The call of the Ignatian Exercises is that a space be created in life that allows the Holy Spirit to be heard, that still small voice that one can only respond to in the deep silence. The ordering of our lives to reflect Christ is really not a small task. This is why Ignatius asked that thirty days be set aside for the retreat.
The ordinary form of the Ignatian Exercises requires that each person remove oneself to a secluded space to pray and contemplate the movement of the Holy Spirit within ourselves. This takes place most often at monasteries or retreat houses. Places with lovely vistas and manicured lawns maintained by the members of the order. Silence is the directive lived within these areas and we are waited upon and cared for as we journey. A warm bed and ample food allow us to pray without concern. No meals to prepare, no dishes to wash. We are to meet only with an experienced guide helping us with the voyage taken in thirty days of nearly complete silence.
For centuries the powerful exercises have been used by the Jesuits as part of the training and discerning process young men would go through as they became priests. This was also shared with other groups such as the Benedictines, Franciscans, and Dominicans within the religious orders in the Catholic Church. In the twentieth century following the changes of the last great Vatican Council there was a movement to include the laity in many of the minor rituals and prayer forms within the church. Including the laity in this prayer form would be difficult.
Experiencing the Ignatian Exercises given in the thirty day format would be a stretch for an ordinary working person today. Saint Ignatius felt that withdrawing from life for an extended period was the best way.
The Ignatian retreat emphasizes a listening to God rather than repeating words we memorized before. We listen through scripture and contemplation and then journaling.
The work of the retreat occurs within the individual. The work of God in the individual’s life is shared with their Spiritual Director who helps to guide them along the paths they have discerned. It had been a struggle in the first days here in Oklahoma when decisions were made on just how to present the prayers.
The use of the Ignatian Exercises in Oklahoma City was initiated by Sister Jan Futrell, a Benedictine sister, who had to be convinced that the time was right for their introduction.
Sister Jan had worked with her brother, Father John Futrell and his fellow Jesuit priest, Father David Fleming, using the Ignatian Exercises to help train young priests to be Spiritual Directors. Sister Jan begun her studies at St. Louis University in Missouri and then traveled to Denver in the 1970’s to work as part of the team training Jesuits.
When the time came to return to her Oklahoma Benedictine community in 1979, Jan brought the knowledge she had gained along with the thought that she might be able to help the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City fashion a similar training program for the Catholic Church, creating Spiritual Directors among the clergy.
She met with the Archbishop, Charles Salatka, who encouraged her to connect with many people including Father Joe Ross and Father Bill Ross. These diocesan priests, trained in counseling, urged her to share the exercises with properly disposed lay people as well as the clergy.
Sister Marie Lueke was a classmate and fellow Benedictine. She would become a seminal figure in the creation of the Exercises as they are experienced today. Following her personal Ignatian Retreat Sister Marie Lueke would return and insist that offering the exercises in the longer seven month format was a possibility.
Sister Marie Lueke went off and had a thirty day experience. The first experience was in 1983-84 with Sister Marie Lueke leading persons one on one. One of those persons was Bob Gardenhire, a minister of the Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City.
Back in the early eighties Gardenhire was asked to create a counseling service Church of the Servant. Gardenhire called St. Anthony Hospital and said he had just read a book about spiritual direction; “do you do that?” He inquired. He was given the name of Sister Marie Lueke.
In sharing the Exercises with Gardenhire, Sister Marie Lueke was moving into that arena of ecumenism that was being tested in Oklahoma. Sister Marie Lueke would go even further in following the call of Christ.
Sister Jan was familiar with the retreat and Sister Marie was determined that together they would find a way to help share the prayers with this group of Non-Catholic Christians. Using Father David Fleming’s translation of the Exercises under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they began to pray beginning in October and taking the retreatants to the end of April just after Easter.
The question remains in how well did it work? The sisters were both convinced that one on one direction was vital to the intention of the retreat. Group direction was not what they were creating but rather a way of sharing this personal experience in a prayerful manner. It is faith sharing and not group direction. The direction remains faithful to the teaching of Ignatius so that each retreatant has an individual spiritual guide on this journey.
The small group meeting is not a part of the original design of things by Ignatius, but it was an innovation born of necessity. With the lack of trained spiritual directors, a group format continued to be required. A few retreatants found worthy were pressed into service during their training so that each participant might have a spiritual companion. In evaluating the result, a decision was made to retain the group model as the fruit of this format flourished.
In the early days the Sisters home was in Oklahoma City near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. They found eager participants among the neighbors and friends they met in the city. The Sisters called the program God Center. Meetings were held in rooms at the Cathedral or other area churches such as The Church of the Servant or at Villa Teresa.
Eventually the Sisters were able to obtain a home in a more rural setting on the outskirts of Piedmont, Oklahoma where they could grow and gather in larger spaces. The work of the order had become the leading of the Ignatian Exercises, now named Retreat in Daily Life; as they grew into the Benedictine Sisters of Red Plains Monastery of Piedmont, Oklahoma.
Along with the establishment of the annual seven month Retreat in Daily Life; the Sisters were able to continue their training program for Spiritual Directors. Slowly from year to year the programs continued to develop drawing more people in to pray and share their love of God.
Sister Jan had developed a training manual for the process of creating Spiritual Directors and used it to attain her Doctor of Ministry credentials in 1992. It would be used for one of the five training years spent in guiding people to become Spiritual Directors.
As in all things involving the work of God among the people, there are little changes and subtle additions meant to enhance the moment which become the norm for future prayer. A poem added here, a paper added there, without altering the original work of Ignatius or straying from the translation by Father David Fleming. The addition of devoted lay members to the teaching team helped the Sisters continue as they spread the faith through Ignatius.
The next change comes as the class of 2010 spiritual directors prepared for the completion ceremony. The Sisters would not be unable to continue to live and work on their own in Oklahoma. Lay members were given larger roles in teaching and administration so that the work might continue if the sisters had to make the choice to move away.
In 2012 the final gathering of retreatants and directors came together to wish the Sisters well as they moved on to their new home in Atchison, Kansas. They would join those sisters who could provide them with better accommodations for health as well as spiritual well-being.
Three lay leaders from the program were chosen to continue the Retreat in Daily Life and the training of Spiritual Directors. These programs are now under the Office of Worship and Spiritual Life for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.