On February 17, 2017, hundreds of faithful in Oklahoma participated in a spiritual enrichment day titled “The Graces of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.” The day was hosted by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral. Fr. Kevin O’Brien, SJ, led participants in a reflection on the “Grace of the Incarnation,” based on his popular, award-winning book The Ignatian Adventure, published by Loyola Press.
The Roots of Ignatian Spirituality in Oklahoma City
This story actually begins much earlier than 2017. A group of Benedictine sisters introduced the Spiritual Exercises to the archdiocese decades before. The brother of one of the Benedictine sisters was a Jesuit priest, who inspired her to integrate the Spiritual Exercises into the life of the local church.
According to NewsOK, Red Plains, the spirituality center where the sisters lived, “was founded in August 1968 by a group of sisters from St. Joseph Monastery in Tulsa. Members of the new monastery served throughout Oklahoma as pastoral ministers, teachers and counselors. In 1974, they moved to Oklahoma City.” Once named the Piedmont Monastery, it became a spirituality center considering the sisters’ work as spiritual directors and retreat leaders.
Sisters Lead the Retreat in Daily Life
For more than 25 years, until their relocation to Kansas in 2012, the sisters and staff led a Retreat in Daily Life for men and women of all faith backgrounds. Also known as the 19th Annotation, participants meet for seven months and follow the Spiritual Exercises. They engage in prayer, meet with a trained spiritual director, and journey with others in weekly group discussion.
Along with the Spiritual Exercises, a formal four-year program to train spiritual directors was established at the center. National Catholic Reporter cites that by 2011, 1,300 people participated in the Retreat in Daily Life, and more than 100 had completed the spiritual director certification through Red Plains.
Fr. O’Brien’s book is a guide for the Retreat in Daily Life, now led in the area by lay women through the Office of Worship and Spiritual Life: Mary Diane Steltenkamp, Nancy Vargas, Marilyn Seiler, and Kay Britton. About 240 people from across the archdiocese and others from Arkansas and Kansas attended the enrichment day in February, and since 2012, more than 300 people from the archdiocese have gone through the Exercises using The Ignatian Adventure.
Nancy Vargas, a certified spiritual director who works with the Office of Worship and Spiritual Life, spoke about what a delight it was to have Fr. O’Brien present, that his humor and willingness to work with all participants exceeded expectations. She shared how this day was a moving example of the collaboration of priests, religious, and lay facilitators who bring St. Ignatius’s teachings to life. “Our world hungers for a place to be in relationship with God and others,” Vargas reflected.
The Daily Life of a Spiritual Director
Vargas was introduced to the Spiritual Exercises in the fall of 2005, while working in religious education. She completed her certification at Red Plains Spirituality Center in 2010 and began meeting directees and facilitating groups in 2012. She is one of almost a dozen trained spiritual directors at her parish, St. John the Baptist. The groups Vargas leads have weekly meetings for the Retreat in Daily Life that follow the liturgical calendar. Throughout the archdiocese, groups like hers meet each day of the week, including an Episcopalian group downtown. “The Exercises are not just for Catholics. The enrichment day drew both Episcopalians and Lutherans, and in my experience of leading the Retreat in Daily Life, many people who aren’t Catholic are deeply affected by the relationship of Mary by the end of the seven months.”
Events like the enrichment day and experiences like the Retreat in Daily Life in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City enliven the community of believers. Nancy Vargas is a dedicated worker in the vineyard who has had many experiences and listens intently to her heart. As a spiritual director, she shared that groups and retreats like this cannot happen without formation in Ignatian spirituality and awareness of what it’s like to work one-on-one with individuals.
While it is rewarding work, it is not without its challenges, including the tight schedule and pace of the liturgical year. The Office of Worship and Spiritual Life’s timeline begins with outreach about the Retreat in Daily Life early in the summer. Vargas meets with individuals throughout late July and August and teaches about lectio divina and journaling. By September commitments are made to begin meeting at the parish.
Vargas has led a variety of people and groups at St. John the Baptist and in the archdiocese through Ignatian reflections. She’s worked with catechists at an in-service training and met with principals and teachers. Vargas noted how men and women have unique experiences of the retreat. Men are moved by the contemplation of Joseph and his graciousness, while women gravitate toward Mary. Vargas mentioned books like A Friendship Like No Other by William Barry, SJ, as resources for a variety of people, helping them to see the beauty of Ignatian spirituality in their personal lives and in diocesan-wide formation.
Nancy Vargas and all those connected to the Office of Worship and Spiritual Life are cultivating a desire to experience God through Ignatian spirituality. It requires adaptability and flexibility—and tools like The Ignatian Adventure. This inspiring enrichment day with Kevin O’Brien, SJ, offers a glimpse of the good graces at work in this community of faith.