Wonder and Gratitude

2012 St. Ignatius Medal recipient reflects on grace received and the "liberating gift of availability"

Story by: Pat O'Leary, S.J.
Published: 2012-11-05

Following are the remarks that Pat O'Leary, S.J., faculty and staff chaplain, delivered at Seattle University's 29th Annual Gala after receiving the St. Ignatius Medal, the university's highest award.

For many years now I have rather frequently taken on the persona of Ignatius and dared to "tell my story."  Ignatius, who was so reluctant to tell the story himself, must shake his head at such audacity. Actually, I don't think he really minds, so I just keep doing it. 

There is a liberating moment in that story that is foundational for all that follows. The great-souled Ignatius on fire to do "glorious deeds for God" experienced himself trapped and paralyzed by the memory of past transgressions. That struggle, painful and humbling, was prelude to and probably crucial for the graced awakening to the real issue. With love and compassion God opened his mind and heart and grounded his magnanimous spirit in right relationship. "It is not what you do for me, but what I will do in you and through you if you are open, listening, and responsive to my love and my grace." This liberating gift of availability, this passion for the greater glory of God transformed Ignatius and continues to be at the heart of Ignatian spirituality and apostolic service.

This evening, in receiving the Ignatian medal from Seattle University, I am filled with wonder and gratitude. When the President called my office and asked me to come and see him the thought did cross my mind that it might be the "pocket watch and rocking chair" moment. That was not outside the realm of possibility. I first came to Seattle University to teach philosophy and later theology in 1963, a tad short of 50 years ago. In 1970, over the timid objections of Fr. Le Roux, my chair, I found myself missioned elsewhere. Hard as it was to leave a place I loved, my new assignments turned my attention more directly to Ignatian spirituality. 

For 13 years I was focused on the formation of those entering the Jesuits. My pilgrimage back to Seattle University took a few additional turns, two wonderful years as assistant pastor at St. Joseph's, and six years as rector of the university community at Gonzaga. Finally in 1993 came the crucial breakfast with Fr. Sundborg, then, Provincial Superior. He claims that in the face of some creative suggestions of his own, I actually ate my way back to Seattle University. 

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Pat O'Leary, S.J., recipient of the 2012 St. Ignatius Medal, is pictured here with (l. to r.) President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., and Gala co-chairs David Rothrock, Kirsten Johnson, and Mary Jo and Rod Bench.

The vision and spirituality that this award celebrates find their origin in the graced experience of Ignatius and his first companions. But it highlights, as well, the prayerful and discerning struggle of the Ignatian companions here at Seattle University to respond in a creative and inclusive ways to the summons of the Second Vatican Council "to return to the sources of all Christian life and to adapt the Ignatian spiritual and apostolic spirit to meet the changed condition or our times."

That summons has set us at Seattle University on a challenging yet amazingly graced journey. Along the way we Jesuits have found ourselves pilgriming and laboring with wonderful colleagues and partners, so many very special friends who have come to share with us the Ignatian spirit and to labor with us out of a profound desire to serve. In such a gathering as this evening it is humbling and a bit embarrassing to be singled out. In all honesty, however, it is a delight as well, a delight to share this occasion with my family, a delight to know that this award is not just for me but embraces, as well, my brother Jesuits and so many colleagues, partners and friends. What a privilege and joy it has been to be a part of Seattle University's commitment to form and inspire young people toward a more just, loving, and humane world.  Should the rocking chair moment come, Steve, may it be a leisurely conversation at breakfast.   

Last week in an anthology of poetry I came across a "one liner" from a wisdom figure of the Middle Ages.  It says it all:  If the only prayer you ever say throughout your life is "Thank you!," it's sufficient. THANK YOU!


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