Quiet bonds - Madonna Magazine

Quiet bonds

Sr Myree Harris RSJ 03 March 2020

Friendship bonds formed in silence are as strong now as they were almost 20 years ago.

It was the silence that hit you first, then the sense that the building was saturated in prayer.

I first walked into Loyola House, part of what is now Ignatius Jesuit Centre of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, in May 2001. I had known about it for years, and never thought I would actually get there, let alone make the Spiritual Exercises there.

From 1981 to 1988, I had belonged to a Christian Life Community group that met at Lane Cove, NSW. We used a booklet from Loyola House for our meetings. Over the years, we listened to lectures on the Spiritual Exercises put together from a program to train lay people to be directors of the Exercises. By the time we finished the set of tapes, we felt we knew John English SJ and John Veltri SJ who had been the speakers.

Years later, it was my great good fortune to spend hours with both of these great men, now deceased. In 1964, they began giving individually directed Spiritual Exercises there, a tradition that continues to this day.


That first night, we met as a group. We were assigned spiritual directors, were introduced to the team and introduced ourselves. Then silence began. We had preparation days, where we became acquainted or re-acquainted with the ‘tools’ of Ignatian Spirituality: Gospel contemplation, reflection on our experience in prayer, repetition of helpful scripture passages and a way to reflect back on God’s action in our day.

We were given scripture passages for prayer, wrote written reflections on each prayer period and shared these when meeting with our director. At the end of these days, we were encouraged to make a decision to move into the Spiritual Exercises, if we were ready.

So began a powerful, and, for me, life-changing, journey through the four ‘Weeks’ or sections of the Exercises. I had made the Exercises 20 years before, in Chicago, but that time just stayed in the large 10-storey convent where I was living as an overseas student and saw my director each day.


My prayer place was my room. Outside, everyday life went on as usual. Loyola House was an oasis of deep silence. Between prayer periods, I walked across fields and followed the path along a stream. There were vast fields and old-growth forests. Canada geese nested near the dam and lilac bushes covered perfumed swathes of land. A wildflower lawn lay beside the main building.

In that deep silence developed an attentiveness to the movements of the Spirit. Gradually, we became more able to discern the actions of the good and evil spirits.

Ignatius’ rules for the discernment of spirits made sense through lived experience. Our director helped us reflect on our experience and see where it led: to an experience of peace and joy or to turmoil and discouragement.

My experience of a changed and deepened relationship with Jesus was triggered by a Canada goose flying past my window during prayer. It brought to mind a childhood favourite ‘The Snow Goose’. The experience of the young woman, Frith, in that story illustrated and clarified mine. The grace, now part of my life, deepened after dialogue with my director.


Everyone’s experience during the Exercises was personal and different. As my director commented, the book of the Exercises is like stage directions. Each person writes his or her own script.

This became clear during final days of reflecting on and owning our experiences. Each day, one of the team would give a presentation of one of the Weeks of the Exercises. In small groups, with a facilitator, we shared as much as we wanted. Between sessions, at meals and as we walked around the area, we came to realise the strong bonds that had grown between us during the weeks of shared silence and the break days.

For me, friendships formed that have endured for the past 18 years. At Niagara Falls, riding on Maid of the Mist, we sailed close to the thundering curtains of water, blue ponchos preventing a drenching.

I realise it was a great privilege to be able to go to Loyola House to make the Spiritual Exercises. Two others in the group gave up jobs or promotions to do so. Michael, legally blind, gave up his job, trusting he would find another. Now married, he has a PhD, with a dissertation on the Spiritual Exercises. He is director of the Faber Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Marquette University, Wisconsin.


Nancy, a supervisor in a dress shop, gave up her position to take the 40 days off work. She now leads the RCIA program in her parish, offering spiritual direction to candidates, parish members and others in the area. Her tiny apartment on the St Clair river is another oasis of silence.

The experience of a directed silent retreat, whether for one day, or a weekend, or for six or eight days, can deepen prayer and help us to be open to the action of God in our lives.

Living a reflective and aware life can make all the difference.

Spiritual Exercises
Many Jesuit Centres in Australia and around the world offer retreats and Spiritual Exercises.
Ignatius Jesuit Centre of Guelph in Ontario
Sevenhill Centre for Ignatian Spirituality, Adelaide
St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre
, North Wales
Mount St Joseph Retreat House, Malta
Seven Fountains Jesuit Retreat Center, Thailand

Image: Jesuit spirituality centres from around the world.