In July 2021, two Montreal-based Ignatian spiritual centres came together to form the Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal (ISCM) – a bilingual, ecumenical apostolate which is led by different Ignatian religious communities and lay people. The Villa Saint-Martin and the Wickham Centre (formerly called “Ignatian Centre” and now named after the Jesuit who helped create the Centre, John Wickham, SJ) decided to unite their strengths to better offer spiritual formation and direction as well as retreats to all people in Montreal and beyond. Fr. Kevin Kelly, SJ, Director of the Villa Saint-Martin, Reta Desfosses, Director of the Wickham Center and Lynn Barwell, Director of Formation, explain what the Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal is and how this coming together was led by the Holy Spirit.
“The Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal is a place of exploration, a part of one’s spiritual journey and where God meets and leads each person.” — Kevin Kelly, SJ
New Province, new Centre, new locations
What sparked the fusion of the Villa Saint-Martin and the Wickham Centre into a new entity? This idea was part of Fr. Erik Oland’s vision when the two former Jesuit provinces in Canada came together, and he became Provincial of the Jesuits of Canada. “Fr. Oland began to look at where the old French Province and the English Province in the same city were operating separately,” says Kelly. “How could those apostolates possibly come together? The Villa Saint-Martin and the Wickham Centre were one of those examples. It was also Mrs. Desfosses’s vision to bring these two apostolates together. Mrs. Desfosses has been connected with the Centre for several decades, acting as director for this lay-person run apostolate for the last 20 years ago.”
And indeed, the two works are complementary since the Centre trained many spiritual directors, in French and English, while the Villa offers retreats for individuals, but didn’t have the necessary number of directors. “To connect with the Villa and make it one entity where we can all work together, I think it is a perfect fit,” says Desfossés.
“Our goal, as it has always been, is to make St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises available out to everyone; the only difference is now we will be working with the Villa in helping to give retreats with our trained spiritual accompaniers.”
With many spiritual directors connected with the ISCM, Desfossés can match individuals looking for spiritual direction with those trained and qualified to provide it.
There is also a change of location involved in the creation of the new Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal. The Villa Saint-Martin will move next year to the west end of Pierrefonds on the island of Montreal to a newly renovated retreat centre (previously run by the sisters of the Sainte-Croix) while the Wickham Centre was moved to a new location in Côte-des-Neiges from their building where they have been for 45 years, near Loyola High School. The new location is close to downtown and several of Montreal’s universities.
“We will be in the centre of Montreal, where it is easier for some of the population we serve to come,” adds Kelly. The focus of the Villa will be to continue to offer silent, accompanied and preached retreats beside the park, Cap St. Jacques.
A Centre Part of the Broader Christian Church
Reaching out seems to be a motto of the Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal. The Villa and the Wickham centre will work together, but also with other Christian organizations. Kelly explains: “We see this becoming a significant support for the Catholic Church of Montreal and its surrounding dioceses. There’s so much need to help engage clergy, pastoral associates, and religious communities that are getting older and maybe don’t have their own means of animating their own retreats.
We are really looking to go out into new areas and rethink how we are going to support the growth of spirituality in Montreal, wherever people might be looking.
Obviously, we’re not here to tell them what they need, we rather will offer formation and retreats and help groups to discern how they might benefit from some of the services we offer.”
“We will also continue to reach out to other communities (Anglican, United Church, etc.). We have been connected with them since our diocese asked us to back in 1967,” adds Desfosses.
Walking with the young people and the marginalized
The Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal aims to reach not only people already familiar with Ignatian spirituality, but all people, from different faith traditions or with no religious affiliation. “A lot of the work we do is to help people to first understand where God is acting in their lives is,” says Kelly. “We are trying to support spirituality as a discovery process for individuals using the tools that are core to Ignatian spirituality.”
But the new ISCM will also have specific programs to reach marginalized people in Montreal. Kelly explains:
“We are partnering with Jesuit Refugee Service to offer retreats for newcomers in Canada. We are also working with other religious communities and an indigenous man well connected with the Catholic Church in Montreal, to bring the Ignatian Spirituality Project to Montreal. The Ignatian Spiritual Project is a retreat program for people who have experienced homelessness and addiction but who have taken the initial steps toward recovery.”
Young people are also not forgotten, says Fr. Kelly. “In terms of young adults, the Centre has always had connections with the Newman Center, and we will resume offering them spiritual accompaniment and retreats more regularly.” Mrs. Barwell adds that there is also a desire to do outreach to schools. “We already work with Loyola High School, which makes their Kairos retreat at the Villa each year, but we’re looking at expanding this outreach to other schools, and not necessarily just Catholic schools.”
Following the Holy Spirit
“It may sound obvious,” highlighted Barwell, “but we are going to be Spirit-led.
We have ideas, we think that this is where the needs are, but we are really open to what is going to happen as well… where we will be led.
As needs come up, we are going to steer our ship to where we discern the Spirit is leading us. And that means we are going to take the time to discern: that is what makes it even more exciting.”
“Indeed,” adds Desfossés, “we have always believed that it was God, the Holy Spirit driving the Centre. For example, we never really worried about money. Sometimes in the fall, we didn’t think we would have enough money to open … then somehow somebody came along, and they gave us the money we needed. With the Spirit, we are going to be successful.”