Rev. Walter Conlan, SJ: "They're the culture-bearers, the people who live out their spirituality in the ordinary tasks - the people in the kitchens, the custodians, the secretaries, the service personnel. This is a long tradition, a love affair between the Jesuits and the people who work here." Photo by Lee Pellegrini
As the Human Resources Department's internal consultant for employee development in the area of Ignatian spirituality, Fr. Conlan has helped establish the Shared Vision program that introduces Boston College employees to the history of Jesuit higher education.
He established the Spiritual Companions program that matches members of the BC community with spiritual directors, who include religious and lay persons in academic, administrative or staff positions. As the Web site explains, spiritual companions "help another person to focus on his/her desire to be in relationship with God, combining both a practical respect for the one being companioned and an equally practical respect for God's desire to form an intimate, mutual relationship with that person."
Fr. Conlan also runs the "Busy Staff" retreats in which employees take a few minutes each day for contemplative prayer. Last month's Advent retreat was devoted to prayerful poetry reading, from an anthology ranging from Hopkins and Chesterton to BC's own Paul Mariani, a professor of English.
The aim of his staff retreats and "one-stop-shopping" trove of Web resources: to keep the Ignatian spirit strong in the people who keep Boston College running.
"They're the culture-bearers," he said, "the people who live out their spirituality in the ordinary tasks - the people in the kitchens, the custodians, the secretaries, the service personnel. This is a long tradition, a love affair between the Jesuits and the people who work here.
"There's such a synergy there when good people are allowed to do good jobs. Everyone's job here is important - the person who cuts the grass, who empties the trash, or makes the most important executive decision."
Fr. Conlan is a native New Englander, raised in the chair-manufacturing city of Gardner, Mass., but currently is a member of the Jesuits' Bahia Province in Brazil, where he was missioned in 1980 and worked for 17 years.
As an administrator at Catholic University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, he became friendly with the college "techies," several of whom shared his love of sailing. Through them he discovered the Internet.
"I took it on as a hobby," he recalled. "Sometimes I would go in the middle of the night to play on the Internet. I began to experiment with Web pages."
He said he saw great potential in the Net for making education "virtually accessible" to those living in areas without schools or libraries. When an ailing parent led to his return to Massachusetts in 1997, he brought his interest in the new Web technology to a position in Human Resources at BC as a consultant for Ignatian spirituality.
Fr. Conlan has been a co-chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Committee, and serves weekends at the Jesuit-staffed St. Mary of the Angels Parish in Roxbury. He also sings as a tenor with the Boston College Chorale.
"I'm a networker," he said. "With the Web pages, I wanted 'one-stop shopping' for Ignatian resources. I want people to be able to find things that are useful to them."
Having helped arrange or lead retreats for Information Technology staffers, scientists, Portuguese-speakers, and most recently, poetry lovers, Fr. Conlan says he is constantly on the lookout for new themes that will draw colleagues to prayerful reflection.
"A lot of people describe the retreat as an oasis in their week," Fr. Conlan said.
"Some think you have to fill people up like a milk bottle with virtue. I believe God has been working with them for a long time, and I just have to help get it out."
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