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Women Leaders in the Ignatian Family

Susan Friedrichsen

Institution: Ignatian Spirituality Center of Kansas City

Title: Executive Director

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

Other Jesuit institutional connections:

  • Alumni mother of Rockhurst High School (three sons) 
  • Master’s in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University 
  • Graduate certificate in Spiritual Direction and Directed Retreats from Creighton University 

What does your job entail?
I execute the mission of the Ignatian Spirituality Center of Kansas City to show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian spirituality. Our core program is the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (19th Annotation), and all of our efforts are to introduce seekers to Ignatian spiritual practices and invite them to this transformational experience with one of our prayer companions. 

What is your favorite part of your job?
Sharing about Ignatian relational prayer with others that they might encounter Christ personally and find a way to traverse everyday life and concerns in trust and freedom. 

What is one of the challenges you’re facing right now?
We are a small organization and our current challenge is to structure the Ignatian Spirituality Center of KC with a balance of volunteers and paid staff to continue the mission. It is always a challenge to offer pricing that attracts people to retreats and to also break even. 

What are some of the lights and shadows you’ve experienced as a woman working in partnership with a men’s religious order?
Honestly, this is my only experience working for a religious order and it has been mostly light. I have been encouraged and formed for this role by the Jesuits involved in the center and have always felt valued and appreciated for my work as a volunteer, as well as in this role as executive director.   

 The only shadow is in the past the Jesuits themselves remained somewhat siloed within Kansas City, and the local community (outside of the Jesuits involved in the Center) did not have much to do with the center. Today, the community is less siloed, and I have interactions with most of the Jesuits in Kansas City either through collaboration or convening at area events. They regularly pray for our mission and offer themselves in retreat support when needed. 

 How does Ignatian spirituality shape your approach to work?
It’s everything. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so in beginning this role I really felt the weight of the role on my shoulders. The Call of the King invitation has guided me. Christ’s invitation for me to come work with him (conmigo) has encouraged me to let go of needing to plan everything out to a T and to join the adventure in trust and love and see what new thing the Holy Spirit is bringing about. Over three years in, I am more comfortable with the unknown and open to framing what is coming and then trusting in the Spirit to fill all the gaps. 

How could the Jesuits and the church as a whole foster women’s leadership more effectively?
I see them doing this today in all the women who lead Jesuit organizations in the United States. We have been given a platform for our voices to be heard and our labors to be seen. At the institutional church level, it would be nice to know Jesuits are promoting the voices of women to be heard during liturgy, and maybe someday women will be allowed to give a homily during Mass (I am not advocating ordination). I think this is one place where our voices and perspectives are left out to the detriment of the community. 

 Globally, I imagine there is more to be done in countries where women have no voice, and I hope that Jesuits are walking with them to help them find more possibilities to flourish in their communities.