Deacon Jim Griffard was a clinical social worker in the public school setting for more than three decades. He began planning for retirement in June of 2018, knowing that beyond his professional career, he’d still be involved in ministry as a permanent deacon.
He especially enjoyed working with middle school students, including those who were having trouble finding success in school. It’s a time in which they’re “figuring out who they are,” he said. It was a fulfilling career; retirement certainly was going to be life-changing.
About a year before retirement, Deacon Griffard heard about the Next Chapter program. Offered through Saint Louis University’s Office of Mission and Identity, the six-month guided discernment program is for people with an impending or recent retirement. Rooted in Ignatian Spirituality, the program provides participants with a spiritual setting to formally discern moving from one life chapter to the next.
The program led Deacon Griffard to a part-time position teaching eighth-grade religion and helping with campus ministry and social services support at Loyola Academy, a Jesuit-sponsored middle school for boys who have the potential for a college preparatory school, but whose success may be impeded by economic or social circumstances.
The Next Chapter program gave him the tools to discern how he could take the elements from his previous career that especially brought him joy and bring them with him into his new role at Loyola.
“What I am doing here I have been doing for the last 32 years as a social worker in education — but now I am able to do it explicitly, and be out in the open in asking young guys about issues of faith,” he said. “What helps you get through difficult times? What do you dream about? Is the spirit moving you in any way? This education is here for a purpose — not just to get into a high school, college and then a job. The mission (at Loyola) is about the person you’re created to be. You’re created in the image and likeness (of God) for a purpose in this life.”
Mary Mills learned about Next Chapter via an article in the St. Louis Review. The former sales manager had recently lost her husband, Charlie, to cancer. She was looking for something meaningful to help her transition into the next season of her life.
“It was exactly what I needed,” said the parishioner of St. Clement of Rome in Des Peres. “What am I going to do with my time and talents? I knew I needed some type of discernment process.”
Mills now helps teach the program, which includes reading and small-group discussions, and the use of tools such as the practice of Ignatian discernment, The Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory and StrengthsFinder. Participants come from a wide range of professional backgrounds, including physicians, attorneys, business people, educators and medical professionals.
“The real learning comes from your own self-discovery and from the people that are also in the program,” she said. “Like anything in life, you gain great insight from other people. I think the program deepens your spirituality of who God is and who He is calling you to be, and how do you use your charisms and strengths that He’s given you?”
Mills often sees people nearing retirement who will put it off out of fear. “People think, ‘I am what I do, and when I am no longer practicing medicine or a practicing attorney, who am I?’” she said. “This gives people the opportunity to really ask themselves: Does this (work) bring me joy? We all have gifts and some come easily and some you have to work a little harder. Here we’re facilitating adults to figure out what they want to do in their next chapter.”
>> Next Chapter Program
The third cohort of the Next Chapter Program begins in October 2019 and ends in April of 2020.
information sessions will be held for individuals interested applying.
Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend a session as part of the
Information sessions will take place at 6:30
p.m. Thursday, May 23, Thursday, June 6, and Tuesday, Sept. 17, in
Boileau Hall on the campus of Saint Louis University. Each session is
expected to last about an hour and a half. Applications will be
distributed via email after the information sessions.
To RSVP for a session, email Tom Auffenberg at [email protected]