Again, this is no surprise: my next hero is St Ignatius Loyola (happily, his feast-day is this coming Wednesday, 31 July). But my attachment to Ignatius is qualitatively different from the attachment I have to St Francis of Assisi.
If my association with Francis has to do with his biography and his locale, my connection with Ignatius has more to do with the influence the Jesuits and the Spiritual Exercises has had on me throughout my life.
It started with my attending St Ignatius High School in Chicago, and I was strongly shaped there by several priests, including my Freshman/Sophomore Year and my Senior Year Religion teachers, my Freshman/Sophomore Year Latin teacher, and my Senior Year AP English teacher.
It continued when I met and became close friends with another Jesuit priest—he was doing a doctorate in Liturgical Studies at Notre Dame when I was an undergraduate. We remained in regular contact for about ten years afterward. When I was down spiritually and emotionally during one of my years of teaching, he arranged for me to go to a Jesuit retreat house in Colorado for an 8-day Ignatian-style retreat—it was the best thing that could have happened to me at that time.
Seminary was a time when I found myself for two years under the spiritual direction of the North American College’s overall spiritual director, and it was he who first awakened in me the ideas and practices of the Spiritual Exercises, especially Ignatius’ technique of meditation on passages of Scripture.
On his recommendation, after ordination I found another Jesuit for my spiritual direction and confession—we were together in that relationship for 23 years, until he died. With him I did the whole of the Spiritual Exercises under the rubric of the so-called “18th and 19th Annotations”—adapting a 30-day experience into a series of weekly sessions over a period of months. It took another couple of years, but I finally found yet another Jesuit for spiritual direction, and I stayed with him until this past summer, when he transferred from Mobile to Michigan. It’s my loss.
But my approach to Scripture and to prayer remains deeply rooted in the writings of St Ignatius. His “Society of Jesus” has been a steady hand for me in guidance for almost 60 years.