Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

News Story

by Caroline Matovic, BEd, BscN, Spiritual Director at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish

The flame of Ignatian Spirituality is ablaze at St. Raphael the Archangel parish!  “And the hunger for more (the magis, as referred to by St. Ignatius) is clearly evident with growing attendance and feedback from parishioners who are involved in Ignatian-based programming,” says Fr. Tom Simisky, SJ, pastor of St. Raphael.

The flame was initially lit as the parish kicked off the Year of St. Ignatius with parish and school wide staff retreats in 2021, which slowly expanded to include parish workshops in 2022.  This happened while the parish was slowly coming out of COVID restrictions.

Caroline Matovic

As an Ignatian-trained Spiritual Director and a new parishioner, I was seconded to lead this initial wave.  God is definitely a God of surprises!  If you had told me that I would be involved as a Spiritual Director and retreat director at a Jesuit parish 4 years ago, I would have laughed at you.  The circuitous path that led me here has been full of surprises – clearly, one of Divine Providence.  I am originally from Canada, and after graduating from the Cenacle of Our Lady of the Divine Providence School of Spiritual Direction, found myself in Raleigh, where my three children had relocated.  I had been attending another parish but then was told that there was a Jesuit parish in the city. I attended one Mass and that was it!  I experienced such incredible consolation and knew that was exactly where the Spirit was drawing me: to St. Raphael the Archangel Church.  Now there’s no looking back.

Then in the summer of 2022, it was announced that Rev. Lawrence P. Searles, SJ, was to be appointed to St. Raphael the Archangel as parochial vicar.  Our prayers had been answered! Fr. Larry, as he is affectionately called, was transferred to the Jesuits USA East Province from Puerto Rico.  Fr. Larry holds two master’s degrees in theology and two master’s degrees in foreign languages. His background also includes thirty-eight years of experience as a Spiritual Director and Ignatian Retreat Director.  Fr. Larry has authored his own version of the Exercises:  Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola According to the 19th Annotation. 

I, too, had worked as a retreat director in Canada.  Many participants in Ignatian programming have commented on our diversity in talents but strength as a team – like two puzzle pieces that just “fit” together.  Sandy Hahn, a participant in the Spiritual Exercises, comments, “The two of them together are like fine music from heaven, growing us deeper in our faith.”

That summer, Fr. Larry and I laid out the first year of programming, to be delivered to parishioners in both English and Spanish.  It began last September, and consisted of several offerings:  one-on-one spiritual direction, the Spiritual Exercises in group format, week-long retreats (including daily meditations and daily meetings with a companion for “sharing”) during the Advent and Lenten seasons, and monthly workshops focusing on the Discernment of Spirits.  A courageous undertaking for just the two of us, but with the power of the Spirit behind us, Ignatian Spirituality began to take the parish by storm.

Fr. Larry and Caroline role playing the Good Spirit and the Enemy.

For me, it was energizing!  In my many years in parish ministry, I have never witnessed this type of hunger and desire amongst parishioners to deepen in their faith.

This need has also been identified and echoed by participants from regional gatherings of the Society of Jesus’ USA East Apostolic Planning in a recent report: “The experience of the Spiritual Exercises and the dynamics of Ignatian Spirituality offer a pragmatic means of showing the way to God and provide the motivating, guiding, and sustaining force to engage in the other 3 UAPs.” The four UAP’s, or Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Global Society of Jesus, will be increasingly highlighted in the next decade and are as follows: showing the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and the practice of discernment, walking with the excluded, journeying with youth, and caring for our common home.  The report goes on to say that, “the Exercises are a fundamental response to the deep human desire for meaning; a means toward a sense of shared identity, belonging and purpose; a basis for servant leadership; and a way to bridge divisions.”

