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By Rachel Amiri

The Xavier Jesuit Center is a space of encounter for the Office of Ignatian Spirituality in Denver.

Tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Denver is a surprisingly quiet and peaceful space of encounter. The Xavier Jesuit Center has become a hub for the Jesuits USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province’s Office of Ignatian Spirituality (OIS). Launched in 2021, the OIS explores different ways to experience the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and helps form Ignatian formators, while collaborating with other Ignatian spirituality centers around the world.  In this way, the OIS pursues the Universal Apostolic Preference to “show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises.”

Formerly a Jesuit residence, the Xavier Jesuit Center now welcomes Jesuits, colleagues and others for retreats, workshops and presentations. First-year novices from both the UCS Province and Jesuits West Province recently made the 30-day Spiritual Exercises there. While the dedication of this space to  the OIS was the initiative of Father Provincial Thomas P. Greene, SJ, and the labor of love to transform it into a space of encounter was that of Fr. Hung Pham, SJ, the unseen work of others ensures that those who enter its doors find welcome, rest and contemplation.

On any given day, Lauretta Proulx, building and hospitality manager of the Xavier Jesuit Center , can be found ensuring that the heat is on, the paths are cleared of snow, and the guests have what they need during their time there.

“It’s very tangible, hands-on [work], fixing a building or scheduling people or being present when there are retreats to do whatever needs to be done. We do what we can to make it a joyful or prayerful experience for them,” she said.

A pastoral minister who came to her role with the province in April 2023, Ms. Proulx previously served as pastoral associate  at St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish in Denver. Of her experience in everything from sacramental planning to maintaining the 150-year-old building at St. Elizabeth, Ms. Proulx said, “It gave me a different set of tools that maybe somebody else might not have had.”

Her experience in welcoming all, from young people in youth ministry to the unhoused served by the parish’s sandwich line, prepared her for her current role in ensuring the Xavier Jesuit Center offers hospitality to each person who enters.

Lauretta Proulx

Every day brings new challenges. “I always appreciate the unexpected; it’s a lot more fun,” she said. While one day may bring preparations for a weekend retreat, another may involve time on budgets or communicating with retreatants or meeting planners – all necessary tasks for keeping the Center running.

Ms. Proulx finds herself fed spiritually by her work serving others. “The service part is what renews my faith or brings me closer to faith. It is fun to watch and experience [the center] through other people’s eyes when they come in.”

At the same time, Ms. Proulx knows that the work of hospitality is not hers alone and expresses an awareness of the others who make their ministry possible. She is particularly inspired by Van and Vi Pham, Fr. Pham’s sisters, who serve in food preparation, preparing delicious dishes for guests with pride. “To see the joy and way they do it is just amazing to me. It’s been awesome. That’s been a huge blessing.” Her behind-the-scenes role has also brought her an appreciation of the thoughtful artistry behind the arrangement of prayer spaces and the courtyard by Fr. Pham.

Father Hung Pham, SJ, and others paint a mural in one of the prayer spaces.

She has also experienced a deepening connection to the mission of the Society of Jesus as a colleague. Observing the novice retreat at the end of 2023 and the attentiveness of Novice Director Fr. Drew Kirschman, SJ, made an impact on her. “I learned another piece of the puzzle, another that I don’t think I would have ever known unless I hung out with all those guys.”

Ms. Proulx’s personal journey with Ignatian spirituality began well before her time with the Jesuits and began in a way similar to the virtual resources the OIS now offers – daily prayer on the Irish Jesuit brothers’ website, Sacred Space. “I could look at it at my desk and just take time to center and to let God enter in so that I could do my job effectively.”

Speaking of how the tools of Ignatian spirituality help her cope with stressful workdays, she added, “Some days, when you come in that mindset, then you go into this prayer, and it’s like, well, OK. God’s here. God’s here, we got it.”

Ignatian spirituality has helped her see her daily work like the mustard seed, and to be grateful when she sees the seeds she has helped plant bear fruit.

Exterior of the Xavier Jesuit Center in Denver.

“I never go into work expecting [to see the fruit],” she said. “You know how what you’ve done affected others, but you don’t always get to see it. It’s like, you know, the mustard seed. You don’t always get to see what the seeds [you planted] are now.”

A profound example of this happened early on in her time at the Xavier Center, during a retreat hosted by an Ignatian faith community from Queen of Vietnamese Martyrs Parish. Recounting what she witnessed, Ms. Proulx said, “I walked into the building, and it was like the space was filled with light. There were people in all the little corners praying in different parts of the building. I never would have thought anybody would have found that this little room would be their space that they could focus and pray,” she said.

Immediately, she understood that the hard work of preparing and arranging the space was to allow God’s work to take place. “This is what this building’s for.”