreat

The men of the Igatian Sprituality Project retreat hosted at the Carondelet Motherhouse October 30-November 1.

St. Louis Review Features Retreats: Click here for a multi-media presentation created by Lisa A. Johnson for the St. Louis Review. Click here to read the story from the Review's November 27 issue.

The Project

"I have my own room and it has a key!"  "I found out that I am somebody."  "I opened up and released a lot of stress and worries."  These are just a few remarks that tell the effect of a new endeavor that is underway at the Motherhouse-retreats for homeless women and men in the St. Louis area. 

It all began with an e-mail from Chicago inviting us to attend a meeting at the Jesuit Provincial Headquarters to learn about the "Ignatian Spirituality Project" to honor and serve the spiritual lives of homeless people. Sister Marion Renkens, Sister Marian Cowan and Associate Diana Oleskevich attended the presentation, igniting real possibilities for Carondelet. 

To quote from a letter from the project's home office, "The Ignatian Spirituality Project's priority is to effectively respond to the spiritual hunger found within materially poor persons.  Nourishing this fundamental aspect of a human being, the spiritual life, can have a direct impact on one's self-image and sense of dignity.  For the man or woman who is homeless and addicted, the result is often a stronger recovery program and choices that actively support the vexing journey out of homelessness and into permanent housing."

Renkens presented the project to the sisters who reside at Carondelet and asked if they would be comfortable with homeless men or women staying overnight.  Everyone expressed enthusiasm so Renkens offered Carondelet as the site for the Project. St. Louis became the ninth city to engage in this endeavor.

The entire project is quite structured. The women and men who participate need to meet certain criteria and are selected by the directors of shelters. The facilitators are trained by the project and need to be willing to be facilitator-participants, entering into the retreat on an equal basis with the retreatants. There is ordinarily a ratio of one facilitator to three retreatants.

The Retreats

A women's retreat was hosted this past spring with nine homeless women attending. The retreatants were wonderful as they shared their stories, their fears and hopes.  Each session found them more open and able to speak.  On Saturday evening all made bracelets with lots of colored beads, sitting around and relaxing together.  It was a priceless experience.

The women’s follow-up day was happily anticipated. When the Saturday finally arrived, after hugs and broad smiles, the women enjoyed their continental breakfast, chatting away with facilitators and each other like old friends. They told of the graces that have remained with them as a result of the retreat. The day proceeded with brief presentations and lots of sharing. After lunch, each woman wrote a private letter to God, placing it on the altar at a closing prayer. This was the high point of the day. A few weeks later the letters were mailed to the women.  

A men's retreat was hosted the weekend of October 30 with 12 participants. The men had a wonderful experience full of sharing, witnessing, prayer and laughter and they expressed their gratitude for the opportunity and the hospitality.

The sisters prepared gift bags for their bedroom. Besides the gift bags that contained soap, toothbrush & paste, floss, razors & gel, lotion, shampoo, deodorant, snacks and two pairs of sock, they loved the campus, the pleasant meeting rooms, private bedroom, delicious food and the peaceful atmosphere. As one man said “I know God is here.” Many cannot wait to return in a month for their follow-up day on December 5. 

The Future

The success of the project depends on the assistance of many people.  There is a large committee of men and women from the area who provide support for each retreat and follow-up day.  Sisters and associates provide transportation for retreatants; our hospitality and housekeeping staffs do an excellent job of providing hospitality; some committee members volunteer to provide food as well as transportation; some are available as "listeners" for the retreatants in the follow-up days; some will train as facilitators.  We are all grateful to our sisters and associates and staff who answer the call for help.

There will be two retreats and follow-up days in the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2010. Please keep this project in your prayer. 

Learn more about the Ignatian Sprituality Project at

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