As the Ignatian Year was beginning last summer, Paola Pascual-Ferrá, Ph.D. knew that she wanted to mark this special celebration in some way. She had participated in the Spiritual Exercises before, but as a busy faculty member and the mother of two young children, she wasn’t sure this was the time to undertake them again.
“I asked myself, ‘What can I do that would honor this year and be meaningful and fun?’” said Pascual-Ferrá, associate professor of communication at Loyola University Maryland. She thought of Seán Bray, assistant vice president for mission at Loyola. “I love Seán’s energy and his presence. I thought that the best part of the Spiritual Exercises is having spiritual conversations with other people. If I cannot commit wholly to the Exercises at this time, at least I can do something like this and be creative.”
Together, Pascual-Ferrá and Bray launched a podcast called This Ignatian Year with the goal of providing listeners with an experience that facilitates healing, reflection, and a chance to be closer to God through conversation with others. Bray said, “We asked ourselves how we might journey through this year, be reflective, and detach from what distracts us while paying attention to what excites us, what challenges us, what gives us hope.”
The podcast has offered an opportunity for the Loyola community to reflect together on all that transpired when St. Ignatius was wounded by a cannonball 500 years ago. “St. Ignatius Loyola had to recover from his wound physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” said Bray. “His story is so human. How he goes through his recovery process is so graceful, and I think everyone can learn something from his recovery, regardless of their own faith tradition.”
Bray and Pascual-Ferrá hoped that the podcast would begin and extend conversations for individuals and the campus community. “We have all been faced with cannonball moments, especially recently with the pandemic and social and racial justice issues across the globe,” said Pascual-Ferrá. “This podcast is so timely and relevant. As a university, many of our colleagues have struggled with balancing work and their personal lives. I thought this would be a good time to dive into these conversations and walk with St. Ignatius this year.”
The podcast, which was launched in August 2021, features episodes with Bray, Pascual-Ferrá, and a different member of the Loyola community as a guest who shares how they weave Jesuit and Ignatian themes into their daily lives, offering reflection and inspiration to listeners.
Recent episodes have focused on prayer, cultivating a hope-filled future, faith and imagination, leading with trust and love, and Magis, among others. Guests on the podcast have included Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J., associate professor of law and social responsibility and director of the office of mission integration; Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Ph.D., NCC, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs; and President Terrence M. Sawyer, J.D., who became the university’s 25th president in January, among others.
Pascual-Ferrá, who will literally walk in the footsteps of St. Ignatius when she participates in an Ignatian pilgrimage this summer, said she wanted to create this podcast as a way to feel more connected to her colleagues at Loyola. “I found this podcast to be very meaningful to me,” she said. “Being able to spend that hour really getting to know my colleagues was very spiritual. I’m not sure I would have had that opportunity outside of this project.”
While collaborating on the podcast, Bray and Pascual-Ferrá had no trouble finding ideas for guests and topics while honoring and celebrating Loyola’s Jesuit mission—and paying tribute to Loyola’s patron and namesake—during the Ignatian Year. “When you have these conversations, it is truly at the heart of Ignatian work,” said Bray. “I walked away from recording each episode feeling so alive and joyful for the time we had, and the willingness of our colleagues to share in intimate moments around Loyola’s mission.”
With seven episodes recorded so far, Bray and Pascual-Ferrá have received positive feedback from listeners. “What was really fascinating to me was hearing from new employees at Loyola,” said Bray. “[They could] learn about our mission and hear from colleagues in a new way. We hope our podcast provides a sense of spiritual direction, and we have received a lot of gratitude from our community so far.”
As the celebration of the Ignatian Year concludes on July 31, Bray and Pascual-Ferrá plan to prepare additional episodes through the end of July. They also hope to engage listeners by encouraging them to produce their own recordings and have them share the graces they experienced throughout the Ignatian Year.
In addition to the podcast, Loyola has offered many diverse opportunities for the Loyola community to celebrate the Ignatian Year, including lectures, panel discussions, and events. Topics of discussion highlighted women in Jesuit education, Jesuit Refugee Service, and Jesuits from around the world involved with international education, among others.
During the month of March, Bray and other university faculty, staff, and administrators co-hosted Ignatian Learning Groups, which focused on exploring the life of St. Ignatius, the Jesuits, and Ignatian themes through different cohorts whose members read a selected text and participated in weekly group discussions. And in October, students, faculty, staff, and administrators enjoyed celebrating St. Ignatius’ birthday on the Academic Quadrangle.
As the conclusion of the Ignatian Year draws near, Bray and Pascual-Ferrá are hoping that listeners and colleagues have gained a sense of comfort and connection to the Loyola community and to God—and a desire to continue growing in their spiritual journey.
“There is always a need for healing,” said Pascual-Ferrá. “This is just one way to make time for a relationship with God and others.”
By Molly Robey, Assistant Director of Communication, Loyola University Maryland