I was born and raised in New York City. I grew up on the border of Spanish Harlem and Harlem and then in the Bronx. At that time, those neighborhoods were primarily made up of low-income people of color, so my working-class white family stuck out a bit. Seeing the different way our family was treated, and even the different opportunities available to me through “gifted” (meaning wealthier and whiter) education is what got me thinking about social justice in the first place.
You are an IPS alumnus, what was your major and when did you graduate?
I majored in Social Justice and Community Development and graduated in 2010. I was a part-time student since I was already organizing full time at that point, but I really enjoyed the time in class as a way to step back from the day to day grind of organizing and reflect on the big picture.
What made you choose that path?
After witnessing so much injustice firsthand, from educational disparity to police harassment of my friends, to the rampant homelessness of the late Reagan and early Bush I administrations, I knew I wanted to make a change. But I also knew that I didn’t want to make that change from a position of an elite – a lawyer or “expert” of some kind. Most of the people I had learned the most from and respected the most didn’t occupy fancy offices and places of authority. That’s what led me to organizing, I wanted to work with people to build mutual power and create change together.
You have a book out what is it about?
Yes, I do! It’s entitled Seeds of Justice: Organizing Your Church to Transform the World. I think of it as a guidebook for people of faith who want to make change, and really want their church to be an effective agent of change, but don’t know how to do it or where to start. I believe that the church should be the most vital force for justice in our world, but, sadly, most of our congregations have either forgotten, or chosen to ignore the social Gospel, or they are really ineffective at impacting the powers and principalities. Over the course of my career, I think I’ve learned a lot about how churches can transform themselves, and become healthier congregations in the process, so I wanted to share those lessons.
What inspired you to write it?
Actually, I was pushed into doing it. A number of different community leaders have told me that I should write a book over the years. I knew that churches needed these tools – I saw it all the time – but I didn’t think I was the messenger and I didn’t think of myself as a writer. But finally, after leading a training at a church, I got a call from one of the attendees who actually worked for a publisher and they asked me to sit down and talk about writing a book. That was the push I needed to finally start writing.
How is the knowledge you gained during your time at IPS helping you in your career?
For me, IPS helped in two ways. First, my coursework there really helped me refine my theological understanding of my work as well as some of the theoretical frameworks to think about justice issues. Secondly, some of the hands-on courses offered me some hands-on skills that I ended up using in one way or the other. I’m thinking here specifically about the Leadership in Social Justice Organizations course and a course in Restorative Justice that were really helpful.
Any word of advice for current and future IPS students on surviving grad school and/or getting a job doing great work?
That’s a tough one. I think I would say that the most important
thing is building relationships with the folx who are doing the work you want
to do and to use the time at IPS to really challenge yourself to grow, see new
perspectives, and be uncomfortable.
Ana, tell us a little bit about yourself. You just graduated from IPS and I hear you are planning on continuing your studies. What is next? How has your time at IPS helped you in your ministry?
I am from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital
city of Chiapas, Mexico, and I am 30 years old. I have a Bachelor’s in
Financial Management with a concentration in Financial Analysis and Investment
Management from a prestigious university in Mexico, the Monterrey Institute of
Technology and Higher Education (ITESM), where I graduated with honors. I have
experience as a Portfolio Manager with the Mexican Stock Exchange. I have also
worked as a Purchasing Manager in Libertad Creativa S.A. de C.V., and as the
General Manager of Win Land. Hence, my focus was on business and money.
However, in 2012, everything began to
change when I initiated my catechesis for the sacrament of Confirmation in the
Catholic Church. Without any doubt, this sacrament was the one that changed my
life and personal goals. Soon after, I started to participate in the Catholic Charismatic
Renewal Movement, where I began to know God. With the desire to know Him more,
I enrolled myself in the Bachelor’s in Theology with Pastoral emphasis at one
of the Catholic universities in my hometown. I studied this degree for three
years, but I could not finish it for several reasons, one of them was my
My mother passed away in May 2015 due to
suicide. It was the most challenging experience I have had. Nevertheless, it
led me to the best of my life, my ministry, and my renewed relationship with
After my mother died, I had tremendous painful experiences, one after another. I felt like Job in the Bible, losing everything I owned and believed. As a result, I was suffering from depression. I did not think I could make it, but God never left me. He was with me during the darkest period of my life. Deep inside, I had one tiny sparkle, a light of hope, the desire to continue studying. I wanted a master’s degree in something related to God. Thus, by searching for it on the Internet, I found (curiously the first link) Loyola University Chicago. By reading the academic offer, I decided to apply to the Master’s in Christian Spirituality, Spiritual Direction concentration.
The day after I applied, I received an email from the Institute of Pastoral Studies (IPS) welcoming me to the program! You cannot imagine the joy and hope I felt! This news changed my darkness into light. It was not only the news but the entire experience of moving to Chicago and studying for my master’s program in the United States. The IPS faculty, my classmates, the Contextual Education program, the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, my spiritual director… everything and everyone contributed to the healing of my heart and soul. It was a process of purification. It was not easy, but it was worth the effort. On the day of my graduation, I recapitulated my time at IPS with verse 6 of Psalm 126: “Those who go forth weeping, carrying sacks of seed, will return with cries of joy, carrying their bundled sheaves” (NABRE). When I arrived at IPS, I was heartbroken. When I left, I cried with joy! Furthermore, I proclaimed with Job: “By hearsay, I had heard of you, but now my eye has seen you” (Job 42:5, NABRE).
By becoming a spiritual director, I
encountered myself and God. Before my master’s degree, I had lost sight of who
I was and most importantly, who I was in God’s sight and love. However, through
the program and the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises, I gained a new
sight of myself and God. This experience of God’s love is the one that I try to
hand down to my directees now that I am back in my hometown.
