Service with Ignatian Spirituality: Across the nation, Crusaders of a certain age are finding spiritual fulfillment as part of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps
The IVC is a national organization, with chapters in Chicago, San Diego, Syracuse, Philadelphia and 12 other cities. Bill Waters '67 and Dave Hinchen '65 (left and center), founded the New England chapter in 2006. Rev. Simon Smith, S.J., (right) serves as IVC New England's chaplain. Photos by Matthew Atanian
By Mike Cullity '94
As Bill Waters '67 approached retirement after more than three decades with the Rhode Island Department of Health, he clearly envisioned his life's next chapter.
"I wanted to find something that would combine community service with spiritual enrichment," he says.
An article in a diocesan newspaper led the East Providence resident to the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC), an organization founded in 1995 that offers men and women of Waters' vintage opportunities to serve the poor or work for social justice while pursuing Ignatian spiritual reflection. In 2006, after learning that IVC did not have a New England chapter, Waters began collaborating with fellow Holy Cross alum Dave Hinchen '65 to establish one.
After three years of planning, IVC New England launched in January 2009, and, that April, Waters began volunteering at Mary House, the social service ministry of St. Patrick Church in Providence. For the next two years, he spent the equivalent of two days a week working with the city's poor. He prepared food every Monday for Mary House's meal kitchen, distributed clothing and helped start mentoring and health-promotion programs aimed at improving lives.
Waters' experience put him in contact with those living on society's margins, including a Holy Cross classmate he encountered at the meal kitchen. "It's good to realize that this type of misfortune can happen to anybody, really," the former psychology major says.
In April, Waters will be one of three individuals IVC New England honors with a Della Strada Award, which recognizes contributions to the materially poor and work in building a more just global society. Joining him as an honoree will be Rev. Simon Smith, S.J., IVC New England's chaplain.
After co-founding IVC New England, Hinchen served on its regional advisory council before becoming director last year. A former Jesuit who, from 1974 to 1982, served as regional director for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC)-an organization that has offered many Holy Cross alumni yearlong service opportunities upon graduation-he finds the idea of bringing service and spirituality to a different age group appealing.
"Working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps was one of the peak times in my life," Hinchen says. "What's exciting to me about IVC is that it has its roots in the program I loved so much."
IVC New England has 14 volunteers serving in Worcester, Providence and Boston. As director, Hinchen is responsible for recruiting volunteers and matching their skills to the needs of agencies that serve the poor or work for social justice.
Waters and Hinchen aren't the only Crusaders involved in IVC, which now has more than 350 volunteers in 16 regions across the country. In fact, Mary (Cahoon) McGinnity '77 is the organization's national executive director, and her predecessor in that role was Suzanne Geaney '76. "The unique thing about it is that we are putting people who have a rich and full life experience into service," McGinnity says of the group's members and their simple mission to serve people in need. "They bring a real level of talent and skill into their volunteer work."
McGinnity notes that Holy Cross alumni are involved in IVC projects across the country, and in a variety of roles up and down the organization's chain of command. "There are Holy Cross graduates working as volunteers, as staff members and on the board of directors," she says.
During his career as an educator and musician, IVC volunteer Warren Howe '63 spent time as a GED instructor at a federal prison. Today, the Washington, D.C., resident volunteers as a mentor to inmates at Maryland's Montgomery County Pre-Release Center, helping them reintegrate into society.
"When you help them achieve something that they need, whether it's getting a driver's license or getting a job, it's kind of a bright spot," Howe says. "You've actually helped somebody in a meaningful way, and you enhance your own sense of purpose at the same time."
Retired dentist Jerry Sheehan '59 volunteers as the alumni coordinator for Cristo Rey Boston High School, one of 24 Cristo Rey high schools nationwide that employ an innovative work-study program to provide an affordable Catholic education to students with limited financial means. By interacting with Cristo Rey graduates who have gone to college, Sheehan gathers information to assist current students with their college choices.
At his former dental practice in Lowell, Mass., Sheehan frequently employed high school students from Asian immigrant families and helped them get into college. His work for Cristo Rey Boston is a logical extension of that experience. "I've always been a proponent of the underdog," the former biology major explains. Now in his second year at the school, Sheehan struggled at first to find his way as a volunteer, he admits. To help volunteers navigate the trials of service-and probe the spiritual questions it evokes-IVC offers them support through group gatherings and individual meetings with a "spiritual reflector" who guides their journey.
Tricia Brennan '78 is a spiritual reflector who serves on IVC New England's regional advisory council. A Unitarian Universalist minister, she meets monthly with a volunteer serving a refugee ministry near Boston. She strives to support the volunteer's work by being a good listener and asking good questions, she says.
"I think what is so great about IVC is that volunteers aren't just sent to their placements," adds Brennan. "They are accompanied in their experience."
Brennan's IVC involvement has roots in her experiences at Holy Cross-where she was director of Student Programs for Urban Development (SPUD)-and as a JVC volunteer. "At Holy Cross, I was really deeply inspired by the liberation theology that I learned about and got a chance to live through my opportunities there," she says. "The worship life very much had a justice orientation to it, and the culture was spiritually rich, pointing me deeper toward a life of commitment to justice-making."
Similarly, Hinchen considers his experiences in and out of the classroom at Holy Cross the catalysts for a life devoted to service. "I was in the sodality with Fr. (Joseph) LaBran (former Holy Cross chaplain), and we had an outreach to a nearby orphanage at the time, so I had kind of a big brother relationship with a kid there," he recalls. "And I had a course in Latin American history in which I got very captivated with some of the countries, especially Chile, and that helped my desire to go into the Peace Corps there after graduation."
Waters, by contrast, opted for graduate school after his four years on the Hill, but is grateful for the later-in-life service opportunity IVC offered him.
"The Ignatian Volunteer Corps gave me a second chance to do something that I had thought about as a college senior but didn't do," Waters says. "So I got a second bite at the apple."
For more information on the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, visit ivcusa.org.
Mike Cullity '94 is a newspaper reporter and freelance writer based in Manchester, N.H.