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Richard Super, left, men’s team coordinator for the Ignatian Spirituality Project in Omaha and a member of St. John Parish at Creighton University, talks with Tom Wendt, who tells his story of homelessness at retreats, before a Nov. 12-13 retreat for 14 homeless men at the Missionary Society of St. Columban retreat house in Bellevue. Photo by Joe Ruff/Staff.

Retreat helps recovery of homeless, addicted

Ignatian Spirituality Project draws on Jesuit approach

Tom Wendt of Omaha was addicted first to alcohol, then methamphetamines.

Awaiting trial six years ago on several drug counts, he was placed at the Siena/Francis House and its addiction recovery program, where a counselor told him he needed to go on a retreat.

"I fought it tooth and nail," said Wendt, a welder inspector who grew up in Kentucky, played college basketball and moved to Nebraska for work. "Once I did it, I’ve been back twice a year for the last six years."

The retreat was presented by the nonprofit Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP), founded in Chicago in 1998, conducted in Omaha since 2010 and now in at least 28 other cities across the country and Canada.

Modeled after the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and blended with Alcohol Anonymous’ (AA) 12-step addiction recovery program, the weekend retreats bring together about a dozen homeless men or homeless women who are in recovery stages after struggling with alcohol or drugs.

The retreats add a strong, spiritual aspect to recovery, offering "hope and healing for those on the margins," said Tricia Olsen, marketing and public relations officer with the Catholic Schools Office who has helped with the retreats for two years.

The weekends often provide the inspiration and faith-filled foundation people need to move beyond homelessness, defeat addiction and live more fulfilling lives, Olsen said.

Retreats generally have been held at the Missionary Society of St. Columban retreat house in Bellevue – two each year for men and two each year for women, organizers said.

Olsen recently took on an additional role with the program, helping raise money for future retreats.

"I feel that many of us are searching for a way to give to the homeless, particularly during the holidays. This opens a way for everyone to help during the Advent season," she said.

Wendt, who returned to the retreats to help others as a "witness" to his own story, said ISP changed his life. After being sentenced to five years supervised probation, he has been sober, is employed and has a home.

"I just love the fact that ISP gets you back in contact with God," Wendt said. "Addiction had pushed me so far back from God, I had no use for him."

ISP in Omaha invites counselors to recommend people who might benefit from the retreat and are in addiction treatment at the Stephen Center and Siena/Francis House homeless shelters, and Restored Hope transitional housing for women, all in Omaha.

The effort includes close to 20 volunteers, including Nancy Shirley, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha and associate professor in Creighton University’s nursing program. She helped bring ISP to Omaha after she and several colleagues found information about it in their search for ways to bring more spirituality into nursing.

"I have close relatives who have been in recovery for decades, and I’m very much aware of AA and the 12-step program," Shirley said. "I could see this as the perfect fit."

Similar to AA, people on ISP retreats are encouraged to acknowledge their need for God, admit their shortcomings and live in greater community, she said.

"I see hope," Shirley said about the retreats. "I see a connection to God. I see my role in reaching out to someone and helping them to make those connections. It’s a passion."



Want to help?

Ignatian Spirituality Project

A $100 donation funds one person on retreat

A $7,500 donation funds half the program for one year

Send donations to the Chicago office, where they distributed directly to ISP Omaha: ISP National Office, 1641 S. Allport St., Chicago IL 60608

For more details call 312-226-9184

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