By Jerry Duggan
Until a move had her living within the boundaries of a Jesuit parish in Puerto Rico, Nancy Herzig knew little if anything about the Jesuits.
Soon after entering the parish, Herzig completed the 18th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises for the first time. Her experience proved so transformative that she has since decided to make sharing those Exercises with others a focal point of her life.
In 2017, Herzig and a group of other parishioners at Parroquia San Ignacio de Loyola in San Juan, Puerto Rico, decided to undergo formal training in the Spiritual Exercises. They were so moved by their individual experiences that they banded together with the long-term goal of implementing a program to train others in the discipline.
Father José (Pepe) Ruiz, SJ, who was then at the parish, trained the parishioners in a rigorous program.
“We met once a week for an entire year, and Pepe was so generous with his time and was totally on board with our idea,” Herzig said.
In the years since, the parishioners have been developing a two-year curriculum that will enable them to properly train companions in the Exercises. The idea is for those the parishioners train in the Exercises to then train others, and therefore greatly expand the number of parishioners and community members who have experienced them.
This is a significant investment of time, talent and treasure. The group recently registered as a legal nonprofit organization – under the name “Ignatian Formation Institute” – and hopes to begin their two-year curriculum in early 2022.
There have been logistical challenges along the way and the pandemic has presented additional roadblocks.
For Herzig and her companions, it has been worth it.
“I am committed to making this Institute a reality because I wholeheartedly believe in the power of the Spiritual Exercises and am blessed to have a group of parishioners who feel the same way and a parish community that has been so supportive of our efforts,” she said.
She came into contact with the Spiritual Exercises at a time in her life where she needed to connect with God on a deeper level and hopes to impart that same transformative experience to others.
“My first experience with the Spiritual Exercises shook my faith completely and captured my heart,” she recalled. “They made me question what it is I really believe, but, through that internal questioning, my faith came out stronger, deeper and more meaningful.”
Herzig has turned to her faith, which has changed course several times throughout her life, for guidance.
As a young woman, she was a member of the Lutheran Church. She also tried Buddhism before a close relationship with the Blessed Mother led her into the Catholic Church.
She joined a Jesuit parish soon thereafter and the Spiritual Exercises served as confirmation that, after decades of uncertainty in her faith life, she was in the right place.
“The Spiritual Exercises were the first time I felt I was able to have a real, personal encounter with the Lord and, in that encounter, feel completely accepted and loved,” she said.
In addition, she quickly realized that, at a Jesuit parish, her voice was heard in a way that it had not been before.
“In my experience, Jesuits and their companions in mission are great listeners,” she noted. “They care about those they serve, and that really makes a difference.”
In that same spirit, she, and the other parishioners behind IFI, want to listen to others and train them as companions in the Spiritual Exercises.
They are currently in contact with the province’s new Office of Ignatian Spiritualty (OIS) regarding future program implementation and look forward to providing in-person training in a post-pandemic world.
“I want to be there for others through the Exercises and be able to share with them this tremendous gift,” she said. “I find that, in doing that, I get as much from the experience as the person I am guiding, and that we both, together, grow closer to God.”