Volunteer group combines service, spirituality

For 12 years, Marcia Bredar, 64, volunteered at New Cassel Retirement Center in Omaha, where she served on the board of directors and helped the foundation.

But something was missing.

Two years ago, Bredar, an attorney who retired from Mutual of Omaha on disability in 1998 due to post-polio syndrome, read an announcement in her parish bulletin at St. Leo the Great Church that piqued her interest.

It was about an organization looking for volunteers – the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC).

Founded by two Jesuit priests in Baltimore in 1995 and based on the principles of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, the corps encourages retired men and women to use their talents to serve others. And it engages volunteers spiritually, through spiritual direction and group reflection, including half-day retreats.

It was right up her alley, said Bredar, who described herself as having a "heart for service."

She was already familiar with the corps through her years at the Jesuit-based Creighton University law school in Omaha, so even though she was busy with the retirement center and as a religious education teacher and member of the finance committee for her parish, Bredar decided to check it out.

After spending two months discerning the best volunteer opportunity for her, Bredar chose to join Habitat for Humanity, where she is one of seven IVC volunteers who come in twice a week, four hours at a time. She helps review property values of homes and land the nonprofit is considering purchasing. She also compiles data on appraisals and taxes.

Bredar said IVC and Habitat for Humanity are a good fit for her.

"Habitat has a mission I believe in, to help people acquire a home of their own who otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and I love the Jesuit values of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps," she said.

Bredar said she particularly enjoys the peer support the group fosters among its members, and the way volunteers are encouraged to engage in a discernment process to help determine what they want to do.

Those aspects of the corps have special meaning, said Becky Ehrman, regional director of the Omaha chapter.

"It is meant to transform the volunteer activity from simply being service work into a mission," Ehrman said.

Volunteers with the corps are asked to commit to eight hours a week, she said, and participate in the spiritual aspects of the IVC. Those two elements, service and spirituality, are what lead people to Christ, Ehrman said.

"As Catholics we all know we are called to serve others and we can go to a soup kitchen to help out for a few hours, which is great and can have a great impact, but this work calls for a stronger commitment," Ehrman said.

Through IVC, volunteers are brought into deeper connection with people who are grieving, struggling in poverty, or needing a home, in a way that reveals more profoundly the face of Christ, she said.

Volunteers have given of themselves professionally, Ehrman said, and now find a retirement filled with new purpose.

"These folks are our greatest resource and we match them with agencies and places with the greatest need," she said.

"Marcia would have every reason to stay at home and take it easy," Ehrman said, "but she doesn’t. She hears God’s call, she responds and IVC gives her the opportunity to fulfill that call."

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