|Creighton's Cyber Retreat
A university Web site combines ministry with technology.
March 6, 1999ERIN GRACE,
World-Herald Staff Writer
When Saint Ignatius of Loyola told people nearly 500 years ago to "find God in all things," he likely wasn't thinking of a search in cyberspace.
But a Creighton University Web site started last fall uses Ignatius' spiritual exercises as part of an online weekly retreat to bring people closer to God.
The site, run by the university's Collaborative Ministry Office, combines ministry with technology to offer a 33-week regimen of prayer, scripture, reflection and guidance as a retreat from the hectic pace of everyday lives.
"There are a lot of people who don't have the time to go to a retreat center on the weekend, who don't even have the time to go to a bookstore and find a religious reading, who even if they have the time, wouldn't know where to begin," said the Rev. Andy Alexander, who created the online retreat with Maureen McCann Waldron. Both work in Creighton's Collaborative Ministry Office.
Designed originally as a way to bring Scripture readings and reflections to Creighton faculty and staff, the Web site now is visited by a wide spectrum of people, including a missionary in India who downloads reflections, priests who surf for homily ideas and a lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Since its inception in September, the site has received more than 50,000 hits.
Although the retreat follows Ignatius' spiritual exercises, it is not strictly for Catholics.
"Creighton operates out of a Catholic tradition, but many of the people we serve are not Catholics," Waldron said.
The Web site is available to anyone with Internet access, and the exercises and retreat schedule are flexible. On Sunday, Week 26 begins, but those just plugging in can start at Week 1.
The format is flexible. Participants can visit a daily reflections page
written by Creighton staff, scan anonymous feedback or flip through photographs
taken by the Rev. Don
"Some people could do all of this every week and have a very powerful experience," Alexander said. "Some could do just part of it."
Mary Fran Laverdure just started Week 2. The 39-year-old attorney checks the site daily from her job working on disability policy in Washington, D.C., and from her Virginia home.
Laverdure goes on actual retreats, but finds the online version convenient.
"I think the whole way it's put together is going to be very easy to follow," she said. "This is really nice in that it's available to you when you can get to it in your day."
Alexander said some other sites offer retreatlike experiences, but that Creighton's online retreat may be the only one of its kind.
"We've become aware of the explosion of the Web," Alexander said. "When CNN reported that 6 million people downloaded the Starr report in one day, we became convinced that people knew how to use this technology. We are giving them something to use to support their everyday struggles and live a life that's free and ultimately for others."
Jackie Keesee was struggling. The part-time house cleaner from a town outside Cleveland was feeling "really stranded" on her 61st birthday.She began surfing the Internet, and with a few clicks, found herself at Creighton's online retreat site. "I had no idea what Creighton was," said Keesee, a Catholic. "I think it's going to be very healing."
Joe Bahun has the Web site bookmarked on his computer at the insurance brokerage firm where he works in Fort Worth, Texas. He checks the site each day. "From Sunday to Sunday, it's easy to lose perspective," he said. The Creighton site, he said, "gives you a better interpretation of the readings."
Not all retreats have to be done alone. The site offers tips for making
the retreat with a group. Laverdure, a Catholic, would like a male
friend, a Presbyterian, to try it with her.
Originally, the site began as a way to avoid photocopying scripture passages for about 80 Creighton faculty and staff last year. Waldron and Alexander decided to add daily reflections they and other staff members wrote, including e-mail links for comments.
"These were just employees sharing with each other," Waldron said. "They may be a secretary or a maintenance worker - not theologians." What started as a campus offering soon spread, and the response was overwhelming, Waldron said.
So she and Alexander decided to go from there, and in September, they added the online retreat - complete with its own online how-to guide for getting started. Novices in technology and in retreats can navigate through the user-friendly site.
Click on "This Week's Guide," or visit the daily reflections calendar. Click on the Guideposts section and read the Rev. Larry Gillick's weekly reflection. Click on "A Place to Share" and send an anonymous reply that may appear in "Read the Sharing." Click on the photo to make it bigger, or download it as computer wallpaper. This summer, participants may be able to click on a speech and hear as well as read it. Video links are in the works as well.
Just as Doll's photos of everyday life can be enlarged and downloaded,
so might speeches be replayed as an additional offering to the Collaborative
Ministry Web site. For example, people could hear Sister Helen Prejean's
talk last year at Creighton. Prejean, a nun from Louisiana, wrote the book
"Dead Man Walking" that later
"The future of this technology is as limitless as our creativity," Alexander said. "Talks and retreats could be made accessible to all kinds of people."
Accessibility is an important feature, said Waldron, who as a former businesswoman, wife and mother of two feels it is important that the retreat be grounded in real life.
"I understand how it is," she said. "People who are using it are people who don't have time to sit down in a prayer chair for a day. We wanted to make it flexible enough so that you can get it to work into the background of your day."
Creighton's Weekly Online Retreat in Everyday Life
or through a link on Creighton's home page: www.creighton.edu/
Daily Reflections page can be found at:
“Reprinted with permission from the Omaha World-Herald.”