Adult Spirituality Staff
Mrs. Rita Dollard-O'Malley
Rita Dollard O'Malley created the Adult Spirituality Office at SI along with Fr. Greg Goethals, S.J., in 1999. It has become a model for similar offices throughout the country.
In the Old Days, before SI moved to its Sunset District campus, students learned about Ignatian spirituality either indirectly, by watching the Jesuits at work, or by listening to senior retreat talks.
Later, thanks to Vatican II, the teachings of Jesuit General Pedro Arrupe, S.J., and priests who wanted to spread the wealth, the Jesuits began sharing their spirituality with students far more freely.
In the 1990s, with the advent of the Adult Spirituality Program at SI, even lay teachers got into the act; they took part in the Spiritual Exercises and prayer services and learned more about the Ignatian values that define all Jesuit schools.
In 2003, SI’s Adult Spirituality Program took the next leap and began offering a variety of programs for parents to teach them about and lead them through Ignatian prayer.
“We did this for the same reason we offered the Spiritual Exercises for teachers,” said Rita O’Malley, the director and co-founder of the Adult Spirituality Program. “It is vitally important that teachers and staff who work with students understand what it means to be an Ignatian teacher. It’s just as important for parents to understand and share in the spirituality their children are enjoying at SI.”
O’Malley works with Mary Abinante, Brother Joe Frias, S.J., and Mary Ahlbach to offer a host of programs for the adults who make up the SI community. In the past, for example, they helped the Ignatian Guild with its Women’s Retreat, which featured Dr. Gina Hens-Piazza, a scripture scholar at the JSTB and an SI parent, who spoke about the story of Ruth from the Hebrew Scriptures.
They also helped the Fathers’ Club with its Dad’s Spirituality Morning. One such talk featured Steve Mullin, the lay pastor of All Saints Catholic Church (and father of four) in Hayward, who spoke about keeping faith amidst everday chaos.
“After each of these events over the past years, I have had a number of dads approach me to share how powerful the morning was for them,” said former Fathers’ Club President Don Mancini. “Fr. Jerry McCourt, S.J., spoke about Ignatius’ life. Afterwards, dads who were alumni told me that they learned more about Ignatius from that one talk than they had learned from their four years at SI.”
Beth Miller, former president of the Ignatian Guild, echoed Manicini’s praise for the program. “Before our collaboration with Adult Spiritualty, the Guild’s Day of Recollection consisted of a tribute to our Life Members and a brief spiritual talk. Now, thanks to SI’s Adult Spirituality Program, we shifted our focus to help our members find a deeper understanding of how to find God in all that we do as women, friends, wives, daughters and mothers. We had 200 at the last gathering, as members have started bringing sisters, mothers and friends. Rita O’Malley’s inspiration is contagious and has permeated the Guild’s sense of purpose, which is to build community and be ‘mothers for others.’”
The Adult Spirituality Program also offers a spiritual book club; past titles have included Riding the Dragon and Margaret Silf's The Inner Compass.
The Loyola Guild, which serves both the SI and USF communities, has also worked with the Adult Spirituality Program on its retreats, and Mary Abinante has spoken to its members about Ignatian Spirituality.
One of the newest programs, an eight-week program called “The Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life,” has proven successful with both SI moms and dads. Parents learn the Ignatian techniques of meditation and contemplation and prayin the quiet of their homes. They return to SI to share their experiences, listen to a talk and receive instructions for the next week.
O’Malley praised this venture as a successful partnership between the SI Jesuit community and the Adult Spirituality Office. “For the first time in the history of the school, we are exposing parents to the Spiritual Exercises.” Parents who wish can also sign up for individual spiritual direction.
O’Malley hopes to offer the same programs for alumni soon and is working with the Alumni Association to make this happen.
“SI parents seeking spiritual growth are so fortunate to have opportunities like this within the community,” added Miller.
“The ultimate goal is for people to have an encounter with Jesus,” added O’Malley. “That is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality.”