The origin of the 5-day Ignatian Retreat

This historical article explains how the original 30-day version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola were adapted into a 5-day version and promoted during the 20th century by Fr. Valet.

When the Jesuits were re-established in 1814 after a suppression of almost 100 years, Fr. Roothan, their first superior general, labored greatly to re-establish the Ignatian Retreat as the formative core and apostolic weapon of the Jesuits. Nevertheless, the Industrial Revolution presented a new slave master who demanded 12 to 18 hours of labor a day and in some cases, a 7-day work week. Preaching the retreats to the modern man was no easy task in such economic conditions.

Nevertheless in Northern Spain, the country of St. Ignatius, God raised up a chosen apostle to condense the 30-days of St. Ignatius into a 5-day format that modern men could realistically attend without losing the essential fruits of the 30-days.

Fr. Vallet

Francois de Paule Vallet was the third son of a family of ten. He had a good Catholic upbringing at home and completed his high school under the Jesuits. From age 17 till 24, he pursued University studies in Barcelona (from 1900-1907), where his vigor of character, qualities of leadership, and eloquence distinguished him. He directed several university newspapers, was elected secretary of an organization of engineers, and vice-president of an academy. He also undertook to debate anarchists who were trying to recruit students in Barcelona. Nevertheless, living energetically the novelty of University life, being deeply affected by bad examples in eminent professors, Providence permitted him to suffer a difficult interior trial of Faith.

In his trial he looked to God for the answer. Sensing that the world was pulling him down, he felt the need for prayer and separation from the world and so he went to Manresa and made a 30-day Ignatian Retreat under the Jesuit fathers. There, in solitary campaign, wrestling with the sound argument of Divine Truth proposed in spiritual exercises, he was completely and dramatically converted. In the very first days of the retreat, the essential answers to the primary questions of life flooded his soul with lights that would guide him for the rest of his life and would be the driving force behind his gigantic future apostolate. In that retreat, to use his own words:

I put myself to death, I was put to death… I no longer recognized myself!… I no longer recognized the world, I believed it had been completely transformed for me!… It was a miracle… Dead, I lived now more intensely than ever… I was free, master of myself… I lived the truth, hope, I lived in peace and I lived by love!

His entrance into the Jesuits followed this retreat. But he didn’t enter the Jesuits to follow a religious vocation as an untried young man. He entered tested by trial, converted by grace and pre-occupied with one great idea: to convert the world and turn it back to Christ by converting the adult man. The question and its resolution were clear: Convert the world by getting adult men to do the Exercises and do them well.

He threw his whole soul into the novitiate and sought ardently after perfection. The testimony of his saintly Novice Master amply proves the purity and goodness of his soul. But more striking than this is that the serious Jesuit fathers permitted the young Vallet to organize a campaign of retreats during his novitiate. Though he couldn’t preach, he was the driving organizing impetus behind a campaign of retreats that within a couple years drew over 1800 men.

Cooperators of Christ the King

Completing his novitiate in 1909, Fr. Vallet followed the classical Jesuit curriculum for eleven years. Two years after His priestly ordination in 1920, he was given his first assignment to preach retreats in Manresa. From this time on he would devote his energies to the realization of his divinely inspired plan: the conversion of the adult man through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. To meet this objective, Fr. Vallet, with the permission and approval of his beloved superiors, left the Jesuits to found the Parish Cooperators of Christ the King. Parish Cooperators devoted themselves entirely to the preaching of the Ignatian Retreat.

5-day retreats

A retreat campaign began by a series of preparatory conferences given in various places in the target regions. These conferences were directed by the Father but were complemented by the testimony of one or more Parish Cooperators. There then followed intense publicity which included the foot-work of Parish Cooperators going door to door, speaking in public places, taverns and barbershops, etc. After this preparatory work came the campaign of retreats itself. One retreat was preached and then followed by two or three others. The retreats always increased in numbers because the alumni of one retreat became the ardent promoters for the next.

The following figures will give an idea of the effectiveness of the first 5 years of Fr. Vallet’s campaigns in Spain:

Year # of campaigns # of retreats Retreatants Total of Retreatants
1923 3 19 1,293  
1924 5 27 1,400 2,697
1925 5 35 2,620 5,317
1926 5 35 3,223 8,540
1927 5 35 4,103 12,643