Tag : Alumni

El Cireneo, Hogar de Esperanza

Ana Lopez with some of El Cireneo’s Patients and staff

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 mother’s death.

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 God.

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?

 I 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!

El Cireneo, Hogar de Esperanza

What 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 without resurrection.

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 spiritual renewal.

a) 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.

b) Emotional well-being: the patient meets with the psychologist every week to process his/ her suffering and acquire tools to manage his/her emotions.

c) 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.


If you would like to know more about Ana’s ministry check out the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/elcireneo

You can also contact Ana via email suenos.milagrosos2@gmail.com

If you want to help El Cireneo, Hogar de Esperanza you can make a donation via PayPal – PayPal.Me/analopu14 or email Ana for her bank information.

Alumni Feature: Patricia P. Underwood

Patricia P. Underwood is a recent graduate of IPS and has big plans for the future! Patricia completed her degree later in life than expected, but she isn’t letting that slow her down. In fact, she is more dedicated and passionate than ever to join forces with like minded people and make lasting, positive changes in the world.

Get to know more about her passion and spirit below and feel free to contact her to continue the conversation.


What were your studies focused on at IPS?
I started out in Pastoral Studies and switched to Contemporary Spirituality.

What was your favorite class and why?
Truthfully, I cannot say that I had a favorite class because all of my classes were very interesting. However, I will say that my World Religions class with Dr. Heidi Russell was very informative as it gave me a look at the five world religions which I had briefly studied at Ohio Dominican for my Bachelors degree in Theology. The difference was that in Dr. Russell’s class we had to visit and interview someone from the different religions. This is where I interviewed a man from Africa who practices the Islamic religion. That interview was very enlightening as he shed some light on a lot of misconceptions about the Muslim religion that the Media tends to exploit and in turn creates fear against a very peaceful religion.

What was your greatest accomplishment while at IPS?
Graduating! Seriously! After working for many years I decided at the age of 52 to return to school and finish my bachelors degree that I started in 1972. I began at Ohio Dominican University, where I got my Associate Degree in Theology, returned to ODU and went on to get my Bachelors degree in Theology, and then decided to go for the Masters of Arts at Loyola and now graduating at the age of 60. So I have been in school a total of eight years straight. Whew! So graduating with a pretty darn good grade point average has been a great accomplishment for me at this point in my life.

What was your greatest challenge at IPS and how did you overcome it?
I would say that my greatest challenge was not academic, but more of a spiritual challenge. Staying true to my personal spiritual beliefs and being open to learning new religions and spiritualities. Before returning to college I was very active in the Native American spiritual traditions which included a strong belief in God and the Bible.

My undergraduate school was Catholic and Loyola is Jesuit and these two denominations were different from my spirituality at the time of my return to education. However, I was very familiar with both the Catholic and Jesuit traditions. My parents raised us in an Episcopal church and I attended a Catholic church with one grandmother and the A.M.E. Church (African Methodist Episcopal) with the other grandmother, so I have always had a variety of religions in which to observe.

The challenge as I said before was to open heartily engage in listening and learning the Catholic and Jesuit traditions in more depth than attendance of a Sunday morning service.

What are you doing post graduation?
Currently, I have been accepted into the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics. I will be pursuing another Masters of Arts in Bioethics and Health Policy. Also, I would like to teach online at LUC or any other college in the field of religion, theology, or humanities classes. I would also like to pursue some writing projects, which would include my masters thesis topic of Black American Female Spirituality. I quickly learned during the research for my paper that not a lot of books or articles exists on this topic for academic purposes.

My thesis paper addresses some of the issues that Black Americans, male and female, possess about fair treatment within many areas in America, and due to the mistreatment of their ancestors many Black Americans are despondent and afraid that they will not get quality healthcare or medical treatment.

The ugly history of the Institution of American Slavery, the Tuskegee Experiment and the present day welfare system are some of the instances that has left some deeply rooted scaring on many Blacks in America that needs to be remedied and soothed. This is why I want to pursue the Bioethics degree to help change the myths and unlearned thinking of many Blacks and help them to better trust medical doctors and hospitals to give the fair treatment and medical care that they deserve.

How has your education from IPS prepared you for your new role/projects?
Wow! The IPS department at LUC has prepared me to be more confident in my conversations about God, the Church, and religion. All of my classes, the ones in my direct curriculum and including the ones out of my direct curriculum such as human development, psychology, and community development, were so essential to understanding the role of a pastor as well as a lay person and the purpose of the Church.

