Cor Unum

I'm at my old "stomping grounds," the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, located on Lake Demontreville and often referred to by that name. I gave my first retreat here in 1986 and was part of the staff from 2000-2003. Sixty-nine men from around the Twin Cities and as far away as Kansas and California are on retreat with me.

I've given several retreats this summer but have not been able to write about them because I didn't have the necessary computer access. Last week I was at Conception Abbey in the northwest corner of Missouri where I gave a retreat to members of Cor Unum. Though founded in France in 1790, the groups that comprise "Cor Unum" (One Heart), are secular institutes, a relatively new phenomenon in the Church. After Opus Dei, they were the second such canonically recognized group.

The year of their foundation was a difficult time for the Church in France. It was a time of revolution and suppression. The Society of Jesus or Jesuits had already been suppressed but one of their members, Fr. Joseph de Cloriviere, continued to function as a priest and imagined a new form of consecrated life. In a letter dated 1810, he wrote: "I conceived it would be the setting up of a sort of universal Religious Society that would be open to any kind of people, or any age, country or condition, being capable of the evangelical perfection. They would not separate their members from the ordinary faithful people...." This "Society" had shaky beginnings and was re-founded in 1918 by Fr. Daniel Fontaine, another French priest.

Today this group can be found around the world and calls itself "Cor Unum" or "The Family of the Heart of Jesus." A brochure describes them as follows: "The Family of the Heart of Jesus is comprised of three secular institutes (one for clerics, one for celibate laymen, and one for celibate laywomen) and an association of the faithful for married persons and others who wish to belong to the Family without taking vows. The secular institutes are a special structure within the Roman Catholic Church, a form of 'consecrated life,' designed to enable single lay people and diocesan priests to live and work in the secular world while consecrating themselves more fully to the Lord. However, members to do not live in communities (necessarily), and do not wear anything distinctive." The group shares a common spirituality of devotion to the Sacred Heart and of St. Ignatius Loyola. Before its members pronounce their permanent vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they make the full thirty day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

On the retreat I gave there were diocesan priests, single lay men and women, and a married couple who had come together from both coasts and places in between. At the end of the retreat, two women pronounced their permanent vows in the Institute of the Heart of Jesus. As always, giving a retreat like this was a blessing for me and another opportunity to learn more about the wonderfully diverse Catholic Church.