Where Bono and Bellarmine Meet: Taking teens to that other place where God makes every day a beautiful day
The bookshelves and walls of Peter Corrigan’s office are filled with photos of family, friends, and the students he serves. There’s also a hand-painted African batik from Uganda and a poster of Bono, the legendary Irish musician and leader of the rock band U2. He pauses throughout the day to behold these people and the artistic reminders of what sustains and energizes his ministry. They bring a smile to his face as he recounts how they remind him of the words of one of his favorite inspirational authors, Anthony DeMello, SJ: “Behold God beholding you . . . and smiling.”
As Director of Student Formation and Ministry for Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, Peter’s vocation and avocation is to help the school’s high-achieving, performance-driven students pause long enough in prayer to behold God, to notice that God is constantly beholding them with great love and longing.
“The challenge of my ministry is to help students appreciate the relevance and closeness of God’s presence in their daily lives,” says Corrigan. “When we provide young people with opportunities to encounter God – away from the distractions and frenetic pace of our lives – they respond in profound ways. Accompanying and listening to their questions is such a joy. But it also is a challenge. Our culture tells them to achieve, to be ambitious, and to perform. I’m trying to help them to stop, to create space to notice God’s presence. I want our students to leave Saint Ignatius with a tool belt of spiritual resources that they can return to as they discern choices in college and career.”
Corrigan says he doesn’t have all the answers, but he knows where to find them. Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House is his go-to “spiritual home,” he says. “Investing in my own ongoing spiritual growth is critical, as I can’t give to my students and family what I don’t have active and alive within my own heart.”
Kairos retreats have combined two formative influences on Corrigan's spiritual journey: the Spiritual Exercises and the spiritual music of U2. "On Kairos retreats at Bellarmine, students encounter God through song, story, and Sacrament.” He believes the Kairos retreats at Bellarmine provide significant opportunities for prayer that nourish the faith life of St. Ignatius students and help them discover God in the middle of their busy and complex lives.
His spiritual lesson plan includes two popular U2 songs, “It’s a Beautiful Day” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” to help students tune into the echoes of God’s voice calling to them.
“It is amazing to witness the transformation in these young people on retreat,” says Peter. “The Holy Spirit really works through their stories, and you can feel God working in their complex, messy, and beautiful life experiences.”
A third generation Peter Corrigan and Jesuit educator, Peter was indoctrinated in his early childhood in Ignatian teachings and service for others. But he says he finds his retreat experiences at Bellarmine as especially pivotal in shoring up God’s presence in his life and for his ongoing spiritual growth.
In addition to accompanying students on myriad Kairos retreats, Peter and his wife, Molly, have attended marriage retreats; he’s a regular silent retreat weekend attendee, participates in all-day workshops, and recently encouraged a group of six of his 30-something Notre Dame grad school buddies to attend a men’s silent weekend retreat at Bellarmine.
“Bellarmine feels like my spiritual home,” says Peter. “I love to walk and run through the grounds. Even when it is frigidly cold, I love to walk outside and sit in the quiet of the gazebo and pray. It helps me to slow down. Looking at the stars there helps me be in the quiet more readily than I can in the city. And, I love the rituals and healing services that retreat directors like Fr. Michael Sparough, SJ provide. I found particular grace in one Healing Service that prayed through the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. This creative liturgy did not shy away from hard realities even as it nuanced the challenges of doing ministry in the Church.” In the grandest sense, Peter’s personal retreat experiences – and his students’ own Kairos retreats – transform the lives of the thousands of students to whom he ministers. The ripple effect can’t be pointed to in a spreadsheet but is destined to continue to create great change in the students’ lives as leaders in future communities. One of the ways Peter tries to stretch and bring the faith-sharing, energy, and contemplative moments back to the classroom is through ongoing ministry and service work, modeled on the Jesuit motto of being “Men and Women for and with Others.” Students have put their faith into action at a Jesuit ministry on the Arizona-Mexico border. Through the Kino Border Initiative, the students volunteered at a soup kitchen and provided direct service to the immigrants at the border.
As a teacher, Peter strives to give his students the vision to see their God-given gifts and the enthusiasm to bring them to life and use them to the best of their ability to serve others. He says he works hard to arm them with the tools to see those lessons and God’s presence every day. He was reminded of the “do as I say and not as I do” lesson on a recent weekend when his wife was away and he was in charge of his three young sons, all under five.
“I was triple-teamed at home with three kids who had strep throat, were throwing up, and had pink eye,” says Peter. “I’d been to Oak Park Pediatrics four times. I was holding my one-year-old son Jack and trying to clean and cook and get stuff accomplished around the house. But he was wiggling and kept bending far backward and it was really hard to hold him. I was really frustrated and stressed out.
“Suddenly I just stopped and saw that Jack was doing this to desperately get my attention. He was looking up at me and smiling. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was my God moment. Jack was allowing me the time to stop and pay attention to the small things, to soak in the surprise and delight of his smile. It was very humbling. I’ve learned I have to keep on working on all of this all of the time.”