This year’s and next year’s programming at St. Raphael has clearly illuminated the way for our parish to engage fully in the first UAP with the aid of Fr. Larry’s own version of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola: According to the 19th Annotation, which he originally authored in 2019.  It is both an individual and group-based twenty-nine-week retreat of the Spiritual Exercises that follows the liturgical calendar (beginning usually late October and ending post Pentecost).  Participants access the materials in two formats: a forty-minute daily guided audio meditation or contemplation narrated by Fr. Larry that follows the printed manual. Both formats are offered in Spanish as well as English. Participants meet weekly, led by a Spiritual Director, in groups to share their meditative experiences.  One of the participants, Adrianna Cleofe, comments on her experience of the Exercises: “I have long felt that there was a vital thread missing from the overall tapestry of my faith, a thread that would enhance the motif and bring fine detail into sharper focus.  After many years of active searching, I have finally found this elusive “thread” in the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life. They have allowed me to weave my Catholic beliefs and my daily mindfulness meditation practice together seamlessly, affording me an authentic mode of spiritual experience and expression whose total is so much greater than the sum of its parts! The added group element is particularly ingenious, as Christ meant for us to belong to a community of believers.  I am overwhelmed by the support and acceptance I’ve received from my new faith family as we have journeyed through the Exercises alongside one another.  Their love is a true reflection of Christ’s love for us, and I continue to be humbled and blessed by their presence in my life. I am so deeply grateful to Caroline and Father Larry for bringing these exercises to us!”

“An authentic encounter with Christ is the essence of our Catholic faith from which all dogmas and doctrine arise. To know Christ ‘internally,’ as Ignatius states, so to love and follow him, is at the center of Catholic mysticism. Through the Spiritual Exercises we are able to return to our ‘first love’, and THAT makes all the difference,” says Fr. Larry.

Looking back on this past year’s Spiritual Exercises program, one element stands out clearly.  I have led many faith-based groups in the past, but I have never witnessed such deep group connectedness and soul-sharing as I have in these weekly group meetings.  The group format is perfect for parishes who do not have enough Spiritual Directors to meet the needs for one-on-one direction or for parishes wishing to introduce the Spiritual Exercises in a more expansive way.  I have to say, Fr. Larry’s program is a spiritual masterpiece: a game-changer for one’s walk of faith. It needs to be shared with the world.

Fr. Larry Searles, SJ, leads a workshop.

The Discernment of Spirits workshops is another form of Ignatian Spirituality that was introduced at the parish this year.  During these monthly sessions, we reviewed the First Week of Rules and explored case studies; they were very well attended.  Yvette and Joe Medina, who participated in both The Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life and the Discernment workshops, comment: “Supplemental workshops focusing on discernment were not only learning sessions, but spiritual family boosters.  What a joy to share and have deeper discussions about our faith, rather than home responsibilities or other obligations!  Conversations regarding our daily meditation materials and monthly workshops prior to meetings, transcended into uplifting spiritual and intimate moments. It has become our divine fuel.”

During this past Lent, parishioners also had the opportunity to experience Ignatian meditation and/or contemplation through a Scriptural Stations of the Cross which incorporated visio divina.

The flame began to spread in the parish, as other groups in the parish began to reach out, requesting workshops based in Ignatian Spirituality.  Allie Vance, Chair of the Mothers in Faith group commented after a recent workshop in Ignatian Contemplation: “It was such a gift of peace amid the business and noise of our lives as mothers.”

The excitement is growing – this coming year we will pilot a Zoom group-based version of Fr. Larry’s Spiritual Exercises. It is our hope that this format will provide more accessibility to parishioners, and in the future, to anyone hungry for the Spiritual Exercises and the desire to get to know Christ more intimately.  In addition, we are developing training and support materials to assist parishes with implementing this format.

We also plan this year to begin planting seeds outside of St. Raphael as we have a number of Spiritual Directors presently who are interested in enrolling in the Program themselves and/or using the Program in their parish in a group format or one-on-one with directees.

Finally, we are in the process of developing a website from which all of these materials and parish-based activities can be accessed in future.  Clearly, the Spirit is leading us in ways we would have never imagined….but after all, that is the magnanimity of the Holy Spirit!

St. Raphael’s parish in Raleigh now shines a bright light on Ignatian Spirituality and clearly, it’s full steam ahead for us.  From a tiny seed planted amidst the desolation of Covid, God has brought forth an Ignatian tree bearing abundant fruit.