An “Abbreviated” History of the St. Louis Bridges Program - Bridges Foundation

Note from Hans van Leeuwen, S.J.: Discussion of how the Spiritual Exercises became to be shared with the laity, particularly in Belgium during the mid-1970’s. The author took part in the rediscovery of Exercises in the Lowlands.  He speaks to how the laity has transformed the practice of the Exercises and whom they reach. The paper is a presentation made at a Rome Consultation on “Exercises and Partners.”

1983 – 1987

The movement to prepare laity as prayer companions for the 19th Annotated Retreat in Daily Life began in Europe, moved to Canada and then to the United States.  The movement reached the United States during the early 1980’s.  From the very beginning, St. Ignatius realized that many people, who desired to experience the Spiritual Exercises, were not able to get away for a thirty-day retreat 20th Annotated Retreat.  So, for those who were not able to get away, he annotated the 18th and 19th Retreats.  The 18th Annotation compares closely to the present “Light Works” and the 19th Annotation to “The Ignatian Retreat in Daily Life.”  

The history of the Bridges Program in St. Louis has two strong roots: one in St. Louis with Marie Schimelfening and Tom Swift, S.J. and the other from Canada with Jim and Joan Felling.  To date, the Bridges Foundation is one of only two free standing, lay organizations that offers the 19th Annotated Retreat in Daily Life.  The other, Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (SEEL), is in centered in Seattle, Washington.

The Bridges Program began at the National Christian Life Community Center, Westminster House, in 1983.  It continued for five years ending in 1987 when the leadership at the Center, Marie Schimelfening and Fr. Tom Swift, S.J., moved and the Center was closed.  The design of this program had its roots in the World Cristian Life Community (CLC) Course II offered in Manila, Philippines, in 1976.  Marie participated in this program and brought the experience of the program to St. Louis.

The Manila course emphasized mission and service—a program of experience and reflection.  Participants were sent out into the city to various neighborhoods and service agencies—to meet and converse with the Pilipino people.  The participants then gathered to share experiences.  Presentations on justice, mission, discernment and other Ignatian related topics we given.  After the two-week immersion experience, the participants then entered into a ten day, individually directed Ignatian retreat.

In St. Louis, coupled with the desire for CLC members to receive the Spiritual Exercises was the desire to promote the Jesuit mission of justice.  After review of the materials from the CLC course in Manila, it became apparent that this material could be included within the 19th Annotated Retreat format.  Fr. Dave Fleming, S.J., Provincial, was supportive of the Jesuits who wanted to engage in this project.  The original efforts were focused on offering the 19th Annotation Retreat to (CLC) members.

During the five-year period of the program at the Center, fifty individuals received the Spiritual Exercises, flavored with the emphasis on justice.  Documents recording these five years could be found in the CLC archives.

When the leadership transferred and the Center was closed, the Bridges Program was turned over to Joan and Jim Felling in 1989.

1979 Canadian background of the Fellings

At the invitation of Bishop Reme J. DeRoo, Bishop of Victoria British Columbia, Joan and Jim Felling made an eight-day directed Ignatian Retreat.

1980-1981

Jim and Joan were then sent to participate in the Forty-day Institute at Guelph, which included the Thirty-day directed Ignatian Retreat.  The Bishop then asked them to coordinate the prayer companions program on Vancouver Island.  These prayer companions were trained to direct the 19th Annotated Retreat to persons in their local parishes.

1981-1988

The Fellings received additional training at Guelph.  They, along with Jesuit Priests, trained additional prayer companions on Vancouver Island.  These companions included religious sisters, parish priests and lay individuals.

1988

Jim and Joan return “home” to St. Louis.  John English, S.J., from Guelph, came to St. Louis and introduced the Fellings to Marie Schimelfening and Bob Johnston, S.J., who were local, regional and national leaders in CLC.  

1989

The Fellings are asked and said yes to reviving Bridges Retreat in Daily Life in St. Louis.

Note from Fr. Joseph Tetlow, S.J.: “It surprises no one, who knows their history, that Spiritual Exercises are proving an astonishingly effective instrument of lay spirituality even at the end of the 20th century.  They are being used for, by and with lay people in many formats all around the world.  They supply the basis of sophisticated spiritualities for the marketplace worked out by Jesuits George Schemel in Scranton and Bernard Owen in Detroit.  It would be safe to say that more people are engaged in these Exercises today than at any other time in history…

St Louis in the late seventies was a fertile place to spread the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises: Jesuits George Ganss and David Fleming were making texts available; Jesuits Robert Doyle and Thomas Swift were giving the exercises to (literally) hundreds.  John Carroll Futrell, S.J., and Sr. Marian Cowan, CSJ, were teaching others how to direct…Just as the Eighties ended, Bridges came to life.”

