Joe Ricketts Discusses his Cloisters on the Platte Project
Joe Ricketts is perhaps best known in the Chicagoland area as a co-owner of the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Many know him as a successful leader and entrepreneur with decades of business experience. Perhaps fewer know the story of his relationship to silent retreats in the tradition of Saint Ignatius of Loyola or his philanthropic efforts to popularize them.
Lumen Christi opened its autumn quarter with a Cultural Forum event featuring Ricketts at a luncheon hosted at the Chicago Club on September 19. In his introductory remarks, LCI executive director Thomas Levergood specially thanked the Hon. J. Peter Ricketts— Governor of Nebraska and alumnus of the University of Chicago—for helping to arrange for his father, Joe, to speak. Peter Ricketts has served on the Institute’s Board of Directors since 2013.
In his talk, which he titled “Building an Ignatian Retreat,” Joe Ricketts related how his faith was renewed and his life transformed by attending a silent retreat in the Ignatian tradition, a practice of which he has made an annual habit since the late 1990s. He also discussed his project of building The Cloisters on the Platte, a 931-acre center for spiritual retreats near Omaha, Nebraska scheduled to open in summer 2018.
Ricketts explained to a packed room of 120 professionals and Lumen Christi affiliates that although he practiced his Catholic faith as an adult, he felt uninspired and incomplete for many years in so doing. That all changed when he attended a silent retreat at a center in Minnesota. In that experience of prayer, Ricketts found the spiritual elements of meditation and contemplation whose absence had been troubling his faith life. He began making annual retreats at that same center, and convinced several of his children to make them as well.
Reflecting on his experience at the retreats and the large number of Christians in the United States who would benefit from them much as he did, Ricketts decided to purchase nearly 1,000 acres of land in his home state’s Platte River Valley, a beautiful wooded plot southwest of Omaha. There he started to plan a retreat center that would service not only Catholics but all persons of faith interested in making retreats in the Ignatian tradition and growing closer to God through Christ.
“Here is a man who reached the pinnacle of business success and, through it all, remained true to his Catholic faith,” said one attendee, a young professional working downtown. “What an excellent example for me and other young Catholics of the transformative power of faithful witness to Christ.”
From architectural designs for the chapel to marketing strategies, Ricketts recounted various aspects of the center and unfolded his thinking concerning how it would take shape and operate. He also described his hand-selected team of consultants and project planners who assist him in his executive decision-making.
The highlight of Ricketts’ talk was a four-minute video documenting one of the several remarkable architectural and artistic dimensions of the retreat center: a Stations of the Cross display featuring seven-foot, realistic sculptures and accompanying audio reflections. Ricketts said that he had searched the country and globe for a Stations display that he could purchase for The Cloisters. Nothing was adequate to his vision. So, he assembled his own team of nationally renowned artists to undertake this project.
Watch the Stations of the Cross video here.
The members of this elite team who were interviewed for the video spoke movingly about how meaningful the project was to them. Several said that working on these Stations was their life’s masterpiece artistic endeavor. One sculptor likened the display’s scope and meaning to Michelangelo’s labor of love in the Sistine Chapel, saying that Ricketts’ project could be “one of the most profound representations of the Stations of the Cross in the world.” Ricketts himself teared up as he shared that other workers, artists, and planners involved in The Cloisters project had confided in him that they viewed their participation in its creation as their life’s purpose.
Tiffany Barron, a Lumen Christi graduate student associate studying international relations at the University of Chicago, sat at the head table with Ricketts during lunch. Calling him “warm and personable,” she noted that what struck her most about his remarks was “the impact that the Ignatian retreat center has already had on the artists, construction workers, and other collaborators involved in its creation.”
Kathryn Thompson, another LCI graduate student associate who studies at the Pritzker School of Medicine, agreed. “Perhaps the most delightful thing about Mr. Ricketts’ talk was the way in which such a drastic project impacted the diverse workers and teams in small and beautiful ways,” she reflected.
Although The Cloisters is not scheduled to open until late summer 2018, it already is brimming with group reservations. Ricketts said that the local Catholic ordinary, Archbishop George Lucas of the Archdiocese of Omaha, supports the project and is kept abreast of its progress.
Luke Waggoner, a young professional working downtown, was impressed that such a successful entrepreneur continued to prioritize his faith.
“It was uplifting to hear Mr. Ricketts’ story of how Ignatian retreats changed his life,” Waggoner said. “Here is a man who reached the pinnacle of business success and, through it all, remained true to his Catholic faith. What an excellent example for me and other young Catholics of the transformative power of faithful witness to Christ.”
Barron gleaned from Ricketts’ talk the helpful lesson that “skills developed in other sectors of life can be used for the good of the Church.” Thompson was moved to see that “such a large and seemingly dramatic project was creating space for simple and small encounters with Christ even in the process of its being built.”
Ricketts boasts a stellar entrepreneurial résumé. Upon graduating from Creighton University (a Jesuit institution) in 1968 with a degree in economics, Ricketts began his career as an investment advisor. Several successful professional stints later he co-founded First Omaha Securities, a retail securities brokerage firm in Omaha. That company grew quickly and in 1983 evolved into TD Ameritrade, which now manages over $600 billion in client assets.
In the past ten years Ricketts has stewarded his resources through a variety of philanthropic endeavors in addition to The Cloisters on the Platte, including the Opportunity Education Foundation, The Ricketts Art Foundation, The Ricketts Conservation Foundation, and Ending Spending, Inc.
He now lives in Little Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with his wife of more than fifty years, Marlene, whom he credits with helping to keep him strong in his Catholic faith. They have four children and thirteen grandchildren.
For more information on The Cloisters on the Platte, visit cloistersontheplatte.com.
For more information on Joe Ricketts, visit www.joericketts.com.