Faith. Community. Leadership.

Contemplative Leaders in Action celebrates 10 years of young adult formation.

By Henry Frank

In the coming year, Contemplative Leaders in Action (CLA) will graduate its 10th cohort. CLA is a two-year Ignatian spirituality and leadership formation program for young adults in their 20s and 30s. CLA participants gather locally each month to share a meal and have a conversation about themes drawn from the Spiritual Exercises, topics in Ignatian leadership and current events that impact personal faith and professional lives.

While the program nurtures individual growth, it also strives to build a cohort of leaders, who are committed to cultivating the dynamics of faith and justice among their families, co-workers and communities.

Since its inception in New York City a decade ago, CLA has expanded to eight more cities: Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. Nearly 500 people have completed the program as of this spring. Next year alone, more than 200 young adults will participate in CLA nationwide.

To mark this major milestone, and to highlight the impact the program has had over the years, we asked alumni to reflect on how their CLA experiences have informed their sense of being an Ignatian leader in the world today.

Jaclyn Newns

Campus Minister, Saint Joseph’s University

CLA—Boston, 2015

I was encouraged to seek out CLA by Fr. Terry Devino, SJ, my mentor since I was a student at the University of Scranton. Terry has always encouraged me toward spaces where my gifts meet God’s grace, so I trusted his suggestion of CLA when I moved to Boston in the fall of 2013.

I met 15 people in the living room of a Jesuit community the week I moved to a new city. We gathered there once a month to break bread and build friendship over sweet potatoes and jerk chicken. We were a unique crew of personalities and professions, including an architect, a union organizer, a teacher and mother of six, an actuary, a graphic designer and a carpenter. We were a bold, messy, distracted and holy crew.

To lead my life with Ignatian spirituality, I aim to take a “long, loving look at the real,” as Jesuit theologian Fr. Walter Burghardt wrote. In that circle of 15 friends, I was nudged to name and claim the real and to gaze upon and revere the consolations and desolations of my life. I was taught how to bring all of my lived experience forward into the light and attention of spiritual direction. My prayer life expanded through daily Examens and deeper conversations. Walking with others as companions became an intentional act of mercy. CLA gave me people to walk with.

Last July, I stood at the baptismal font at the Paulist Center in downtown Boston with my goddaughter, Petra Rose. Her mom, Emily, had invited me to worship in that community four years earlier when we met through CLA. I stood in the same chapel at Emily’s wedding and recently took five of my students there from Philadelphia. CLA led me to faith communities where I felt kinship, and now I strive to create similar spaces of belonging.

Working in campus ministry at Saint Joseph’s University, I design retreats that steep students in storytelling, creativity, encounter and community. Students unpack their identities, widen their personal images of God, and listen with loving attentiveness to each other. Recently, on a weekend Ignatian art retreat, 30 students prayed with clay, watercolor and photography. Seeds for this retreat were planted through my CLA capstone project when a cohort member provided space on Boston College’s campus to guide students through visio divina, a reflection on images of justice. CLA solidified art as a nonnegotiable avenue of my spiritual life.

Through CLA, I was encouraged to pay attention to my own desires and the desires of the Spirit. I was given a space of holding and beholding, a space of accountability, a space of love. Our world needs such spaces.

I am deeply grateful to the Jesuits for continually reminding me: This space is for you; you are good, and you are welcome here.

Deanna Howes Spiro

Director of Communications, Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities

CLA—Washington, D.C., 2015

One day in March 2013, my good friend Tim Ebner asked to meet for a drink. He wanted to tell me all about the Contemplative Leaders in Action (CLA) program (which he had just completed) and why I needed to apply. The timing was pretty fortuitous as I had just been promoted to director of communications at the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) in Washington, D.C., where I had been working for the previous six years. Although I was coming into the role as an internal hire who was Jesuit-educated at Fordham University, I knew that I wouldn’t be effective without a “refresh” in Jesuit leadership training and Ignatian spirituality. Thus, I was intrigued by what I learned from Tim and couldn’t wait to apply for CLA.

I was delighted to be accepted into a cohort that had its first meeting and opening retreat in Fall 2013. Our group bonded well with each other, and our leader, Kevin Buckley, helped to set a prayerful tone for each meeting in his calm and measured way. Although we only met once a month, we built a community that supported and encouraged each other and always held one another in prayer. I knew that no matter what challenges I faced at work or in my personal life, I could always count on this group of people to be my prayer warriors and spiritual advisors.

In addition to the guidance and wisdom that I gained from my cohort members, I gained exposure to models of Ignatian-inspired leadership through our reading of Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney and our in-session visits from influential members of the local Jesuit network including Rev. Joe Lingan, SJ, the former rector of the Jesuit community at Georgetown University, and Sister Lisa Buscher, RSCJ, who now directs the CLA program. Most crucial to my personal and professional development was that they taught me about Ignatian discernment. For me, this was the missing link that I needed to fully animate my work in Jesuit higher education and to deepen my personal relationship with God.

It has now been three years since I completed the CLA program. I have become a member of the advisory committee for the Washington, D.C., region and a member of the steering committee for our local Loyola Club, all while continuing to serve at AJCU. It is a blessing to be so strongly connected to organizations like AJCU and CLA, which both share the same goal: to do everything for the greater glory of God. AMDG.

More on the Web

If you are interested in learning more about this program, find us on the web at CLA is a program of the Office of Ignatian Spirituality, serving the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces.

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