By Kate Barry '89
One of the stones in the rock garden path at Mount Manresa reads: "To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). I try to go there each time I visit and meditate over those words — fitting for the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius — which remind me of the messages of love and justice I learned at Holy Cross.
Eleven years ago I received a flyer in the mail about a Holy Cross alumni retreat at a Jesuit retreat house on Staten Island. It was at a time in my life when I was searching for peace, faith, humility and, perhaps without knowing it, a renewed connection with God. And, for most of the last 11 years, I have found that connection at this very special place overlooking the vast Verrazano Narrows Bridge, connecting Brooklyn with Staten Island.
The Mount Manresa retreat house was founded in 1911. The Holy Cross alumni retreat, begun there 11 years ago, has since opened its participation to all area Jesuit colleges — including Boston College, Canisius, Fairfield, LeMoyne, Loyola Baltimore, Scranton and Saint Peter's College in Jersey City. For the past four years, various Jesuit alumni have been able to share the retreat experience together at the Mount.
Many Holy Cross alums remember the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, led by Fr. LaBran in Narragansett, R.I. These Exercises are based on the spiritual experience that St. Ignatius had during his conversion in Manresa, Spain. The Mount Manresa retreat is a weekend experience that encourages silent meditation and prayer and a reconnection with one's inner spirit and with Jesus.
The directed retreat is individually guided by a leader who helps the retreatant focus his or her prayer on scripture. The focus of directed prayer is on the words and deeds of Jesus. Often the retreatant can share his or her prayer experiences with the director or other staff members. Through this guidance, the participant learns to become more aware of how active God is in his or her life and how to better cooperate with God's gifts and grace. This grace, finding God in all things, is one of the central characteristics of Jesuit spirituality.
According to its Web site, the Mount Manresa retreat focuses on "the need to reflect and pray in order to see the world as a place where Christ walks, talks, and touches people's lives." It helps us realize that "the Lord is very active in our lives and it enables us to seek His will in our daily circumstances." Past themes and discussions at the Holy Cross alumni retreat have included, "The Cross," "Finding Grace," and "How Should We View Jesus in Today's Church?"
Mass is celebrated on the Friday night of arrival after a brief welcome by the dedicated staff of priests, nuns and laypeople. Although one would think that the rule of silence is nearly impossible to follow, especially with a group of Jesuit college alums, most everyone seems to welcome the quiet, and the release from the stress of work, family, city and noise.
Over the past 11 years, going to the Mount each year has been a gift. Of course, the Jesuits there understand that silent meditation can only last so long, so a brief Saturday evening soiree ensures that guests can meet and greet and chat with the staff. This is always a wonderful moment for returning retreatants to catch up on the past year's events in each other's lives or to meet new alums. Many of us look forward to seeing each other at retreat, as we've shared common experiences and grown close over the years. We have shared our hardships, our successes, doubts about our faith, yet we always find comfort in each other and in the special gifts at Mount Manresa. Amid the camaraderie of the Saturday evening social gathering, the air of peace and stillness is never quite interrupted, as most retreatants end up off to bed, ready to face the next day's retreat activities and quiet introspection.
There is a priest at the Mount who, along with being the retreat's fiercest proponent, has taken it upon himself to provide a vast library of spiritual books for perusal and purchase. I have found this additional source of inspiration a great help, and I recall many retreats where several people were lined up along the bookshelves, quietly reading some interesting new gem they had just found.
Rev. Tom Quinn, S.J., '57, has worked at the Mount since retiring from teaching at Canisius High School in Buffalo. I recently attended his 50th-golden jubilee celebration as a Jesuit — which he shared with another amazing member of the Mount's staff, Sister Maureen Skelly, who celebrated her 50th year as a Sister of Charity. Both have becone spiritual advisers, confidants and friends to many Holy Cross retreatants.
Fr. Tom has been especially important in my life — and has helped to guide me through the years, encouraging me to treat myself and others with mercy and justice, strengthening my faith in God. And next year, after another wonderful Jesuit alumni retreat, I will be blessed to have Fr. Tom as the celebrant at my wedding. The gifts of Mount Manresa continue to reward the many Holy Cross alums who have been blessed to receive them.
Kate Barry '89, who lives in New Jersey, is a member of the GAA communications committee.
For more information, consult the retreat house Web site at www.manresasi.org, or call Fr. Tom Quinn at (718) 727-3844, ext. 212.