During our first Into the Deep blog series “Drawn to Ignatius” members of our writing team will tell us the ways Ignatian Spirituality has informed their lives, prayers, and their desire to go into the deep. Today Jenene Francis shares with us the many different ways she has lived Ignatian Spirituality throughout her life.
Growing up in a Denver parish of lay people, Jesuits, and Vincentians intent on living the Gospel, “The 10:30 Catholic Community” was born in the turbulent, idealistic 1970’s. We boycotted grapes in solidarity with United Farm Workers. We picketed the perceived lavish lifestyle of our Archbishop residing in a high rise condominium a block from my grade school. My sister made her first communion in a city park. Our youth group went rappelling, reflecting on our experience of fear and trust in God around a campfire. I was confirmed by the Archbishop in a church shared with Capitol Heights Presbyterian. Our primary source of formation was the St. Louis Jesuits’ as yet unpublished music, singing along with guitars and tambourines. Lyrics were written with grease pencil on acetate sheets, projected onto bare sanctuary walls.
It’s no wonder that 20 years later, in the middle of my lay ministry master’s program at the Athenaeum of Ohio, I experienced a kind of homecoming when I started attending Bellarmine Chapel, a parish on the campus of Xavier University entrusted to the Jesuits by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. There I came to know academics, accountants, artists, attorneys, doctors, engineers, ministers, nurses, politicians, priests, scientists, teachers, and women religious, people young and old who celebrate the Eucharist with joy and gratitude, exchange warm greetings on the way home with fair trade and Cincinnati Streetvibes vendors, inspired by rich homilies to offer lives of generous service with love.
Anticipating the new millennium, Bellarmine embarked on a communal experience of the Spiritual Exercises. I was busy traveling the world for Procter & Gamble and did not make the Exercises then, but each household received a print of Falling in Love. I framed this prayer attributed to Pedro Arrupe, S.J., placing it in my kitchen where I could see it while washing dishes or waiting for the microwave to ding. Those moments of contemplation in every day life began to decide more things.
The next year a fellow parishioner invited me to help with Charis Ministries’ retreats for those in their 20s and 30s. As I began to shape and lead retreats for others, I was taken deeper into the spirituality of St. Ignatius, making connections to the formation sung into my heart as a child. I found insights praying with imagination. I rummaged through experiences with gratitude, noticing moments of encountering Love, times when I was able to offer that love to others, even and especially to those who fall prey to evil operating under the guise of good, and to recognize I was loved even when I fell short, returning everything to God at the end of the day.
I said goodbye to P&G and Bellarmine in 2003, moving to Chicago to serve as Charis’ Managing Director until 2008 when I gave myself a sabbatical, including a 40-day experience of the Spiritual Exercises at Ignatius Jesuit Centre (Guelph, ON). I continue to be profoundly grateful for the many graces received on retreat, among them a freedom from worry about finding another job when I returned, and formation for what Jesus had in mind for me next.
In 2009 I was asked to serve as the Provincial’s Assistant for Pastoral Ministries for the Midwest Jesuits extending his care to Jesuit parishes and retreat ministries in our region and beyond.
Ten years later the Spirit once again began to nudge, initiating discernment conversations with my Provincial and others. July 1st I took a welcome step down a rung of the “corporate ladder” to become his Associate Pastoral Assistant. While continuing with ministry I love, I’m responding to God’s invitation to make room for a different work-life balance, anticipating more time (post-pandemic) for sharing meals and the Lake Michigan view from my own high rise condominium balcony with others, visiting with family and friends in Colorado and around the country, and making music with my multicultural neighborhood parish choir. I also look forward to sharing reflections with you and this community of Ignatian women writers as I pray for the grace of interior freedom to say, yes, and keep choosing “what better leads to deeping God’s life in me.”