Going Deeper

Going Deeper

By Emily Rust

Ignatian Wisdom Groups allow seniors a chance to reflect on their Creighton experiences

It started small in 2012: Two groups of 12 Creighton seniors meeting in the office of the Rev. Larry Gillick, SJ, every other week for 90 minutes. It has grown exponentially every year since, as word has spread about the powerful effect of these Ignatian Wisdom Groups.

The meetings are confidential, allowing participants to freely express the troubles, joys, worries and triumphs of their senior years. This year, 150 students are participating in the program, under the direction of Fr. Gillick and the Rev. Greg Carlson, SJ.

The two longtime Jesuit priests say Ignatian Wisdom Group graduates have called it “one of the best things of my years at Creighton.” It provides seniors an opportunity to slow down and reflect on their experiences.

“American culture tends to have us zipping through days on a kind of overload of external experiences, maybe even superficial experiences,” Fr. Carlson says. “This invites people to ask what’s going on beneath the surface.”

It can be a bit awkward at first, as participants begin to share intimate moments of their lives with a group of senior classmates they may not know.

“When we first started, we had our moments of awkward silence, but then we were able to look past the barriers and talk about some really deep moments in our lives,” says Grace Krupa, a senior nursing major from Golden, Colo.

The key to a successful Ignatian Wisdom Group is open, honest reflection. After someone speaks, group members are invited to respond, not with questions or advice, but with reflective responses.

“We don’t ask questions of each other, we make statements,” Fr. Gillick says. “We don’t say, ‘Well, why did you do that?’ The better thing to says is, ‘I think what I hear is you may be thinking this way.’”

Many participants find it easier — and more helpful — to confide in a group of peers they may not know well, rather than in friends.

“To be honest, friends don’t always listen to each other and give an honest response,” Fr. Gillick says. “To really listen to another person is a great investment.”

There are no prerequisites for joining one of the groups; students simply need to contact Fr. Gillick or Fr. Carlson. However, interested students must promise to attend the meetings and be engaged and respectful.

“Not everybody can be that vulnerable or intimate,” Fr. Gillick says. “Not that you have to tell all, but can you listen and can you speak to each other?”

Two current or retired faculty and staff members lead each group. At first, Fr. Carlson and Fr. Gillick led all the groups, but when interest grew, they recruited others to assist.

“People who have retired are happy to come back,” Fr. Carlson says. “This is their chance to experience the best of student life.”

No set guidelines are given, so groups vary in structure. Some have a topic for the week; others simply wait for someone to start sharing. Faculty and staff leaders are welcome to share, too.

“It is the one time during the week where I feel like I don’t have to think about the next thing on my to-do list,” says Meg Maynard, a senior social work and Spanish major from Omaha.

Ignatian Wisdom Groups have recently caught on with graduate and professional students, too. The School of Medicine has established groups, and students in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions and the School of Law have expressed interest.

When Fr. Gillick first met with a group in the medical school, the students spent a half hour diagnosing each other, treating one another as patients.

“I said, ‘OK, you guys are very good at diagnosis and prognosis — that’s not reflection,’” Fr. Gillick says. “It’s not problem-solving. It’s about what’s going on in you because of the problem, or how you create the problem.”

Reflection mirrors the Ignatian Examen, a method developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, and practiced by Jesuits twice daily. The Examen asks one to set aside time to review the day in the presence of God.

“Rather than just let all that stuff stir beneath the surface, this is a chance in a confidential fashion to talk about it,” Fr. Carlson says.

“This group has allowed me to understand what is truly important to me and helped me find the direction in which I wish to go,” says Maddi McConnaughhay, a senior economics major from Hastings, Neb.

When participants graduate and leave, they often seek a way to continue with this reflection in life after Creighton.

“Some people want to live more deeply,” Fr. Carlson says. “It’s a way of life; that’s why it’s Ignatian.”