Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson, like St. Ignatius of Loyola, hit a low point in his life before being converted and developing a program to help people find wholeness. Spiritual director Debra Kastner discussed how people suffering from alcoholism and other addictions and behavioral problems can be helped by the spiritual exercises written by St. Ignatius and the 12 Steps of AA during a workshop May 5 at the St. Joseph Spirituality Center.

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Spiritual director Debra Kastner, right, speaks with, from left, Raymond Schexnayder, Ronald and Barbara Fuselier and Esther Schexnayder during a program on the 12 Steps and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentato


Kastner discussed how St. Ignatius, who was born in northern Spain, lived extravagantly and had visions of glory for himself before he was wounded while defending Pamplona during a French invasion in 1521. During his recovery, the only thing St. Ignatius had to read were books about the lives of the saints, which lead to his conversion. After his recovery, he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and on the way he paused at Manresa, where he wrote spiritual notes, which were the basis for the book, “The Spiritual Exercises.”

In looking at Wilson’s conversion experience, he was suffering from alcoholism brought on by severe depression. Wilson met up with an old drinking buddy who had become sober after he had “gotten religion” while being treated for alcoholism at the Rescue Mission in Syracuse. Wilson went to the Rescue Mission himself and experienced his own conversion. He then wrote the 12 Steps.

Some time later, Father Ed Dowling SJ visited Wilson, who said he had not heard of St. Ignatius, and told Wilson how much the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the 12 Steps had in common. Father Dowling became Wilson’s spiritual advisor and good friend.

Ignatian Spirituality and 12 Steps both call for an examination of conscience. Those participating in the spiritual exercises are urged to consider their sins and their effects, to practice self-denial in order to be released from those sins, and to choose rationally. Likewise, 12 Steps calls people to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of themselves. The 12 Steps participants admit to God, themselves and to another human being the exact nature of their wrong doings and express their readiness to have God remove those defects of character.

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the 12 Steps there are also elements of the paschal mystery – suffering and death followed by resurrection, or new life, stated Kastner.

According to Kastner, the Ignatian practice of meditating and reading Scripture, such as passages on the prodigal son and Jesus curing the leper, and putting oneself in the place of the characters in those stories is a good way for people to visualize God’s grace, healing and love for them.

Kastner encouraged people recovering from addictions to seek spiritual guidance and attend silent retreats. Loved ones and friends of alcoholics or those with other addictions are also encouraged to attend Al-Anon meetings.

“Nancy” of the Calix Society told attendees that Calix uses Ignatian Spirituality to help Catholics who are maintaining their sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous to focus on their spiritual growth through Scripture, the sacraments, prayers, devotions and the spirituality of the Catholic Church. Calix meets the second Saturday of each month at St. Thomas More Church in Baton Rouge. Meetings begin with Mass at 8:45 a.m., benediction and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Afterward members gather in the St. Thomas More Parish Hall for prayer, conversation, reflection on a reading and study of Calix literature. The meeting ends at 11 a.m. The group is reading the book, “A 12-Step Approach to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius,” by Jim Harbraugh SJ. Information about the organization can be found at