July 11, 2019 — This year, the Manresa Spiritual Center is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Many things have changed since the first laymen retreats in Toronto in 1925 and the foundation of Manresa in 1949, including the addition of retreats for women and for members of Alcoholics Anonymous. So what is happening today? Fr. Henk van Meijel, SJ, who was appointed director of the Centre a year ago, discusses the beginnings and the future of Manresa with us.
“When I arrived at Manresa, several wonderful things were already happening, but we had to figure out how to make them more relevant in today’s world. That’s when several people spoke about wanting to see the Centre move forward.” Since then, various steps have been taken to make Manresa more in sync with today’s realities. First, it has worked on better advertising its retreats, especially in parishes and dioceses and soon through a new Internet site. Of course, word of mouth continues to be an essential marketing tool. Furthermore, it has been breaking down some barriers, like gender. In the spirit of Vatican II, nuns and lay people (like Meg Lavin) will soon give retreats. Finally, it is offering retreats to several groups that are not as well served within the Church.
How can a 70-year-old organization find the energy to challenge itself to better adapt to today’s society? In part thanks to Fr. van Meijel: “The most important thing for me as director is to foster an environment where ideas can be exchanged and discussed.” For example, he has decided to hold a Board meeting each month in order to discuss the Board members’ ideas and to make decisions. However, several other people also have ideas and they can submit them to the Centre which takes them into consideration. Another project is the construction of a new building and once again, several people with various expertise have approached Fr. van Meijel to offer their help.
Everything is a matter of energy. If people are full of energy, things get done. I cannot make things possible, but people who look to the future can. I am blessed to be surrounded by such people who wish to work towards the future. God is truly alive and if we open our hearts to God, he brings good people into our lives.
All are Welcome
What is the purpose of a spiritual retreat centre like Manresa today? “Manresa is a haven of peace where you can escape the pressures of everyday life. People come here to “recoup,” to receive spiritual direction before returning to their daily drama,” explains Fr. van Meijel. “Incredible things happen, small victories and great healing, and sometimes simply rest.” The retreatants seem to share the same opinion as the director, for 70% of them come each year, and some have for 60 years now. As Fr. John Meehan also stated in another text, in Canada and in Québec, people are always seeking some form of spirituality. And all are welcome to find it at Manresa.
Although Manresa already serves several marginalized groups, other vulnerable groups are also being considered. This openness is even reflected in its rates: “We operate on a donation basis, we don’t have fixed rates. We suggest a donation of $220 per retreat, but if someone can’t afford it, he/she can give less or nothing. Others give more. God looks after the rest.” Regardless of the donation, everyone, from the unemployed to the rich, experiences the same retreat.
Fr. van Meijel and his team also want to better reach out to young adults under the age of 40, as Fr. O’Brien, SJ, did during a spiritual retreat for young professionals.
People of any faith or none go to Manresa. For example, a group of Protestants will have a retreat at the Centre next year: “I will adjust the Ignatian spirituality to their situation,” says Fr. van Meijel. For him, what matters most is to connect with people where they are at, to find a way to walk with them. There isn’t only one way to support people.
As to the future of the Manresa Spiritual Center, Fr. van Meijel relies on God: “If it comes from God, he will put people together. God is not dead, the Church is not dead, but how we express this reality will vary.”