It started in the mid 1990s with 11 volunteers and two Jesuit priests, Fathers Conroy and Costello, and now comprises a National Board, Regional Directors and 380 volunteers serving in 16 metropolitan areas in the United States. Though as a founding group the original 11 were one shy of that caucus of 12 volunteers who launched Christianity two millennia ago the apostolic vigor in this new organization is wondrously vibrant!
As its website states (www.ivcusa.org) the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) “provides men and women over the age of 50 the opportunity to serve the needs of the poor, to work for a more just society, and to grow deeper in their Christian faith by reflecting and praying in the Ignatian tradition.”
The values which nourish the work of these seasoned and committed volunteers include: service with and for the poor, reflection on the work/service experience, lay leadership in transforming the world through justice rooted in gospel values, the dignity of all, the search for the presence of God in all, and spiritual development supported by the Ignatian tradition.
Ignatian Volunteers typically serve two days a week for 10 months a year, a commitment many renew year after year. Their service is rendered in collaboration with local partner organizations which work directly with the materially poor. These volunteers tutor, help find jobs and housing, provide healthcare and companionship, and also engage in counseling, administrative tasks and fund raising. Generally volunteers offer assistance in areas in which they have life-long experience; but, often they choose opportunities unrelated to their former careers and in doing so expand their own life experience.
A critical distinction that sets IVC apart from other volunteer endeavors is its process of spiritual reflection, a process which involves keeping a journal, engaging in one-to-one spiritual conversations, participating in a group reflection process, and attending a series of short retreats each year. Volunteers come to discover that this practice transforms their activities from service into mission thereby deepening their faith.
Visitors to its website will not be surprised to learn how the Ignatian Volunteer Corps traces its roots to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. They may, however, be struck and moved by the accounts of the life enriching experiences chronicled by the volunteers. It is no wonder that as more men and women over the age of 50 become acquainted with the work of IVC the organization continues to grow in both its physical and spiritual outreach.
In our religiously deracinated society, which ironically and simultaneously is so atomized by individualism and centralized by regulation, we can find great hope in IVC’s spreading outreach. The organization – really movement – not only effectively transforms volunteer service into religious mission it also champions that Catholic principle of subsidiarity – that call to help one another at the most local level possible. The Kingdom advances at ground level.
Fathers Conroy and Costello must be quite proud.