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Louise Chadez joins Jesuit volunteers for Camino Walk

Louise Chadez celebrated as she ended the walk at Manresa. Photo courtesy of Louise Chadez

By Emma Maple - Intern

In October 2022, Louise Chadez traveled across Spain with a group for the 500th anniversary of the St. Ignatius Walk, one of many Camino Walks in Europe.

Louise, who grew up Catholic on a dairy farm in southern Idaho, has lived in Spokane since 1981 and attends Salem Lutheran Church in West Central Spokane.

As a young adult, she earned a bachelor's degree from University of Idaho and then a master's degree in social work from the University of Washington.

After college, she took a gap year and served a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) East in 1975.

Louise worked in the public and nonprofit sectors through her career, serving many populations in substance use and mental health for 40 years, before retiring.

Although Louise only served in the JVC for a year, she stayed connected with the organization.

"If you join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, we say we are 'ruined for life,'" she said.

"The values I incorporated as a Jesuit volunteer—commitment to community, social justice, spirituality and a simple lifestyle—I have maintained throughout my life," she said.

After her year of service with JVC East, Louise married. She and her husband moved to Spokane where she immediately contacted some Jesuit volunteers and became close to them.  

Connections she maintained within the program led her to join the 2022 St. Ignatius Walk.

In 1995, the JVC East started the Ignatius Volunteers program for retirees who wanted to continue volunteering. In 2020, the Ignatius Volunteers decided to take part in a St. Ignatius walk for their 25th anniversary, but COVID postponed those plans.

In 2022, the group decided to try again, but this time, it was the St. Ignatius Walk's 500th anniversary. The 320-mile St. Ignatius Walk starts in Spain's Basque country and goes south to Manresa, a town near Barcelona. It traces the pilgrim route St. Ignatius of Loyola took in 1522, going through many of the same towns.

A nobleman who sustained a leg injury in a battle in Pompeo, Ignatius began to question his lifestyle and relationship with God before embarking on the first journey, Louise said. He stayed in Manresa for a year to meditate. In 1539, he founded the Society of Jesus or Jesuits.

The walk focused on setting a rhythm, taking time to meditate and practicing Ignatian spirituality. Louise describes Ignatian spirituality for her as first focusing on being present and providing service to God, and second focusing on living with and helping the poor. 

She decided to go on this trip because some close friends from the Ignatius Volunteer Corps invited her. Many are now retired.

For Louise, 68, the pilgrimage would be a great way to spend a month with them.

"My hope was to increase my connection with my Creator and develop a greater sense of spirituality," she said.

Twenty-five joined the 30-day walk. She was in a group of 15 who started at the beginning. Another 10 joined halfway.

While many knew each other from JVC, some had no connection with it. "It didn't matter if we knew each other beforehand. When we were walking with people every day, we got to know them," said Louise, who appreciated the community that formed.

Everyone walked at a different pace, so people walked with different people each day. They walked six to 18 miles a day. The group usually started walking at 7:30 or 8 a.m.

Midday, they ate sack lunches or stopped in a village to eat there. Father Jose Luis Iriberri, SJ, their priest and guide, "knew some good spots," she said.

When the group walked through towns, they often explored local churches with Fr. Jose. Louise said traveling with him often felt like being with a "VIP Catholic," because he had keys to many churches.

She appreciated exploring the churches and noticing how they differ from U.S. churches. Devotion to Mary is part of the Spanish Catholic experience. Often Mary is the centerpiece at the altar, rather than the dying Christ on the cross as in most U.S. Catholic churches.

For Louise, that was a hopeful, positive church experience.

Fr. Jose knew the history of Spain. He explained that the Spanish Civil War involved fighting between two of the largest groups in Spain. Many churches were bombed. In some, he showed them remnants of the war.

Louise appreciated exploring both the historical and religious aspects of Spain.

A highlight was staying at Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery founded in the 1400s. It is surrounded by mountains that look like people.

"It houses a famous Black Madonna in Europe," Louise said. "Our group had a private viewing of the Black Madonna. It was a powerful, holy experience."

After walking all day, the group often wouldn't arrive at their night location until 6 p.m. They would shower, then eat dinner, go to bed around 10 p.m. only to wake up and walk again.

"Each morning, we walked in silence for two hours after a reflective prayer led by Fr. Jose," she said. "I soaked in the countryside, churches and cultures along the way."

Louise found the schedule challenging and exhausting. The weather was sunny and the temperature 75 to 80 degrees for most of the trip, even though it was fall.

Halfway through the walk, she developed a 102-degree temperature and severe cough.

"God often has plans for me I do not anticipate. I like to do things my way, but God nudges me in different directions. I have to listen," said Louise, who stepped out of the walk to recover.

"Luckily, my daughter lives in Barcelona. She rescued me in LaGuardia and nursed me back to health," said Louise, who spent 10 days enjoying additional time with her in Barcelona.

"Being sick slowed me down," Louise said. "I think God wanted me to be with my daughter."

Once she was better, Louise returned to the walk, but not at full speed. She was not fully recovered, and the air quality was poor, so she struggled, but finished the trip with the group.

Louise found the trip physically harder than she anticipated. She trained beforehand, walking six to eight miles a day with a small pack. Most of her training was "walking" not "hiking," while the St. Ignatius Walk was more hiking than walking.

Louise said one lesson she learned on the trip was humility. Historically, she has always been one of the fastest walkers in a group.

"I was one of the last ones all the time," Louise said. "Stopping to take pictures meant I had to run to catch up.

"I approached the trip a little cocky, thinking that I'd be fine, because I walk all the time. I'd say, 'God, I think I've got it,' and then I didn't," she said.

Louise appreciated the routine of starting the morning with meditation and quiet. She's been trying to set aside at least 20 minutes of quiet in the morning rather than listening to the world's craziness on NPR news.

"Often when I do something like this, I return to normal," she said, "but this time, I continue to try to have silent meditation every morning and to put a better balance between the outside world and my inner self."

Louise believes if everyone gave themselves 20 minutes a day to meditate—with God, the creator, nature, whatever or whoever provides solace—then "we could quietly make positive changes in the world.

"So, here's to the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius' historic walk, which led to the founding of the Jesuits and has encouraged me to seek to work for the greater glory of God in whatever form that works for us," Louise said.

The blog Louise completed as she walked is

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May 2023