In this together

By Mitch Finley '73

For folks retired but not at rest, Companions in Ignatian Service and Spirituality offers a way to do and be more.
Dan Korbel ’63, M.A. ’76. Photo by Charles Barry
“It’s a real growth experience.”

For more than 40 years Dan Korbel ’63, M.A. ’76 taught English, coached baseball and basketball, and counseled students and handled the yearbook at James Lick High School in East San Jose. Of the 1,100 students at the high school today, three-quarters are Latino and most are immigrants. Many are poor, at least in terms of money.

When Korbel retired from teaching, though, his interest in community service took him right back to the school, where the principal welcomed his offer to work—as a volunteer—with students new to the United States. Korbel devoted time to calling students in and talking with them and their parents. Some of the conversations were about setting goals and making plans. “With the seniors, in particular, if they weren’t going to college—which was true for the majority of them—I’d encourage them to develop some marketable skills,” he says. Then he recounts how one of the kids he worked with came in just after he’d received news about a big scholarship “and was just walking on air.”

Korbel also found a program for himself—one in which his volunteer work could be built around a sense of community. Ultimately, the Companions in Ignatian Service and Spirituality would teach this longtime educator a few things. Companions was a young program for lay Catholics 50 years or older who were committed to volunteer ministries of service—and who were looking for a way to deepen their volunteer work with reflection and prayer. That sounded good to Korbel.

Of his work with students, Korbel says that Companions “moved it to a different level ... It also helped me as a husband, as a father, and as a friend. It’s a real growth experience.”
 

We can do that

The idea for Companions began with a story that James Briggs read in Mission magazine in 2005. At the time, Briggs was executive assistant to the president of the University. What caught his eye was a piece about the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, a national Jesuit service program for senior lay Catholics who want to give a year of their lives in service to those with special needs. We could do that in the Bay Area, Briggs thought.

He brought the idea to Jeffrey Baerwald, S.J., an associate professor in SCU’s Department of Counseling Psychology. To make the idea reality, they worked with a quartet of organizers: Susan Votaw M.A. ’05, a retired school principal; Anne Grycz, then director of the lay ministry formation program for the Diocese of San Jose; Mark Potter, who directs social ministries for the California Province of the Society of Jesus; and Bernie Purcell, a former lay parish minister and longtime friend of the University.

Cathy Parent. Photo by Charles Barry
“This sounded just perfect for me.”

What developed was a multiyear program that was a natural fit for a university committed to educating the whole person and instilling in students, alumni, and friends the importance of being women and men for others. Companions became partners with SCU’s Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education and the Jesuit School of Theology, and it earned official endorsement from the Jesuits’ California Province.

Briggs stepped down from his position in SCU administration in 2010, after 22 years serving on the Mission Campus in various roles, to become executive director of the School of Applied Theology, in Berkeley. But he carries on his involvement with Companions as a member of its 10-person advisory board.

With 75 alumni, Ignatian Companions now has a regional director, Jenny Girard Malley ’91, and communities in Santa Clara; in Berkeley, at the Jesuit School of Theology; and in San Francisco, at St. Agnes Parish. This summer marks the fifth anniversary of the program’s launch; a region-wide celebration is being held June 17 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park.
 

The pause that refreshes

To foster the sense of community in the program, a typical Companions group consists of eight to 10 people, with monthly meetings.

One of those involved for the past few years is Cathy Parent of Sunnyvale. She worked in Catholic schools as both teacher and administrator. After retiring, she carried over her experience and skills as an educator to Reading Partners, a nonprofit organization that helps children from low-income families bring reading skills up to their grade levels.

Stan Fitzgerald. Photo by Charles Barry
“Being on a journey with people who have similar goals and aspirations is a joy and a delight.”

Parent found tutoring kids at Robert Kennedy Elementary School in San Jose rewarding. She found out about Companions through Sunday Mass at Mission Santa Clara, where Fr. Baerwald was presiding. The structured prayer and communal aspects of the program have helped sustain her in ways she wasn’t expecting, she says, particularly when her husband became ill.

Stan Fitzgerald of San Jose calls himself a “social justice junkie.” He retired after 38 years in corporate human resource management. His volunteer work includes helping at a Dayworker Center as well as helping at a family shelter and a Catholic Worker guest house for women. Volunteering, and working with SCU’s Dan Germann, S.J., is what first brought him in touch with the University. “As soon as I heard about Companions being formed, I signed up,” he says.

Fitzgerald cites his Jesuit education as providing a grounding in Ignatian ideals. He describes the Examen, a method of reflection and meditation that is taught through part of the Companions program, as giving his spiritual life an immense boost: “the pause that refreshes.”

Not surprising, the sense of companionship is also key. “Being on a journey with people who have similar goals and aspirations,” Fitzgerald says, “is a joy and a delight.”
 

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