1989-1990

Founding Members of the Bridges Advisory Council were: Bob Doyle, S.J., Frank Severin, S.J. Bob Johnson, S.J., Marie Schimelfening, Pat Carter, Jean Horton, Sr. Mary Ann Wachtel, Mary Mondello and Jim and Joan Felling.

The Bridges Retreat sites were Fusz Memorial Hall and the Cenacle Retreat House.

1991

Fr. Joseph Tetlow, S.J., became active in Bridges and companions began using “Choosing Christ in the World.” Fr. Joe Tetlow’s program includes both instructions for the prayer companion and weekly prayer notes with scripture for the retreatant.  This program still used today, along with notes from Fr. John Veltri, S.J. and themes from Lewis M. Savary, whose writings are based in the works of Pere Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

1991 – 1994

A continuation program for individuals who had completed the Retreat in Daily Life was started.  It began with the CLC structure. The leadership was Pat Carter, Jean Horton and Pat Hottinger.   It became to be called Bridges II, an evening meeting for both Ignatian spirituality enrichment and for prayer companion training.

1995 – 1996

Sr. Marian Cowan, CSJ, an internationally know expert on companioning individuals through the Spiritual Exercises, brought her expertise to St. Louis and founded a mentoring program for newly practicing prayer companions.

During this eight-year period from 1991 to 1999, approximately three-hundred individuals received the Bridges Retreat and eighty-five people were formed as prayer companions.  The Bridges Retreat flourished under the support and financial assistance from the St. Louis Jesuit community.

2000 – 2002

Charlene Ricker assumed the leadership of the Bridges Program.  The programs became more structured and documentation improved.

Charlene assisted in the formation of a Board of Directors and Bridges Foundation, Inc. came to be.  Charlene was named Executive Director.  The Board of Directors was and is now separate from the day to day functioning of the Bridges Retreat in Daily Life.  The Board was and is responsible for financial backing and program development and evaluation.

During this time, Fr. John Padberg, S.J., Fr. Jim Veltri, S.J. and Dr. Dermott Smith contribute especially to the prayer companion training program.

The Seattle Program, SEEL, publishes a program adapting the 19th Annotated Retreat to one group meeting per month and a weekly meeting for retreatant and Prayer Companion.  The SEEL program was purchased and adapted for the North City Site.  This is the current program utilized at the College Church Site and the St. Matthew the Apostle Parish Site.  At the other sites, a weekly group gathering and a talk is offered.  The retreatants meet with their Prayer Companion before or after the gathering.

Over one-hundred and twenty people, including Prayer Companions, Retreatants and Jesuits were part of the Bridges programs over this two-year period.

2003

There were thirty-eight retreatants in 2003.  The formation of prayer companions was assisted by Ralph Huse, S.J., Michael Durso, S.J., Robert Weiss, S.J., Philip Steele, S.J., Thomas Cummings, S.J., Jeffrey Harrison, S.J., Richard Buhler, S.J., J.W. Padberg, S.J., along with the support of Jesuit Hall administrators and Timothy McMahon, S.J., Provincial.  These Jesuit supporters continued to assist the Bridges community for all the years they were missioned in St. Louis.

2004 – 2007

There were thirty-five plus retreatants each of these three years.  The larger gatherings were moved from Jesuit Hall to the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse.  Jack Callahan, S.J. and Carl Starkloff, S.J. were frequent participants in the prayer companion formation program.

It is during this time that the finances of the Bridges Board became critically low.  In 2005 a Five Year Plan was instituted for the years 2006-2011.  In 2006 the Finance Committee took a strong but controversial move to use the actual cost of the Bridges Retreat ($884) as a baseline for the fee requested of the retreatants.  The financial situation changed within a two-year period.  Some retreatants paid more than the cost, as they realize they were supporting the needs of the less affluent retreatant.  Others paid the entire amount over an extended period of time.  Still others pay what they can.  This method of payment continues today for the fees of both the Bridges Retreat and Magis (See note under 2010-2012 below.)

2008 – 2009

The Board of Directors numbers increased from 9 to 19 people and the finances stabilized.  In addition, the Board was able to supplement the cost to a number of Bridges retreatants by offering $2585 in “scholarships.” 

