A retreat for the homeless

St. Anthony Parish in Davenport hosted a day-long retreat for the homeless on Feb. 23. From left is volunteer Kathy Lundberg who coordinated/donated dinner, retreatant Ray who said he prayed all day to be able to stay and not to go get a drink, volunteer Pat Bear who coordinated/donated lunch and met one-on-one with retreatants and retreatant Steve who said the retreat really helped him feel better about his situation.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Volunteers had the opportunity to empathize with homeless individuals and offer words of encouragement during a retreat last month at St. Anthony Parish.

The retreat, Feb. 23, was held at St. Anthony Parish to seek to inspire greater knowledge of one’s self and one’s relationship with God as an agent of change within one’s life, said John Cooper, pastoral associate at the parish. The parish sponsored the event with the help of Davenport-based Eagles’ Wings.

The idea for a retreat for the homeless came from Jesuit priest Father Bill Creed. “He was starting homeless retreats in Chicago about 15 years ago when I did the spiritual exercises retreat with him in Cincinnati. I discovered that the retreats for homeless became so successful that the Jesuits have started a national network of homeless retreats called the Ignatian Spirituality Project.” Cooper contacted the Jesuits, who gave him “valuable feedback about what they include in their retreats. I pretty much patterned it after their retreat format.”


Thirty volunteers from St. Anthony’s and Eagles’ Wings helped with the retreat in a variety of ways, from cooking food and giving talks to offering a listening ear. Around 30 homeless stopped by from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Most stayed for the majority of the day. “We had some come and go,” Cooper said. By the end of the day there were 19 participants. The church itself was open throughout the day as a quiet zone for those who wished to pray.

To let people know about the retreat, Cooper said they reached out to people at McAnthony Window and area shelters. On the day of the retreat, transportation was provided from two shelters to St. Anthony’s. Three meals were served throughout the day.

“You could really see and sense those who were really wanting to make the most of this retreat in their lives. One man shared with a retreat volunteer that it was all he could do to get through the day without a drink. He ended up being one of the last to leave. Our youngest person was 19,” Cooper said.

One critical moment of the retreat was the reading of a long prayer that focused on healing memories, Cooper said. After that people were paired up one-on-one with volunteers. “God provided 19 volunteers at that moment in the day to sit with exactly 19 retreat persons.”

Marcia Moore, director of Eagles’ Wings, said Cooper mentioned his interest in Ignatian Spirituality during a visit to her retreat house. “My heart was first drawn to Ignatius during a visit to Montserrat, Spain, several years ago and my training in spiritual direction is based in Ignatian Spirituality. From there our conversation went to the kinds of retreats that John envisioned happening,” Moore recalled.

The Ignatian based model that Cooper used for the retreat included a teaching on helping people to reclaim their story, Moore said. She gave a talk on that topic and used a timeline and shared her own personal story. “Everyone attending received a large piece of paper and they were able to write their timeline and their story. When it was time for them to share, we broke up into small groups.”

Moore said the retreat gave her a sense of gratitude. “As I went to Mass later that afternoon, I was very moved as a Scripture verse went through my mind: ‘Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me.’ (Mt. 25:40)”

She said, “Jesus tells us not to judge others and yet, sadly, homeless people are judged as being ‘less than’ in society or for having made some choice that put them in that position. In some cases that may be true but there are many other reasons why people are homeless. We could all take a lesson from John Bradford and say, ‘But for the grace of God, there go I.’”

Moore invited Jeanne Wonio to help at the retreat. “I was intrigued because it was Jesuit Ignatian based and (it was being) offered for the first time in our diocese. I wanted it to be successful. At the same time, I was unsure if I was knowledgeable enough to be of help.”

Wonio was a discussion/table leader for two different groups. “We started each of our table discussions with prayer. Several in the group knew the Lord’s Prayer. I prayed in particular with a homeless mother of four. Her children were taken from her and that caused her much sorrow. I asked the Holy Spirit to lead us. The mom cried softly during the prayer. I hoped it brought healing and comfort to her but she left the retreat soon after so I wasn’t able to follow up.”

In the afternoon she was paired up with a retreatant to listen to his story. “The man shared that he had a collection of ‘vinyl.’ We were about the same age and reminisced about music from the 60’s and beyond. Even though his home life had not been pleasant, and his family continued to reject him, he had a keen understanding of the family’s issues. His emotion about these issues was mostly sad. He tried repeatedly to mend relationships most often to no avail.”

She said she wasn’t surprised to hear from those at her table that their earliest relationships with family, friends and schools were not the best. Some dealt with alcoholic parents, others were kicked out of the house and told to never come back. There was job loss, no savings and evictions from housing. Many had decent jobs in the past and were high school and college graduates. “Yet they were missing family support, lacked social skills, often had addictions or had some bad experiences which were stumbling blocks to success in keeping a job.”

One thing that stood out to Wonio overall was how polite, sincere and open the retreatants were. “Everyone at my table agreed to pray. They all agreed there was a God who, we could count on. Their faith was evident. Their gratitude was voiced.”

To close out the evening, Cooper brought in nationally known motivation speaker Dave “The Shef” Sheffield, who was in town. Sheffield, like all the other volunteers, donated his time at no cost for the retreat.

Cooper said the day offered healing and prayer. “This was an extremely heavy retreat both for those who participated and those who ministered to them.”

During the ending prayer, Cooper had participants write out what they wanted the group to continue to pray for. The requests were placed in a basket and everyone outstretched their hands/arms in prayer. “I promised them that at our Monday afternoon prayer group we would pray each one of those prayers…every Monday. We did do that.”

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