Mark and Charlene

What happens when an accountant and a computer programmer go looking for a “real community”? Ask Mark and Charlene, parents, spouses, and Ignatian Associates.  “It’s affected every aspect of life.”

Mark and Charlene met as undergraduates at a Jesuit university.  While they appreciated the rigors of their Jesuit education, they knew little about the Ignatian Spirituality that sustained it. They were there to get a degree and a job. It was only after graduation and feeling a real need for community as a young married couple that they sought to go deeper into their faith life. They had been attending a Jesuit parish, teaching Sunday school, and were involved in the service opportunities offered, but didn’t feel particularly challenged spiritually. Then Mark asked pastor Bert Thelen, S.J., about doing the Spiritual Exercises and Bert invited Mark and Charlene to an information session on the Ignatian Associates.  Charlene remembers clearly that at the first meeting, after hearing about the Associate formation process and the Promises of lifestyle, another attendee asking nervously if she and Mark thought they would join. Without hesitation Charlene responded with a confident, “Yes!” It seemed to be exactly what she and Mark were called to do.

Since that meeting in 2003, Mark and Charlene’s life feels very different from the inside out.  “I found the Spiritual Exercises somewhat challenging,” recounts Mark. “Formation changed my understanding of God as a judge to now experiencing God as Love which changed my relationships with others in my family as well.”  For Charlene, the Spiritual Exercises helped her to pray more intensely than ever in her life.  “I learned that my strongest desire was God’s strongest desire for me as well.”  This deepening of her relationship with God enabled her to have a better relationship with everything from family to material goods.

The Ignatian Spirituality and practices that they learned in formation helped Mark and Charlene greatly through the adoption process with their daughter, Emma.  “The practice prepared us to be more self-reflective and set parameters for decisions. It was the first time I found spirituality really practical,” says Mark. Now they use that same Spirituality in raising Emma. They nurture a constant self-awareness and gratitude within her and end every day with her own Examen of picking one thing that made her happy and one that made her sad and sharing it with God.  And they know as she grows, Emma will be surrounded by the children of other Ignatian Associates “so maybe it won’t seem so odd to be in a family that strives for simplicity and service to others rather than status.”

Today, Charlene juggles the hats of stay-at-home mom, fitness instructor, and treasurer for a few non-profits while Mark works in computer programming. They are more defined, though, by their lifestyle Promises than by any positions. The Promise of Simplicity constantly challenges them to be conscious of how much they consume, where it comes from, and how attached they are to it. Like all families, busy schedules are a challenge, but their community and Promises made it easier to make decisions like not having a TV readily available and intentionally de-cluttering their home. They no longer see their worth being tied to status or income. Their Promise of Apostolic Availability is lived in terms of not being self-consumed and empowering others. “I have taken on a global view and am more aware of things outside my realm,” says Mark. But the Promise of Fidelity to the IA Community and to the Jesuits is the glue that brings it all together for Mark and Charlene. “Even though we are ideologically different in the community, I was surprised to find we are truly spiritually connected,” muses Mark. Charlene jokes that when it comes to the Associates she’ll be the last one to turn out the lights. “This is the family we choose, the place where the truest and deepest conversations happen.”