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Ignatian Volunteer Corps honors Fr. Gerry Creedon

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Amid the wine glasses and bread baskets laid on white tablecloths sat multicolored bridges built with popsicle sticks and other craft materials. Schoolchildren from Holy Family School in Dale City, San Miguel School and Washington Jesuit Academy, both in Washington, made the centerpieces as a reminder of the bridge-building work the Ignatian Volunteer Corps accomplishes by connecting hundreds of retired volunteers with needy populations.

At the IVC’s Evening of Gratitude April 24 at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, the organization honored two men who reflect Ignatian values by their service to the poor: William Whitaker, founding president of the Washington Jesuit Academy, and Father Gerry Creedon, pastor of Holy Family Church in Dale City.

The IVC was founded in 1995 by two local Jesuit priests and today has 19 chapters nationwide. The organization places retired professionals, from their mid-50s to mid-80s, with local charities that want their assistance, from Catholic Climate Covenant to Catholic Charities. They also meet in a group and one-on-one with a spiritual director to pray and reflect on their experiences.

“It gave me a strong sense of purpose after retirement,” said Maryel Rodgers, a parishioner of Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington. Rodgers has volunteered with the IVC for years, and is about to launch an initiative called No One Dies Alone to accompany those in hospice.

Another Queen of Peace parishioner, Peggy O’Brien, volunteers with Catholic Charites Migration and Refugee Services. She likes the sense of community between all the volunteers, no matter where they’re placed. “You’re not just out there on your own, trying to figure out what to do,” she said.

At the Evening of Gratitude, a longtime friend and fellow Irishman, Vince Keane, introduced Father Creedon as a man who “puts his money where his mouth is in terms of the Gospel.” Father Creedon heads the diocesan Peace and Justice Commission, was the first pastor of the diocesan mission in Bánica, and in 1979 helped found Catholics for Housing.  His involvement with IVC is more recent.

A few years ago, Northern Virginia Regional Director Joanie Coolidge went to Holy Family to recruit volunteers. Father Creedon told her that the parish already had several parishioners volunteering in the community, but they could benefit from some spiritual encouragement. Now, more than 60 parishioners meet monthly for the IVC volunteer-led “Think God It’s Friday” where they hear from a speaker and discuss the spiritual aspects of social justice work.

Father Creedon is a diocesan priest who was not educated by the Jesuits, but he mistakenly has been called a Jesuit in the past, he said. “I’ve been called worse,” he joked.

In his acceptance speech, he spoke about the importance of taking the faith fostered within the walls of the church out into the world. “Our faith isn’t just something personal and private,” he said. “Our faith is public. Let our lives be bread broken for the life of the world.”

The second honoree, William Whitaker, worked at Gonzaga and was on his way to coaching Division 1 basketball when he felt called to be the founding president of Washington Jesuit Academy, an extended-day, extended-year middle school for low-income boys. Ninety-nine percent of its alumni graduate from high school and 75 percent continue on to college.

Whitaker encouraged the 200 people gathered to “grab someone young and tell them about your purpose. When I say young, I’m talking 40s,” he said. It’s what encouraged him to change his career and his life. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017