Sisters Honored for Work with the Homeless

Sister Marion Cowan and Marion Renkens at Ignatian Spirituality Project honors

Sisters Marian Cowan (seated) and Marion Renkens
at the May 29 Ignatian Spirituality Project honors.

In the Company of Grace

by Sister Mary Flick

On May 29, at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet motherhouse, Sisters Marian Cowan and Marion Renkens became two members of the Company of Grace, honored by the national Ignatian Spirituality Project for their commitment to ending the injustice of homelessness and their specific contributions to the ISP retreats for the homeless.

Thanks to these sisters, the motherhouse is the site for a number of men’s and women’s ISP retreats each year.

Begun in 1998, the Ignatian Spirituality Project is in 26 cities throughout the United States with more than 700 lay volunteers. The award bears the name that St. Ignatius Loyola gave to a confraternity of lay people who supported an early work of the Society of Jesus, the House of St. Martha. Founded in 1543, it was a ministry dedicated to women living on the margins, mainly those trapped in prostitution. 

In 2008, Sister Marian Cowan was invited to attend a meeting about the ISP. “It was a ministry that fit me because I grew up on the cusp of poverty,” she says. “I experienced homelessness. I could identify.”

She thought that the motherhouse would be a great place to hold these retreats. She invited Sister Marion Renkens, motherhouse administrator, to join her at the meeting. “We both got hooked,” she says.

“Most have not been in a convent before,” Sister Marion Renkens says. “It is my honor and privilege to work with those who have experience with the vulnerability of homelessness.”

At the awards ceremony, Ann Rotermund, co-coordinator of ISP-St. Louis, welcomed those who attended. Two former retreatants shared how the ISP program has influenced their lives. 

Delnita learned about the retreat opportunity through Ann, who, at the time, was the senior director of mental health programs at St. Patrick Center in St. Louis.

A beautiful lady invited me to retreat. I asked her, ‘What is a retreat?’ But I went. It was one of the most blessed experiences of my life. To spend a night away from the shelter was something special. It was a time to forget about my problems, worries, fears and pain, and to find God.

At one point in the weekend, we wrote a letter to God then mailed it to ourselves. Someone asked me, ‘What do you write?’ I told her, ‘Thank you, God, for bringing me here. It changed my life.’ I met beautiful people at retreat. We experienced a lot of love.

Greg was homeless for 11 years during a time when he would live to drink and drink to live. He’d lived in the Carondelet neighborhood and had seen the motherhouse “a million times,” but he had “no idea what it was.”  During his retreat weekend, he learned about the motherhouse and meditating.  

I was early in sobriety. I didn’t think I was the kind of person to get it [meditation]. So I sat outside and spent quiet time in prayer. I was not sure what I was praying. I talked to God. I said, ‘I don’t know who you are or how to pray. What do I need to do to get to know you?’  

When I came back indoors, I felt a strong presence of God. It stayed with me. When retreat was over, I felt good. I didn’t want it to go away. It’s so simple, so electrifying. Just to talk to God. It’s a gift I received from here.

Sister Marian Cowan says that these retreats are a gift to her as well.  “I am the recipient of the graces. And I keep accepting God’s graces. The people who come are such an inspiration. They know without a doubt how much God loves them.”


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