A Short History of Manresa Link

The Spirit moves across the Face of the Earth

Some years before Manresa Link was started, there was a movement of the Spirit among the Jesuits to make the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius more accessible to a wider number of people. Fresh translations were published in the U.S., in Canada, in Ireland and elsewhere. There was a return to the Spiritual Exercises being individually-guided rather than preached. Ways of taking retreats out of the retreat house and into everyday life opened them up, especially to lay people who eventually began to be trained to give retreats to others.

Closer to Home - a Birmingham Initiative

Fr Gerard W. Hughes S.J. (better known to many simply as Gerry Hughes) came to Birmingham in September 1985 with his own brief but began to receive requests from local people for spiritual direction.

Together with Fr Ron Darwen SJ, and Sr Bernadette Arscott of the La Retraite Congregation, they looked for people in Birmingham who were retreat givers or spiritual directors. They began to meet with the people they found and out of that came the first individually- given retreat at St. Mary's Catholic Church, Harborne in December 1988. 

The retreat was based on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. lnstead of listening to an expert instructing them in the spiritual life, retreatants were encouraged to listen to their own expertise and to trust the action of the Holy Spirit, continuously guiding them in all things. After praying on their own each day, they met with a prayer-guide who helped them reflect on what they had experienced.

Fr Gerry Hughes

Some of the retreatants continued to meet regularly to share their own experience and several showed interest in training to be able to give this kind of retreat to others. This led to the first elementary course in prayer-guiding, enabling seven lay people to be part of the team on the second Harborne retreat in October 1989.

 A Joint Effort

 Following the review of the first St Mary’s retreat, an agreement was made in April 1989, between the Jesuits, La Retraite and Notre Dame to create a 2-year project with now five people  - Tom McGuinness and Gerry Hughes SJ, Magdalen Lawler SND, Bernadette Arscott and Morag Gardham RLR - working full-time to take forward the training in Ignatian spirituality and to expand the ministry of the daily-life retreats in and around the Birmingham area.                                                                                              

The group became ecumenical a year later with David Bosworth, Methodist, and Marlene Parsons, Anglican, joining the team part-time.

The Wider Church

Alongside this new awakening of the Spirit within parts of the Catholic community, a similar movement was going on in the Anglican Church.  ln the West Midlands, Francis Palmer, Lichfield Diocesan Missioner, had also become aware of the lack of people trained for spiritual direction and had attended an Ignatian spirituality course at Llysfasi in the Summer of 1988.  Together with Peter Bridges, Archdeacon of Warwick, he then decided to invite Rev Gordon Jeff, also an Anglican and author of a book "Spiritual Direction for Every Christian", to come and speak in Birmingham about the training he had been giving for some time in South London.

Representatives of all Christian denominations in the area were invited to this meeting to be held at Harborne Hall in February 1989. A room for fifty people was booked and seventy turned up. There were follow-up meetings in the months to come, out of which the West Midlands Spirituality Network was born in the Summer of that year.

Manresa Link

The Ignatian group, now one of several hubs forming the West Midlands Spirituality Network, worked initially under that general heading. Later, however, it was felt that the underlying of the Spiritual Exercises needed to be reflected in the title and the team chose Manresa Link as the name for this group to be known within the wider network.  As well as connecting with the Jesuit Community house in Birmingham, this title also linked to the place in Spain where St Ignatius had stayed for almost a year after his conversion, undergoing inner spiritual experiences of darkness and light and a sense that God was teaching him through these. The jottings that he made during this time were to become the basis of what became known as the Spiritual Exercises.

Still Growing!

Today Manresa Link has about 120 members, mainly in and around the West Midlands, all of whom have made an individually-given retreat of some kind, whether residential or in daily life and have also completed recognised Ignatian based training.                                                                                                     

Our training course evolved over time and continues to evolve. We now offer a Basic Training Course – which equips people to get started in prayer guiding/accompaniment and in organising retreats in their own networks.  At various times members have formed geographically based support groups to share spiritual growth and to co-ordinate local retreat initiatives.          

A Core Group exists to support the activities of Manresa Link members, to ensure good communication between the geographical groups and to facilitate further training and development.  lt is the key resource for information about the availability of retreat-givers and those who can provide other services such as supervision, guidance through the 19th Annotation, and spiritual direction.

Manresa Link organises a meeting of the whole membership twice a year (including the AGM) and also produces a twice-yearly newsletter.   Our key calling it is to facilitate Retreats in Daily Life and related activities. Our members do this in parishes, Churches Together groups, colleges, business centres, and even in prisons. There are endless possibilities - and as an organic, growing, changing entity we are always open to new opportunities.

We try to live and act in such a way that God can be the God of love and compassion to us and through us.

We welcome any who are interested and try always to be inclusive.