Catholic Herald staff
The season of Lent calls to mind Jacqueline Bergan’s many years of ministry in the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota.
Now a spiritual director residing in Amery, the 80-year-old retired nurse anesthetist spent nearly 40 years conducting mini-retreats – she calls them “days of prayer” – and writing books on Ignatian spirituality with her partner in ministry, Sr. Marie Schwan, CSJ.
The Diocese of Crookston is the largest and poorest in Minnesota, Bergan said, and the two women would pull out a map during Lent and Advent, travel to small towns across the 14-county region and offer prayer events at local parishes. During their most productive Lent, they made 65 stops.
What Bergan and Sr. Marie found among the people was a “real spiritual hunger” but little access to resources. Out of that ministry, demand grew for them to write books, spiritual guides to help the faithful build richer, deeper prayer lives. They answered the call.
“You can’t imagine how hard we worked, and Ignatius was right beside us all the time, as was Christ,” Bergan said. “The world needs Ignatian spirituality.”
Theirs was a partnership of heart and head, and they were perfectly matched for ministry, according to Bergan. They met when Bergan was taking potting classes at Sr. Marie’s convent.
“Marie had all the ecclesiastical education that I lacked, and I was a mother and a grandmother and a wife,” said Bergan, whose spirituality was influenced by both her mother’s Catholic family and her paternal grandparents’ Quaker-style faith.
A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sr. Marie died a few years ago, but her legacy lives on. During Sr. Marie’s lifetime, they published the five-book Take and Receive series, beginning with “Love: A Guide for Prayer” in the mid-1980s, plus a few others; the capstone of their efforts, “Loved and Loving: A Guide for Prayer,” has just been published.
Although “Loved and Loving” was self-published – the manuscript was in rough shape, because Sr. Marie typed it when she was dying, and Bergan also didn’t want to go on tour to promote the book as she’d have to with a traditional publisher – the others were published by Saint Mary’s Press, Winona, Minnesota, and they also worked with a second publisher before some of the books was reissued by Loyola Press. Several books were translated into foreign languages. All are available on Amazon.com.
They sold a combined 500,000 copies of the five volumes in the Take and Receive series, Bergan added.
“That’s incredible for a spiritual book,” she commented. “If you sell 10,000 spiritual books, you’re a bestseller.”
She credits St. Ignatius with their success.
“We’re not the genius,” she said. “He is. We just copied them, and wrote them in a way people can read them. We’re just the bridge between Ignatius and the people.”
Ignatian spirituality had long been intellectualized, Bergan said, reserved for religious orders and mostly beyond the reach of the average Christian. As a child, Bergan aspired to be a theologian, but her family’s poverty and her gender – initially, she wanted to be a priest – prevented her from pursuing that type of career. Instead, she attended nursing school, earned a bachelor’s degree, returned later in life to become a certified nurse anesthetist, and eventually sought training to serve as a spiritual director.
Taking their cue from the Vatican II call to bring the spiritual wealth of religious congregations back to the people, the two women designed their prayer guides to be used by either individuals or groups (they also published a leadership manual for each book) over the course of a series of weeks. Each study begins with a passage from Scripture, a commentary by the authors and a suggested approach to prayer.
“Loved and Loving” is the culmination of the women’s decades working together. Although the publishing was delayed by the deaths of both Sr. Marie and Bergan’s husband, Bergan plans to keep self-publishing them to meet demand.
Bergan’s other pursuit is her second career as a spiritual director. She meets with people, both online and via phone, and guides them toward spiritual wellness. She has clients from all over the nation, as well as several international ones. She’s also an active member of St. Joseph, Amery, where she is a lector, Eucharistic minister and altar girl.
“I used to want to be a priest,” she said with a laugh. “Well, I’m an altar girl.”
Editor’s note added June 12, 2018
Loved and Loving book purchase information
An article on the book “Loved and Loving: A Guide for Prayer” ran in the April 6 edition of the Superior Catholic Herald. Anyone interested in learning more or purchasing the book can visit www.lovedandloving.net or purchase the book, available at Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle format. The authors are Jaqueline Syrup Bergan and Marie Schwan, CSJ.