By Jerry Duggan
As director of the Ignatian Spirituality Program of Denver, Joe Lagan focuses his energy on making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola available to all.
He arrived at what has turned into a lifelong passion while completing his Master of Divinity at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
“I attended Providence College, which is Dominican, not Jesuit, and volunteered with the Dominicans post grad, so Ignatian Spirituality was an entirely new thing for me,” he said. “I was immediately struck by how it made God accessible in everyday life.”
Following completion of his degree, Lagan worked at Marquette University as a campus minister, among several other jobs, before a 2004 move to Denver with his wife and children.
During that time, he taught theology at Regis Jesuit High School in suburban Aurora, Colo., chaired the department and taught a senior theology elective on Ignatian Spirituality that ignited his passion even more.
At the same time, an Ignatian Spirituality program was being formed across town. At St. Ignatius Loyola Parish, Fr. Steve Yavorsky, SJ, founded the Ignatian Spirituality Program of Denver in 2004.
The ISP remains affiliated with its founding parish but has since opened its doors to all, attracting a particularly sizable group from the area’s Jesuit educational apostolates – Regis University, Regis Jesuit High and Arrupe Jesuit High School.
Lagan’s personal passion for Ignatian Spirituality grew with time.
“Although I studied and taught Ignatian Spirituality, it was not until I made the Spiritual Exercises myself and I experienced Christ’s invitation to serve that I more fully understood the transformation God offers.”
He especially appreciated how Ignatian Spirituality connected others to Christ and thought of no better way to become more familiar with It than to experience it himself. He made the Spiritual Exercises for the first time in 2017.
“I went through the Exercises and found it so rewarding that I left the door open to one day directing others, hoping to impart as much of Christ’s love to them as was imparted to me,” he said.
In 2018, when the position of director at the Ignatian Spirituality Program was open, Lagan could not pass up the opportunity.
“Having had such a rewarding experience with Ignatian Spirituality, it seemed like a dream of an opportunity to, at this point in my career, devote myself to sharing that same Spirituality with others,” he said.
Lagan’s days consist of many administrative tasks – in addition to offering spiritual direction, the program also directs days and evenings of prayer, retreats and trains past participants to become spiritual directors. He still finds time to remember the bigger purpose.
“‘I’m here to help people get closer to God, because that’s what the Exercises did for me,” he said. “So, I try to keep the mindset that everything that I do – paperwork, phone calls, and the like – ultimately advances that mission.”
Roughly 15 spiritual directors anchor the program, guiding about 60 persons through regular monthly spiritual direction and providing spiritual guidance to dozens more who attend the days/evenings of prayer and retreats.
“Some who make the Spiritual Exercises with us experience a call to be formed as spiritual directors and return to train with us,” Lagan said.
He emphasizes accessibility – the same thing that originally drew him in.
“People may be intimidated to undertake the Spiritual Exercises, thinking they are not ‘qualified’ or don’t have enough theological knowledge – I know I certainly felt that way at one point,” he said. “The truth is, we are here for all – we serve non-Catholics as well as Catholics, and stress that accessing God – wherever you are in that relationship with Him – is our ultimate goal.”