By Ignatius Plato
Several members of the St. Louis chapter of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) have been hard at work assisting senior Jesuits prepare for their upcoming move from Jesuit Hall in midtown St. Louis to the new St. Ignatius Hall in north St. Louis County.
Jesuits have called Jesuit Hall home for 50 years, and a few of the men residing there have been there nearly that long. For all the current residents, the move has evoked a myriad of emotions associated with moving from home. A significant factor is the “stuff” – their possessions – that span from few to many. Some of the Jesuits needed a little help sorting through their belongings to decide what to take with them, what to pitch and what to send elsewhere.
That’s where the IVC volunteers came in.
While physically moving the men and their belongings to the new location safely is a priority, volunteers have also offered emotional support to the Jesuits making the move. Connecting with the Jesuits on a deeper level throughout the process has given the IVC volunteers a feel for the weight of the transition, fostering a new appreciation for the humanity of these men.
Craig Schoenfelder, an 11-year IVC volunteer, thought he understood the impact the move would make on the lives of those at Jesuit Hall, but he found himself touched by the depth of the men’s lives.
“Over time, we began to realize the complexity of what we stepped into,” says Schoenfelder. “That complexity is not in the various activities involved in the move, but rather in the Jesuits themselves. Getting to know more about these men and the richness of their lives has been the most rewarding part of helping at Jesuit Hall.”
The Jesuits at Jesuit Hall have been preparing for the move to St. Ignatius Hall exactly how one might expect – going through books, clothing and other belongings and taking with them the things that are necessary. But they also received a visit from Madeline McDermott, the collection management archivist at the Jesuit Archives & Research Center (JARC). McDermott talked to them about which of their papers and belongings should be sent to the JARC, a process that normally takes place after a Jesuit has died. This process resulted in two large transfers of books, papers and documents to the JARC.
Tom Nickson, another IVC volunteer, brought a compassionate perspective to his work with the Jesuits. “I’ve done work with the elderly before, so I have a sense of the emotional importance possessions can have for these men,” says Nickson. “This is a large group leaving a place that has been home. Standing by and supporting them during the process has been a top priority.”
Nickson recalls helping Jesuits choose items to keep/pitch at a time when they were not quite ready to do so. “I remember being asked politely to leave a room while I was helping clear some things. Not for anything I did wrong; all our Jesuits just needed time to process what they were being asked to do. For some of them, this is like gathering a ‘last will and testament’ of sorts.”
Volunteers have also felt the communal impact of the move, aware of Jesuit Hall’s historical and academic significance.
“We have to remember that the Jesuits are a very social Catholic order,” emphasizes Schoenfelder. “Living at Jesuit Hall came with a sense of community. These men had ties to parishes throughout Saint Louis, as well as Saint Louis University and various inter-city programs.”
IVC volunteers have noted that the Jesuits at Jesuit Hall exude a spirit of gratitude to everyone involved. Schoenfelder and Nickson both commented on the deep sense of appreciation and generosity that persists in Jesuit Hall.
“They see God in the people and events surrounding this move,” says Schoenfelder. “Even in their hardest moments, they are still finding God in all things. Their devotion has lifted me up and been spiritually inspirational for me. And that is their gift for all of us.”
“Even though they have to be going through some hard decisions and anxiety, they still have time to live that charism and make us feel wanted and welcome,” Nickson said. “It’s a reminder to all of us volunteering really: even though this is basically a retirement home, these men are still Jesuits no matter what. I feel like they find joy in knowing that you can’t retire from that.”
The move to St. Ignatius Hall is expected to take place in mid-January 2023.
About the Ignatian Volunteer Corps
The Ignatian Volunteer Corps provides men and women 50 years and older with opportunities to serve others, to address social injustice, and to transform lives. IVC matches the talents of capable volunteers with the social needs of our time.
IVC works in partnership with hundreds of community partner organizations. These nonprofit organizations provide Ignatian Volunteers with substantive work to serve individuals who have slipped through this country’s safety net.
If you’re interested in becoming an IVC Volunteer, contact Sr. Amy Diesen at firstname.lastname@example.org.