For the past four years, Renee Owens has served as the director of Loyola Jesuti Center in Morristown, N.J. In a time where new technology keeps people distracted, Renee works to help create a warm and inviting atmosphere where retreatants can disconnect from everyday life and spend more time connecting with God. She also continues the retreat house’s tradition of making retreats accessible for anyone who wants to take part in one.
In addition, she has been instrumental in initiating major renovations and repairs to the building. As phase two of a three-phase capital project nears completion, the historic charm and elegance of the center's 110-year-old mansion has been restored, complementing the beautiful Italian gardens outside. Renee is focused on building for the future and investing in the programs. If you are interested in supporting these efforts, please contact her at (973) 539-0740 or visiting them online at www.loyola.org.
How do you help people find God at the Loyola Jesuit Center?
At Loyola Jesuit Center we work to provide a welcoming atmosphere of peace, stillness, silence and beauty to foster an encounter with God. From the moment a person contacts Loyola, they receive a warm welcome and hospitality. We meet people where they are in their spiritual life and move them deeper as they feel ready and called. They are served and cared for with respect as a precious child of God. We pour our heart and soul into each and every retreat with care and concern for every person that comes through our door and even those who just call or email to learn more.
St. Ignatius wrote about finding God in all things and we want our retreatants to experience God’s peace as they enter through the front door. I hear this all the time and see it in their demeanor as they arrive. A retreatant will enter, carrying their suitcases, put them down and breathe a sigh of relief saying “I am finally here.” Loyola is a sacred space for people to get away from the busyness and stresses of everyday life so they have a chance to become aware of God’s presence in the midst of their joys and struggles. Retreatants experience this same atmosphere in the wondrous beauty of God’s creation as they pray and discern in the prayer gardens, a space where many have encountered God.
How do you introduce people, who are not familiar with the Society, to Jesuit ideals?
Every retreat at Loyola begins with an orientation that describes the history of this house and the Jesuits. We have a special concern for the poor and at the end of retreat we take time to carefully explain our free will offering policy, which has been in place since we opened our doors, so people of all walks of life are able to come, regardless of financial status. Through the retreat itself, the Gospel is preached, and retreatants are taught to learn and live Gospel values; taking what they have received and sharing it in their workplace and communities, becoming “contemplatives in action,” people for others.
How do you personally want to improve the mission of Loyola Jesuit Center?
How has Ignatian Spirituality made you the person you are today?
Although I am a very faith filled person and have always had a great love for Jesus, I never fully understood what it meant to have a personal relationship with Him. As I sought to deepen my relationship with God, I entered spiritual direction and ultimately participated in the Spiritual Exercises in the 19th Annotation format. I can say without exaggeration, I had a true, personal encounter with Jesus which changed my life.
There was a feeling of peace so profound; I cannot put it into words. I have come to understand what it means to deny yourself and to live for others. Do I do this perfectly, every day? Of course not, but I do sit with God each and every day in the silence, reflecting, discerning, listening and trying. I want to give back and I can think of no better way than sharing, spreading, expanding and enhancing the mission at Loyola, where all of the offerings have the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as their foundation.
What programs at Loyola Jesuit Center are you especially proud of?
I am greatly inspired by working with the homeless. It is my great privilege and joy to be a member of this retreat giving team. As part of the women’s retreat team, I see firsthand over and over again how their spirit is strengthened and filled with a sense of hope. I remember one retreatant said to me, "I never thought I could change for the better, however being here has opened my eyes and I see a beautiful future." This is far more than inspiring; it fills me with a deep sense of longing and compassion to do more and help more people.