The IPS department has some great professors who encourage out of the box thinking and teaching that allows students to get the pertinent information, process that information and use the information as needed in a mannor that can be used on a daily basis to help individuals understand the ever changing world we live in today and how to stay rooted in the words of God and HIS covenant with humankind that never goes out of style.

What are your future goals and how do you see yourself going to “set the world on fire?”
My first thought to this question is the world is already on fire enough. What we need to do now is put out a few of these fires that are beginning to burn out of control. There are literally fires burning peoples homes and causing mental and emotional strife, and there are racial and gender fires burning  that need to be extinguished. There is hunger and disease in the United States and world wide that needs to be addressed. The food supply in the United States is under attack as well and it is attacking our bodies, our health, and the health of our children. So you see we as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ need to focus on helping to put out some of these fires.

I will be on fire searching for people who feel as I do, who are looking for more positive media coverage of those people who are already working to solve these burning issues. We are constantly  being bombarded with the negative in the world but there are many of us who are working hourly and daily to help in all of these situations and I hope to become more active as well.

Any additional information:
I would like to add to my fellow older sisters and brothers who are considering and perhaps already working on furthering their education that the IPS department at LUC is a great place to get your graduate education.

The online degree is a great way to get your education, especially if you are working and have young children to take care of or if you are older, or if you have a medical condition or may be you are taking care of your elderly parents, or if you just don’t feel like doing the brick and mortar class room scene. You can relax at home and go to class in your pajamas if you feel like it. The classes are great! You still interact in live class discussions and even get to know your classmates to make lasting friendships and your professors are always available to meet with you and advise you and help you achieve you educational goals.

If you wish to connect to Patricia Underwood, you can email her at punderwood@luc.edu


Join the conversation by following @BrianSchmisek on Twitter and @LoyolaIPS on Instagram! Also, network with the Loyola Chicago IPS community on LinkedIn.

IPS Alumna Leads Church in Giving $500 Checks to Parishioners

Rev. Laura Truax graduated from IPS with a Master’s of Arts in Pastoral Studies and a Master’s of Divinity. She is currently the senior pastor at LaSalle Street Church.

Spearheaded by Rev. Truax, LaSalle Street Church distributed checks to its parishioners in hopes that they use it to give back to the community over the Christmas season. The full story was featured in a Chicago Tribune article (below).

Loyola IPS is proud to call Rev. Truax an alumna and hope her work inspires others to think outside the box and do great things.

Read more about Rev. Truax and LaSalle Street Church here. 

Chicago Tribune article reads:

Church gives congregants $500 each to do good

“Christmas came early for people in the pews of LaSalle Street Church the first Sunday in September. That morning their pastor handed them $500 checks.

The Rev. Laura Truax, pastor of the evangelical church in Chicago’s Near North neighborhood, told worshippers that the money came with no strings attached, only encouragement to do good works and an early December deadline to either spend, cash or deposit the checks.

The money, totaling $160,000, came from a windfall of more than $1.6 million — proceeds from the sale of Atrium Village, a racially integrated housing development that was the collaboration of four neighborhood churches: Fourth Presbyterian, St. Matthew United Methodist, Holy Family Lutheran and LaSalle.

While each church has managed the income differently, LaSalle began by setting aside the traditional tithe — 10 percent of its share — for about 320 of its worshippers.”

To find out her inspiration behind the checks and what the parishioners did with the money continue reading on Chicago Tribune.


Join the conversation by following @BrianSchmisek on Twitter and @LoyolaIPS on Instagram! Also, network with the Loyola Chicago IPS community on LinkedIn

IPS Alumnus Authors “Busy and Blessed”

Loyola IPS Alumnus, Chuck Thompson, recently published Busy and Blessed: 10 Simple Steps for Parents Seeking Peace, a book that aims to help parents balance the craziness of raising children and the need for spiritual peace.

Between paying the bills, buying groceries, returning emails, getting the kids to their activities, working overtime and updating your Facebook status, who has time for prayer or a moment of meditation?

If you want a deeper relationship with God, and you know God wants a deeper relationship with you, Thompson’s book offers solutions.

Woven within a fictional tale about a deacon in Chicago and a mysterious visitor named Francis, the 10 steps are intended to transform the attitude of parents as spiritual seekers. The mission is for the readers to incorporate each of the steps into their daily lives, where they can find God’s message in every activity and disruption—and live a more peaceful life because of it.

