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History of the Prayer Centers
In the year 1972 Rev. James J. Wheeler, SJ and Sister Dymphna Murray RSM (Sister of Mercy) were in ministry at St. Joseph’s Church at Syosset and King’s Park in Long Island. This same year, Fr. Wheeler was residing at the Immaculate Conception Seminary. They recognized the need for inner healing ministry based on the four weeks of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. After this decision, Fr. Wheeler began to seek guidance for the formation of a program that would serve this need. Every Sunday he prayed for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The Lord began to reveal to Him the topics and related Scriptures of what became the School for Spiritual growth and inner healing.
These efforts resulted in 28 steps paralleling the exercises in four semesters. The first programs began in Long Island at St. Joseph’s Parish with the approval of the local pastor of the parish and with the permission of the Jesuit provincial, (Fordham University). This was the birth place of the “School for Spiritual Growth and inner healing” (SSG)[1] authored by Fr. Wheeler and Sister Dymphna. The program was copyrighted in 1981.
The first Prayer center was established in the Parish of St. Joseph in Long Island, New York. Six years later in 1978, Fr. Wheeler was invited to Albuquerque, New Mexico to give some talks and the first SSG (School for Spiritual Growth and Inner Healing) was initiated in New Mexico. Due to the growth in the numbers of participants, many programs were offered and the birth of “St. Joseph Prayer center” took place in Albuquerque.
Fr. Wheeler and Sr. Dymphna convinced of the need to continue the formation of those who completed the SSG program, then authored a second program that included elements of spiritual growth including discernment, interior prayer life founded on the Scriptures, effectively praying as prayer ministers, gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Ignatian spirituality of identifying with the life of Jesus and the accounts of those He ministered to.
The first School for Spiritual Direction (SSD)[2] was offered in “St. Joseph Prayer Center” in New York and introduced at the Albuquerque Prayer Center in 1983. (No longer active). The fruit of this first SSD in Albuquerque was the formation of two prayer centers: one in Austin, Texas named the “Mercy of God Prayer Center”, which had already started giving the SSG since May of 1981, and another in Las Cruces, New Mexico, “Our Lady of Guadalupe Prayer Center”.
Two more centers were formed in 1984, from the second SSD given in Albuquerque, the fifth and sixth prayer centers, one in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada (No longer active) and Mexico’s “Centro de Oración del Sagrado Corazón”.
1985 saw the beginning of “Abundant Life Prayer Center” in Chicago, Illinois. (No longer active).
In 1986, one member of Austin’s Mercy of God Prayer center attended the SSD and became co-director of Spanish speaking ministries. The Austin’s center expanded to San Antonio founding “Mantle of Mary Prayer center” (No longer active) which was formed in 1989 and “Our Lady of Guadalupe Divine Mercy Center” in Dec. 12, 2012 to fill a need in Austin due to the rising population of Spanish speaking people that arrived as immigrants from several countries including Mexico and south America.
Mexico’s Prayer center gave birth to several centers in the country including a second center in north Mexico City “Inmaculado Corazon de Maria” in 1993, (no longer active).
In Chihuahua, Mexico the “Centro de Oracion de San Jose” was formed in 1994. In Queretaro, Mexico the “Centro de Oracion del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus y de Maria” was born in 1994, the same year that “Centro de Oracion de Nuestra Sra. De la Luz”, was established in the State of Puebla, Mexico. Guadalajara, Jalisco began with “Centro de Oracion de la Misericordia de Jesus” in Sept of 1996. Along with these centers in Mexico, two international centers were formed: one in Barcelona, Spain “Centro de Oracion Nuestra Señora de Montserrat” in 1999, and from Chihuahua’s center, one in Costa Rica: “Centro de Oración San Juan Bautista” in the year 2009.
In the year 1997, Fr. James J. Wheeler, SJ took a pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal and there in prayer was inspired to have a meeting with Ginny Antaya director of the Austin’s center and Ma. Esther Barnetche Pous director of Mexico City prayer center. This was the year 1998. The purpose of the meeting was to prayerfully discern the future permanence of the Prayer Centers, which by this time numbered 11 centers. Addendum: attached the letter written by Fr. Wheeler to the above mentioned directors.
The result of this meeting was the early formation of the present day affiliation of all the centers establishing the “Society of Our Lady of Guadalupe”. In 2003 work was completed on the Constitutions of the Society after many years of prayer and was embraced by the directors of the centers. The Constitutions are representative of committed people consecrating themselves wholly to Jesus through His Mother in their service to God’s people.
The School for Spiritual Growth and Inner Healing was translated in New York into Braille. In present days SSG is being translated also to Korean and Vietnamese.
[1] SSG "School for Spiritual Growth and Inner Healing". In English Speaking communities and prayer centers may also be known as "Next Step Program". In Spanish speaking communities and Prayer centers known as "Programa de Wheeler 1" or "Programa de Crecimiento Espiritual y Sanación Interior".
[2] SSD (School for Spiritual Direction) to prepare inner healing prayer ministers. This program is known as "Wheeler 2" in Spanish speaking communities.