Syracuse man starts local Jesuit volunteer branch

Story by Luke Eggleston  /Sun Staff Writer
Photo by Paul Finch
/ Staff Photographer

Many individuals who have passed through the buildings on the Le Moyne College campus have wished to live the example inspired by the Jesuit order.

Until now, Central New York residents could only implement the Jesuit practice of “contemplation in action” by either joining the order itself or by joining the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, an organization for recent graduates.

Since graduating from Le Moyne, Tom Coman has always wanted to integrate Jesuit practice and Ignatian spirituality into his adult life.

To that end, Coman is hoping to revive the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC). In contrast to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which typically consists of recent college graduates, Ignatian Volunteers’ membership is primarily retired individuals.

“This is the same kind of thing, under Jesuit sponsorship, at the other end of the life [cycle],” Father Dan Mulhauser, SJ, said. “Some people will want to be informal and just volunteer. But there will be a group of people who will like the linkage between their own personal spiritual life and this activity and have it in a more organized fashion. It’s more disciplined. It’s capable of being more present in a person’s life than just volunteering.”

The IVC operates in conjunction with the Jesuits and Coman’s primary liaisons with the order have been Father Mulhauser, Father Bill Bosch, SJ and Father Bill Dolan, SJ.

Father Mulhauser explained that the IVC is in the Jesuit tradition of action informed by faith.  He said that individuals who are interested in volunteer work that integrates spirituality may find IVC particularly appealing.

“They’d be good people to recruit because, in the Jesuit way of looking at things, the spiritual life is meant to generate activity,” he said. “We’re not contemplatives period; we’re contemplatives in action. So this fits very well with Ignatian spirituality. It fits with other forms of spirituality too.”

Coman began working with Father Mulhauser after the two met through Le Moyne’s alumni association.

An IVC branch with members in Syracuse, Rochester and Elmira had been formed in 1999. Shortly after, however, the national organization decided that it could not maintain full-time professional directors in areas with small populations. Currently, there are branches in 14 metropolitan areas with populations of two million or more people.

Since he retired from his home business as a salesman, Coman has been interested in volunteer service. After the local IVC disbanded, he volunteered with the Le Moyne-backed local organization On Point for College. A little under three years ago, he began inquiring among friends and associates to see if there would be interest in IVC. Then he developed a proposal for the national organization, which he hoped would convince the board to allow a branch in Syracuse.

Coman observed that Syracuse has much of the infrastructure an IVC branch would require.
“I just felt like it’s too bad that they’re concentrating on big cities when they’ve got places like Syracuse here that are built up with Jesuits and Catholic Charities and everything — all the other factors except for the size,” said Coman, a Syracuse native who graduated from St. Vincent de Paul High School before moving on to Le Moyne.

In December 2008, after two years of discussion, the board decided to give Coman a chance to start a local branch, but with him as a volunteer director rather than a professional one.

Father Mulhauser explained that the Syracuse branch is intended to be a pilot or a model for other branches in small cities.

According to Coman, the board has established a plan and a set of goals. The first goal for Coman is recruitment. The board has directed him to have four volunteers in place this year and seven at the end of 2010.
Coman said he intends to cast a wide net to meet the commitment IVC is requesting of its volunteers.
In addition, Coman has been meeting with representatives not only from the Jesuit community but also from Catholic Charities, including Director Cindy Falise and Catholic Charities of Onondaga County Director Mike Melara.

Catholic Charities already utilizes volunteers from both the Jesuit Volunteers Corps and Francis Corps. Melara noted that the agency is looking forward to the additional support IVC could provide. “We talked about how we might be able to use the IVC here at Catholic Charities,” said Melara, a Le Moyne graduate. “First, we’re very excited about this possibility. Second, we wanted to nail down how the volunteers would help us.”

According to Melara, the agency would examine what it needs and pass that information along to Coman. In turn, Coman will look at the volunteers he hopes will be available and provide help accordingly.

Melara noted that the support provided by volunteer groups is a staple of the services they provide.
“We’ve really come to rely on this volunteer group,” he said. “We have volunteers who are committed and devoted to the idea of serving the community.”

The minimum requirement for Ignatian volunteers is that they are at least 50 years old. Coman noted that the most likely candidate will be retired or on the verge of retirement.

Each volunteer commits 20 hours per week to the organization. Coman estimated that volunteers will spend approximately 15 hours of that time in service. The remainder will consist of meeting with a Jesuit “reflector,” which is similar to a spiritual director, and meetings with the other volunteers.

In addition to spiritual guidance, the Jesuits provide hospitality in the form of an office for the volunteer director. Coman’s office is located in the Loyola Jesuit Residence on the Le Moyne College campus.

Coman is aware that many retirees could be daunted by the time commitment. “It’s just a matter of putting it on your schedule,” he said. “Everyone that’s retired has the time. I’ve found that there are no other requirements other than wanting to do it.”

For more information on IVC, call Coman at (315) 445-4610 or (315) 475-1774. Father Mulhauser can be reached at (315) 445-4617.

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