Struggling to find a faith community after college? Here's how this college grad found her Ignatian sprituality
In 1986, as a 24-year-old recent graduate of New York University, excited by life’s possibilities and just engaged to be married, I was searching for ways to be more aware of and responsive to God’s call. I was seeking deeper meaning in my life, a way to tap into God’s life force (“The Empire Strikes Back” was an influence here) and a way to make my faith life come alive in my daily life.
My then-fiancé, now-husband, Patrick, was highly supportive. As we explored possible ways to cultivate our spiritual lives together, we researched a few lay orders. Pat, a graduate of Xavier High School in New York City, suggested that we try to find a Jesuit third order. Shortly after that, the director of a diocesan-sponsored spirituality program recommended the Christian Life Community. The Jesuit moderator of C.L.C. in New York City, Dan Fitzpatrick, S.J., was teaching a course in that program, and two members of C.L.C. were in my class. It was a serendipitous find.
With several other classmates, we learned about the Christian Life Community and joined our first group in Westchester County, just north of the city. The group consisted of a mix of ages and callings. There were three couples with teenage children, several single women, a couple from Italy and Pat and I in our 20s. Meeting twice a month in alternating homes, the group was a place to bring focus to the deeper meaning of daily activities, to center ourselves in God, to share where we were finding God, and to pray and celebrate Mass together.
Recognizing the call to share our wonderful experience of C.L.C. with others, Pat and I started a second group of young families in St. Margaret’s Parish in Riverdale, N.Y., in 1991. The meetings were held after Sunday Mass, and we arranged child care so that young parents could attend. Group meetings served as a refuge of sorts to regroup and nourish one another in spirit. We supported one another in our experiences related to our various ministries, jobs, raising children and the personal struggles of daily life. The group listened and accompanied members in discerning major decisions, like the adoption of a child, a transition from the corporate world to teaching or a vocation to be a permanent deacon.
I went through a few discernments in accepting leadership roles within the Christian Life Community at national and international levels as well as at my current job as a mathematics teacher at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, N.J. My husband also discerned a move from a career in consulting and finance to the nonprofit sector. The C.L.C. guided our lives during these moments, helping us to listen and respond to God’s promptings in our lives. Through this approach, C.L.C. became a safe and supportive place to express desolations and consolations among trusted companions, holding one another’s truths in great confidence.
Later, we formed our third group, with six couples, in St. Catharine’s Parish in Glen Rock, N.J. This group has been actively engaged in all kinds of parish activities, like pre-Cana and the parish elementary school. The more I learned about C.L.C., the more on fire I felt. Everything I learned, from the daily awareness examen to the various forms of scriptural prayer to the 10-month-long 19th-annotation retreat of the Spiritual Exercises, was imbued with God’s light and love and affirmation. We had found what we were searching for.
A Christian Family
Family is a big priority for the Christian Life Communities. When our children were young, it was a challenge to find child care during meetings, so we built in flexibility and support for family care. We recognized that our first mission was nurturing our children and being present to them and their specific needs. We knew C.L.C.’s three key dimensions—spirituality, community and mission—would be a part of their upbringing.
When the Christian Life Community of the United States of America decided to prioritize fundraising for student leaders from places affected by extreme poverty, Pat and I led the sponsorship of a graduate of St. Aloysius High School in Nairobi, Kenya. C.L.C. members raised over $70,000 to fund this student’s living expenses over the four years when he attended Loyola University Chicago for his undergraduate studies. Francis, who is now studying for his master’s degree in public administration at New York University and is committed to returning to public service in Kenya, has since become a dear member of our family. His stories of life in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world, have been truly eye-opening for us. Our daughter Sarah, as part of a service project last summer, organized a splash ’n’ dash with her swim team to help support another high school student at St. Aloysius.
C.L.C. has been a gifted experience for our family over the years. With the other families, we have celebrated home Masses, Epiphany parties and Christian seders. We have participated in service projects together with organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Habitat for Humanity. We have hosted international visitors from countries like Australia, Canada, Colombia, India, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines and Vietnam. Because our C.L.C. group lives locally in the same parish, our children have known one another growing up, now for over 18 years. Two of our sons attended Regis High School in Manhattan, where they gained a deeper appreciation of the Ignatian ideas they heard about growing up with C.L.C.
Ultimately, the source of the Christian Life Community way of life is Christ and our living out of the Gospel message. I am reminded of the time when talking to my children about praying with Scripture: “Put yourself into the story—who do you see? Where are you in the story? What do you smell? What do you feel?” And as I was talking, my son Kieran, then about 12 years old, stopped me and asked, “You mean the Scriptures are alive?” And it struck me very profoundly in that same moment. Yes, the Scriptures are alive! We look back at our journey as a family and are grateful for the gift of C.L.C. that has helped us experience this life-giving force of the Gospel.
We have now been members of Christian Life Community for almost 30 years, and what an amazing ride it has been. This has involved raising our four children, developing deep friendships in God and sharing our faith with so many diverse people from all over the world—all speaking the language of Ignatian spirituality and striving to be witnesses of Christ’s love and a uniting force for good in the world.