Do you ever wonder how you can add to your religious experience beyond reciting the Creed, keeping the Ten Commandments and going to Sunday Mass? Are you interested in awakening your spirit to greater growth and development? 

 — Questions posed
in a recent press release from
Milwaukee Ignatian Associates

Members of the Milwaukee Ignatian Associates pose for a photo during a recent Saturday gathering. (Submitted photo courtesy Norie de la Cruz)Dan Diliberti spent a generation in Milwaukee County government, serving on the board of supervisors and as county treasurer. In retirement, Diliberti volunteers as outreach coordinator for Milwaukee Ignatian Associates.

Described as “an organization of lay people engaging, practicing and living Ignatian spirituality in daily life,” Milwaukee Ignatian Associates is open to adult Catholics, married and single, “from all walks of life.” Spouses are encouraged to join, together.

In early February, with a recruiting event on the horizon, there were approximately 20 members. 

“I would love to see it grow,” biochemist Norie de la Cruz, a native of the Philippines who’s been an associate for four years, told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview recently. He “wholeheartedly” endorses the associates, de la Cruz said, adding, “I feel a call to help it expand.”

To that end, he directed an Ignatian spirituality-based retreat at Milwaukee’s St. John Paul II Parish during Lent. 

Interested in learning more about the ignatian associates?

Come to an informational session/reception on Thursday, May 28, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the lower meeting room of the Gesu Parish Center, 1200 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Free parking available in the rear of the church accessed off North 11th Street.

The adjective “Ignatian” acknowledges Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the soldier-turned-sainted Society of Jesus (Jesuit) founder responsible for a statement Diliberti quoted during a recent breakfast meeting with a Catholic Herald reporter: “Love ought to show itself in deeds more than in words.”

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius – of which Pope Francis, a Jesuit, has occasionally spoken – are undertaken as part of the lay associates’ formation process, just as they’re undertaken by Jesuit religious. The time-honored Exercises encompass prayer, meditation, spiritual reading and contemplation.

Ignatian Associates are found in Omaha and Minneapolis, as well as Milwaukee; another group is being organized in Chicago. “Associates,” states an informational brochure, “incorporate Ignatian spiritual practices into their daily professional, business, volunteer and family pursuits.”

It has become “more and more a fact of life,” de la Cruz noted, “that I consider what I do (to be) an apostolic endeavor.”

Diliberti said “joining the Milwaukee Ignatian Associates opened windows that allowed me to experience a spiritual life that, until then, I never realized even existed. It introduced me to a living spirit as an evolutionary, transformative force in my life and taught me spiritual practices that I could apply to my everyday life. For that I am grateful and always happy to share the good news.”

As outreach coordinator, Diliberti, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Milwaukee, is on the lookout for prospective sharers of the news, prospective associates. However, he noted that membership in the associates is not intended to supplant membership in a parish. While it is not required, associates tend to come from the ranks of active parishioners.

“Parish life is really, really important, too,” Diane Knight, an associate and member of Milwaukee’s Gesu Parish, said in a phone interview. But, she added, Milwaukee Ignatian Associates “is a smaller, more intimate community. Part of what we do is commit ourselves to being part of a faith-sharing group” – in Knight’s case, a group of eight individuals who discuss their “faith experiences” and consider how God is working in their lives.

“It’s a fellowship,” according to Diliberti, who pointed out that there are also social gatherings of associates, such as potluck meals and picnics. Associates occasionally welcome guest speakers. They meet monthly, on average, to receive spiritual direction from a priest or another individual trained in that area. 

Membership in the Associates “keeps my faith alive, basically,” said Jean Kowalski, a nurse and Gesu parishioner who joined eight years ago because “I knew I needed more spiritual development” and “a group of like-minded people” to facilitate it.

“It’s a pretty dedicated group of people,” Kowalski continued via phone. “They are social justice-minded. It’s kind of like a spiritual support group; I enjoy the social aspect of the support. It’s kind of like a little family … a wonderful group to belong to.”

Added Knight, “I enjoy the association with so many wonderful people who share that basic fundamental of faith kind of being the core of who you are.” 

She spoke highly of the Ignatian idea of “living out your belief and your faith in service” and said she “would definitely” recommend membership in the associates to others.

Knight became an associate in 2007, when retirement as Milwaukee archdiocesan executive director of Catholic Charities afforded her additional unstructured time. Her association with Gesu – one of whose former pastors, Jesuit Fr. Doug Leonhardt, helped start the Associates – familiarized Knight with the group, which is not a Society of Jesus subsidiary. 

“I have, over the years, gained a great appreciation for the spirituality of St. Ignatius,” she told the Catholic Herald. 

As an associate, Kowalski said she averages approximately 30 minutes in prayer daily and attends a monthly group meeting lasting about 2.5 hours and a couple of monthly faith-sharing sessions totaling about 90 minutes each. She also meets each month with a spiritual director and, along with fellow associates, is encouraged to make an annual retreat. Kowalski said she’s found the time she’s devoted to Ignatian activities enjoyable – and invaluable.

When she first heard of Ignatian Associates, several years before beginning the group’s two-year formation process, “my schedule was just unpredictable and I wasn’t ready,” Kowalski remembered. Diliberti, too, having learned of the associates from a fellow parish RENEW group member, had his doubts. 

“I thought, ‘This is not for me’ – two years of formation seemed a long time,” the associates’ outreach coordinator recalled. But Diliberti told himself, “I’ll give this a try and see what happens.”

What happened, in Diliberti’s words, is that his ongoing Milwaukee Ignatian Associates experience “has solidified my faith.”