Thompson graduated from IPS with a master’s degree in Religious Education. In addition to being an author, he has served the Archdiocese of Chicago as a deacon since 2011.

Thompson leads retreats, workshops and seminars on a variety of Catholic topics, as well as teaching at Saint Ignatius College Prep. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Amanda Thompson, and their three children.

His wife also aides in ministering to the community by hosting a half hour radio show on Relevant Radio 950AM, entitled Made for Life, which airs the second Thursday of the month from 9:30-10:00am. She interviews people doing good work with marriage and family around the Archdiocese of Chicago and beyond.

A look inside the book:

2014-10-22 11.44.32

Simple Steps for Busy Parents Seeking Peace

1. Burn a Boat or Two

2. Judge Not

3. Listen Up!

4. Love Your Imperfections

5. Face the Music and Dance

6. Think Water, Not Rocks

7. Be a Philosopher King

8. Always Click “Like”

9. Become a Bridge

10. Live Each Day As If You Are Going to Live Forever – Because You Are!

Thompson’s book is available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com in paperback, Kindle and Nook editions. A percentage of royalties from all book sales will be donated to the New Hope Food Pantry in Chicago.


Join the conversation by following @BrianSchmisek on Twitter and @LoyolaIPS on Instagram! Also, network with the Loyola Chicago IPS community on LinkedIn

IPS Alumnus’s First Book Published: commends Loyola for help along the way

We would like to extend our congratulations to IPS Alumnus Michael Cahill on getting his first book published! Catholic Watershed is a compelling book that openly discusses the ever-changing Catholic Church and its hope for an even brighter future.


As a 1984 Loyola IPS graduate, Cahill commends the program for helping him keep in “touch with the importance of real people and their struggles to be faithful.”

As for his most memorable courses and professors at IPS, Cahill spoke fondly of Dick Westley and Jim Zullo. Westley taught “Form Me A People” and “Redemptive Intimacy,” two classes based on the work of Chicago priest Leo Mahon, one of Cahill’s true heroes. Zullo taught “Psychology of Young Adults” which meant a lot to Cahill, both academically and personally.

“This book focuses on the importance of the pastoral in relation to the doctrinal,” states Cahill, “or, another way of putting it, the Church as community in relation to the Church as institution. Much of that emphasis was stressed at IPS.”

About the Book 

Catholic Watershed provides readers with a close look at how the Catholic Church has changed since the Second Vatican Council.

In order to write the book, Cahill interviewed six priests who were ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1969. They opened up to Cahill about their seminary training, assignments, triumphs and disappointments.

Through interviewing these men, Cahill was able to write about topics that are rarely openly discussed within the church, especially by priests. These include:

  • Their personal spirituality
  • Their relationships with fellow priests and cardinal archbishops
  • Celibacy
  • The sexual abuse crisis

Cahill chose these six priests because they were classmates of one another and had good reputations. Moreover, he was aware that they’d likely be retired when the book was published and therefore, would be more frank about the topics at hand.

The motivation for writing this book came from his desire to explore what became of the Catholic Church he grew up admiring. Cahill struggled to feel comfortable in a Church that seemed to be rejecting much of what he learned from an entire generation of Catholic leaders.

It was with the loss of a dear friend, Father Bob “Red” McLaughlin, that gave him the final nudge to investigate these queries. Cahill realized now was the time to share the stories of priests who lived through three distinct periods of American Catholic history: the pre-Vatican II, Vatican II and post-Vatican II.

When asked if he thought the spirit of “aggiornamento” unleashed at Vatican II was still vibrant today, Cahill replied, “It is vibrant at the parish level and our Pope is bringing that vibrancy back for the universal Church. Faithful priests like these 6 men, as well as many great laypeople and religious, have kept the spirit alive, even in the face of much criticism.”

About The Author

Before beginning his journey at IPS, Cahill had been studying at Mundelein Seminary to become a priest. After deciding that priesthood was not for him, Cahill chose to continue his education at IPS.

“It was a happy time in the sense that it coincided with the period of my engagement and then wedding to Cathy O’Connell, herself a Loyola Grad.”

After IPS, Cahill worked as an alcoholism counselor for adolescents at St. Elizabeth Hospital for two years. With a growing family, Cahill then decided to become a financial planner, which has been his primary occupation for 27 years.

Regarding his first book, Cahill concludes, “It was a labor of love that I thoroughly enjoyed, especially having the privilege of interviewing these 6 good men.”

If interested, you can purchase the book here.


For more updates, follow @BrianSchmisek on Twitter!