The Jesuits are going back to the future. Unfortunately, in order for them to get there, some cherished, present-day institutions will have to be closed.
Mount Manresa Jesuit retreat house on Staten Island and St. Ignatius retreat house in Manhasset, Long Island, will close on June 1, 2013.
Father David Ciancimino. S.J., provincial of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, in a June 21 letter, stated that current circumstances required a “more nimble and mobile ministry” responsive to the needs of the time.
“Actually, we might be going back to a much older model we used to have,” explained Father Edward Quinnan, S.J., the New York province’s assistant for pastoral ministry and province representative to the Jesuit Collaborative. “It was a group of Jesuits who would go around to parishes and offer one-day, three-day, five-day programs to people.
“I think that kind of thing, where we are going out to the community, is much more attractive,” he said. “We would like to particularly target younger adults. We’re not seeing them in the retreat houses. We’re not seeing them so much in the pews. So can we find a way of going to them? That takes a little bit of creativity, I think.”
Father Ciancimino said the new vision for Jesuit ministry will include among other things: training teams of young Jesuits and their partners in ministry to provide Ignatian spirituality programs with a special focus on young adults, developing programs in Spanish, partnering with local parishes and other faith groups to extend opportunities for spiritual direction, and training a new generation of retreat and spiritual directors.
Father Quinnan acknowledged that young adults and Latino Catholics have been underrepresented in the retreat house model, which he said caters primarily to older, white middle-class and upper-middle class Catholics. He said the weekend sleep-over retreat formula was not well fitted to busy 24/7 contemporary lifestyles and failed to meet the cultural needs of Latino Catholics who, he said, tend to be more comfortable in familial and community settings.
So is the traditional weekend retreat model obsolete?
“I think it’s in trouble,” he acknowledged. “When you look at the number of retreat houses that have folded in the metropolitan area, they are graying out because they haven’t been able to speak to the next generation and they haven’t invited in the Latino population.” He sees more parish missions as a way to reach Latinos.
“Most of the time when I see the programs that are for Spanish-speakers, it’s whole family programs. That’s what works best because they are a community-focused culture. We’re probably going to do something more like a parish mission,” he said. “Have programs for the adults and programs for the kids and then you bring them together at different points. A retreat team is going to have to have people who can speak to children, teens, young adults and senior members.”
As for meeting the needs of younger Catholics, Father Quinnan said it was a matter of meeting them where they are in their faith. Full weekend retreats were pretty much a non-starter with this demographic, he said.
“Getting young adults to give up a whole weekend, it’s almost a look of horror on their faces,” he said with a laugh.
“We’ve been running this program called the Contemplative Leaders in Action. It’s focused on people in their 20s and 30s and there’s one group that’s meeting here at St. Ignatius parish. This is about the fifth year that it’s running. What we find is this is a group of Jesuit alums who are really hungry for community because they’ve come from all over the country to work here but they’ve left their roots behind.
“I think it’s been very helpful in getting them more engaged in Catholic tradition, the Ignatian tradition,” Father Quinnan said. “So I think things like that where we’re finding groups and we’re going to them and moving them along on a spiritual journey, that’s what we’re hoping to do more of.”
Still he acknowledged it would be painful for him to see Mount Manresa, where he served as a director, and St. Ignatius close next June. The hope is to bring as much of the retreat staff at these facilities into the new ministry. Support staff will have to be laid off, which Father Quinnan said he regretted.
But he acknowledged that maintaining the buildings and grounds of the two retreat centers was getting prohibitively expensive.
“Staten Island has been there for 100 years. The oldest building was put up in the ’20s. We’re looking at about $2 million just to make it a sealed, functional building and that’s without amenities,” he stressed. “So it’s a huge burden. You’re running both a hotel and a restaurant as well as a religious service. Because of all the demands I often felt like I was giving short shrift to the retreats because I was more focused on how I was going to handle the boilers.” Father Quinnan said no decision has yet been made on the future of the two campuses, though he said proceeds from the sale or lease of the facilities would be used to allow the ministry to continue.
“There are no specific plans at this time,” stressed Stephen Hudik, the New York Jesuit province’s director of communications. “Things are very much at the preliminary stage.” One Jesuit retreat house will remain open in the area, Loyola House in Morristown, N.J.
Richard Nolan, chairman of the board of directors at Mount Manresa, said he expects the Staten Island house to be fully booked right up to the closing date. He acknowledged it was a difficult time for the staff.
“I would say for the Mount Manresa community, it is a time of sadness, a time of grief,” he said. “The task before us will be to embrace the new vision for the ministry. I expect the Mount Manresa staff will rise to the occasion.”
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