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By Jerry Duggan

Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau, La., was founded 50 years ago to meet a need for spiritual nourishment for the people of southwest Louisiana. Today the Center looks to the future with a clear sense of direction and optimism.

Father Paul Deutsch, SJ, who was named director of the Center last fall, elaborated on the context in which it was founded.

“In the late 1960s, the (New Orleans) Province moved its juniorate from Grand Coteau to Mobile (Ala.), so that freed up a lot of space,” he said. “There existed great need for a spirituality center in southern Louisiana, so this was a natural fit.”

The grounds of Jesuit Spirituality Center and surrounding rural southwest Louisiana.
The grounds of Jesuit Spirituality Center and surrounding rural southwest Louisiana.

For a half century now, the Center has provided personally directed retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.

The Center offers retreats lasting three, five and eight days, as well as the full 30-day Spiritual Exercises. The Center’s staff is comprised of five Jesuits and three lay directors, each trained in Ignatian Spirituality.

Since the Center reopened this summer, retreatants have consistently expressed deep joy at again being able to make a retreat in Grand Coteau.

“Many retreat and spirituality centers in the South have closed, but the need for spiritual healing has not diminished,” Fr. Deutsch explained. “We have seen an uptick in retreatants from Louisiana, yes, but also from Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas.”

Young Adult Retreat at the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau, La.

The global pandemic provided the impetus for the Center to move operations online for the first time in its history. This expanded its reach and brought in participants who may have hesitated to make the drive to Grand Coteau.

“The pandemic is a tremendous hardship, and we saw the need for spiritual direction grow in these times,” Fr. Deutsch said. “We were able to fill a need for persons from all over the country, and since reopening, our numbers of in-person retreatants have also rebounded strongly.”

He looks to his tenure as director and the future with optimism because he believes the Center has a clear sense of direction, provided in large part by the Society of Jesus at both a province and worldwide level.

“The Office of Ignatian Spirituality is an exciting new collaborative opportunity for us to explore,” Fr. Deutsch said, referring to the province’s new ministry. “In addition, the Universal Apostolic Preferences released by Fr. General give us clear guidance to follow in terms of our work with the Spiritual Exercises and discernment, and I am also eager to include in our ministry the U.S. Bishops’ new initiative to deepen Catholics’ devotion to the Eucharist.”

He is grateful for the financial and spiritual support of the province.

“We could not do what we do without the backing of the province,” Fr. Deutsch said. “Because of their tremendous support, we are able to stay focused on what we do best and feel equipped to tackle whatever challenges the future may bring.”