The Integration Project of my master’s
degree became real when I opened the retreat house called El Cireneo, Hogar de
Esperanza (The Cyrenian, House of Hope) in my hometown. Thanks to the personal
and academic growth from my mother’s death, my own recovery process from
depression, and my education, I was able to intertwine them, and the result was
the healing program of the retreat house for patients suffering from
depression. With the valuable help of my then Academic Advisor and Faculty
Reader Jean-Pierre Fortin, Ph.D., I discerned that the goal of the retreat
house and its holistic program (physical health, emotional well-being, and
spiritual renewal) is to lower the rate of suicide, by enabling individuals
suffering from depression to process their suffering.
I finished my Integration Project on June
23rd and one month later, I was opening the retreat house in the same place where
my mother committed suicide. This house is now a place where people find
healing, peace, hope, and life! I know this is only the beginning. There are
more things I need to learn and do. For these reasons, I want to continue my
studies. I have been in touch with the dean of the Doctor of Ministry (DMin)
program at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. I hope to apply
for the doctorate program this year. As an online program, I will only have to
travel there twice a year. Hence, it will not overlap with my time at the
retreat house. I hope this degree helps me to gain a deeper understanding of
ministry to enhance my role at the retreat house and develop more programs to
stand in solidarity with those vulnerable in my state and country. And why not?
Maybe worldwide. So, please, pray for me!
Any word of advice for
current and future IPS students on surviving grad school and/or finding their
path after grad school?
remember during our welcoming session, the dean told us: “Be aware that all the
structures you bring to IPS are going to be changed. You are not going to leave
IPS being the same person.” This statement was completely true for my
classmates and I. Thus, be open to allow the fresh air to blow in your life and
ministry. Let yourself be surprised by God’s love and wisdom that you will gain
through the courses and IPS faculty. If you do not know the path, He will guide
you through every reading and experience within the classrooms. He is with you
and will never abandon you!
is the story behind El Cireneo?
When my mother passed away, I inherited
the house where she committed suicide. It was hard for me to be around the
house in the beginning. I thought I would never be able to emotionally heal and
return. Thus, almost one and a half years later, I decided to lease the house,
even though the process of emptying it and removing her belongings was
extremely painful. The house had been occupied for almost two years when I had
realized what God wanted for my life. No longer leasing it out, I remodeled it
to what it is now, the retreat house.
It was last Holy Thursday when God told me
to renew the house into a place where people could find Him. I went to the Last
Supper celebration at the Madonna della Strada Chapel, at the Lake Shore
Campus, where I then participated in the tradition of Seven Churches Visit,
organized by Loyola University Campus Ministry. We were at the second church
praying before the Blessed Sacrament when I listened to God’s voice telling me
to transform my mother’s home into a retreat house. Soon after, I heard God
revealing the name for it: “El Cireneo, Hogar de Esperanza” (The Cyrenian,
House of Hope). I was amazed and said to Him: “What? Wait a minute! I just came
here to pray, not to talk about the retreat house.” I have to admit I did not have
any intentions to talk about the house. Nonetheless, for God, it was the proper
time. He knew I was ready to move forward.
Hence, I asked Him: “¿por qué El Cireneo?”
(why The Cyrenian?). Then, I remembered the Scripture passage about Simon of
Cyrene (cf. Matthew 27:32). God allowed me to discern that I was going to
become Simon of Cyrene, helping the suffering Christ (manifested in my
directees) to carry the cross. In other words, God allowed me to understand
that I was going to help my directees to carry their cross, depression. But
this cross has a promise: a resurrected life. I learned from my mother’s death
and my own experience of recovering from depression that there is no cross
It was during that same evening, on Holy
Thursday, when God reminded me: “I came so that they might have life and have
it more abundantly” (John 10:10, NABRE). For this reason, when patients arrive
at the retreat house, the first sight they can appreciate is the name of the
house and this Biblical passage, John 10:10.
Jesus came so each of my
directees/patients can have life and have it more abundantly. The staff and I
try to bring them relief, reassurance, and consolation by being their Simon of
Cyrene in their journey to a resurrected life in Christ.
Tell us a little about treatment
at El Cireneo, Hogar de Esperanza.
As I mentioned before, thanks to the
personal and academic growth from my mother’s death, my own recovery process
from depression, and my education, I was able to intertwine them, and the
result was the healing program of the retreat house for patients suffering from
depression. In fact, the healing program reflects my own recovery process from
depression in a holistic manner: physical health, emotional well-being, and
Physical health: when a patient arrives asking for help, he/she is interviewed
by the psychologist. He is the one who gives the preliminary diagnosis. If the
patient is diagnosed with depression, we ask them to undergo testing at a
laboratory by the request of the neurologist to rule out physical diseases
causing depression (e.g. hypothyroidism). The neurologist determines if the
patient needs to be medicated and/or referred to psychiatry. Additionally,
there is a nutritionist helping patients improve their diet with the purpose to
increase their physical energy.
Emotional well-being: the patient meets with the psychologist every week to
process his/ her suffering and acquire tools to manage his/her emotions.
Spiritual renewal: through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of
Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The directee meets with me (the spiritual director)
weekly to talk about his/her process throughout the retreat. We listen and
discern God’s voice in his/her life. I help him/her to contemplate his/her life
through God’s love, mercy, beauty, and wisdom. It is important to mention that
we have monthly therapeutic and spiritual direction meetings with all the
patients, so they can create a sense of community. They realize that they are
not walking alone trying to overcome depression. They help each other by
sharing their stories.
Because poverty is the main cause of
depression in Chiapas, the program is free of charge. We only require patients
to commit themselves to their recovery process.