In July, 2009, a weekend Ignatian program was offered to the entire Ignatian community.  The Foundation has offered this program nearly every year since 2009.  It is named the Ignatian Community Retreat (ICR) and the directors are noted Ignatian scholars.  The weekend is not only a place for the Ignatian community to gather and pray together, it is also a fund raiser for the Foundation.

2010 – 2012

Dr. Hsin-hsin Huang and Paul Coutinho, S.J., became part of the Bridges II Prayer Companion Training program.  Paul and Hsin-hsin were instrumental in reforming the structure of Prayer Companion Training.  Over a two-year period,        Bridges II, an evening program, was closed and Magis, a Saturday morning program was established.  The first portion of the morning is a presentation on Ignatian themes by experts in the Spiritual Exercises.  From 10:30 a.m. until noon there is participation in small groups on various Ignatian topics.  Marian Love was chosen to facilitate the Prayer Companion Training Portion.  The training now included two Magis small group programs, plus a mentoring year and a year of peer supervision and consultation.  Dr. Dermott Smith, Madeleine Lane, SSND and Pat Carter were also part of the prayer companion program development.

The Jesuits who participated in the first Magis program were: Joseph Tetlow, S.J., Chris Pinne, S.J., Mark McKenzie, S.J., and David Fleming, S.J.   Mark McKenzie, S.J., is a dedicated participant in Bridges.  He worked to form the leadership at St. Matthew the Apostle Parish by supporting and encouraging them receive the Bridges Foundation 19th Annotated Retreat, which he directed with other lay prayer companions.  Fr. McKenzie continues to make presentations at Bridges events.  Fr. Pat Quinn, S.J., is continuing to guide St. Matthew the Apostle parishioners through the Bridges Retreat.  Ronald Mercier, S.J., led this Ignatian Community Retreat in 2012, speaking to social justice issues and Ignatian spirituality.  

Clarence Heller took over and formed and directed the Marketing Committee.  Under his leadership, a monthly plan for promoting the Bridges Retreat was devised and a Marketing Coordinator’s position was stabilized.  A website was developed.

Charlene Ricker retired during this period and Miriam Wesselmann, SSND took over as Executive Director.  Prior to this time into the present, Sr. Miriam has been the steadying leader for Bridges, on and off the Board.  Denny Coleman and Tom Simon both served as President of the Board and Cheryl Rauschenbach was Marketing Coordinator.

2013-2018

During this five-year period the number of retreatants has stayed around twenty to thirty participants yearly.  There was a renewed emphasis on sharing the Spiritual Exercises with minority communities.  The St. Matthew the Apostle site continues to service many African American people.  There was also a venture into the Latino community, but there is only one Spanish speaking prayer companion.  The effort has been made to encourage bi-lingual Spanish speaking people to participate in the Bridges programs.

A number of ways have been used to inform and interest the public in the Bridges 19th Annotated Retreat.  The Bridges Board has supported parish evening and Saturday programs where participants can experience different styles of prayer and hear about Ignatian Spirituality.   The website is being revised under the leadership of Steve Givens, Marketing Director.  The aim is to make it easier to maneuver within the site and to simplify the registration process. 

The present Five-Year Plan, formed under the leadership of Rick Lageson, recommends the development of a social event for the greater Bridges community.  It is hoped that this event will foster a renewed effort to invite and encourage participation in the Bridges Retreat.  This event is led by Rita DeRuntz, Chair of the Development Committee.

The quality of the program has been enriched under the leadership of Carol Brescia and Cathy Hoehn, past and current chairs of the Program Development and Maintenance Committee of the Foundation Board.

The economic status of the Foundation continues to stabilize.  In 2017 the Board was able to subsidize, in varying amounts, the fee for the Bridges Retreat for 58% of the retreatants.  Thirty-eight percent of the Magis participants were subsidized a portion of the $425.00 cost.  Frieda Siebel-Spath is Treasurer and heads the Finance Committee.

Individuals in the Jesuit community continue to support the Bridges Retreat and the Magis program.  The presenters scheduled for the 2018-2019 Magis include Jeff Putthoff, S.J., Anthony Wieck, S.J., Joseph Hill, S.J., Mike Dooley, S.J., Pat Quinn, S.J., and Michael Harter, S.J., along with many lay leaders.

Through all the years, two programs from the first Bridges Retreats in the 1980’s have remained intact and unchanged: The Faith Sharing Weekend and the Market Place Retreat.  In the first, the retreatants and prayer companions share their faith development and in the Market Place Retreat weekend, the director leads the participants through a discernment of ways to share their spirituality with people with whom they interact.

Revised April 2018  Linda Leib