Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Retreat designed for those in the ‘corporate community’

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 23, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Max Oliva SJJesuit Father Max Oliva will lead a retreat on workplace spirituality at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center next month. (IR photo from IHRC)

Jesuit Father Max Oliva, currently of Calgary, Alberta, started out in life to be food broker in his family’s business.

As he tells it, he was sitting in his office one day and the thought came to him that he should be a priest. One month later, in October 1963, he entered the Jesuit novitiate and three years after that came to Mount St. Michael’s Institute in Spokane to study.

“I was shocked when the thought came that I should be a priest,” Father Oliva said. “I was single and living a full life, complete with sports car.” He may have thought his life “full,” but underneath, he sensed a lack of meaning.

Confirmation of his call to priesthood wasn’t long in coming. The 30-day retreat that prospective Jesuit candidates make in the first year made it clear: “I was to be a priest,” he said.

Now, 40 years later, he will return to Spokane to give a retreat at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center next month. The retreat will focus on spirituality in the workplace, a topic that has become something of a specialty for Father Oliva.

He developed the concept into a mission statement and from that can be seen Father Oliva’s focus: “To help men and women in the corporate community find deeper meaning in using their God-given talents in the work place; to realize that faith and the marketplace are interrelated and can be reintegrated; and to come to a greater appreciation of the intimate link between what is in a person’s heart and their ethical conduct.”

Father Oliva teaches his retreatants to use centering prayer during the retreat, and he hopes after the retreat ends, they will continue to use it. The retreat is beneficial; word of mouth brings new retreatants, with Father Oliva planning a new session soon. He finds that many retreatants stay in touch with him long after their retreat has ended.

Father Oliva has been a pastor, a missionary, a teacher, and now, as he describes himself, a “spiritual coach. We have coaches for everything else,” he said, “why not for spirituality?” He’s given numberless retreats, workshops, seminars, and conferences since 1980, when he began retreat work.

Father Oliva is also an author with four books to his credit. He said as he gets an idea, he reads up on it and then refines the idea by talking about it in his work. “Then it will go into a book,” he said. He is working on another book right now, on lay spirituality, and hopes to officially start writing it after the first of the year.

Another of his recent endeavors is called “A Commuter Retreat,” which he started in May 2002. Retreatants do not go to a retreat center; they arrange to meet with Father Oliva for one hour a day for six days. He asks them to clear their schedules as much as they can during that week, but they continue to go to work each day and to go home in the evenings.

Besides his time in his family’s business, he majored in marketing at the University of Santa Clara.

In 1971 he earned a master’s degree in business administration specializing in organizational behavior. The master’s degree in divinity came in 1972 from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He was ordained a priest that same year.

As a Jesuit in the California Province, Father Oliva is “on loan” to the Diocese of Calgary. “I’m the best Jesuit in southern Alberta,” he laughed, adding he is the only Jesuit in that territory. He is no stranger to Spokane; he calls Gonzaga University his “home away from home.”

The priest has seen God’s hand directing his life in many different ways in the past 40 years. “I’ll have an experience, perhaps spiritual or emotional, and afterward, I’ll get pointed toward something” related to the experience. “That’s been my pattern for years,” he said.

The pattern for Father Oliva’s weekend retreat will be a “combination of input from me and from them (the retreatants); we engage in an exchange. Plus there is quiet time for reflection.”

(Father Oliva will present a retreat titled “Spirituality at Work: The Trials and Triumphs of Living an Ethical Life” at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, 6910 S. Ben Burr Rd., Spokane, from Friday, Nov. 14, to Sunday, Nov. 16. Call IHRC for more information or to make reservations: (509) 448-1224.)

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