Archive for February, 2010

Celebrating Jesuit Spirituality Through Dance

Jesuit Fr. VanEecke (center) performs as St. Ignatius in a production of “For the Greater Glory of God” at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus in January. (Photo by Michael Dames)

Jesuit Fr. VanEecke (center) performs as St. Ignatius in a production of “For the Greater Glory of God” at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus in January. (Photo by Michael Dames)

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It’s usually not a good thing for a 62-year old dancer to experience Achilles issues. But Jesuit Father Robert VerEecke used it to his advantage as he performed as St. Ignatius in a production of “For the Greater Glory of God” at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus in January.

It’s a show, based on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, that Father VerEecke has choreographed for nearly 20 years and performed in a dozen or so Jesuit colleges. In what may be the final live production of the show, Father VerEecke as St. Ignatius spent much of it at a desk, narrating the action of dancers who performed to songs of praise, forgiveness, the Passion and resurrection, and the yearning for peace.

In the final segment, an exuberant Gloria, Father VerEecke as St. Ignatius rose and joined the dance, graceful yet struggling with some of the movements. His dance mimicked the historic Ignatius, whose famous conversion took place after a leg was pierced by a cannonball when he was a soldier in the service of the Spanish king.

The struggling movement is a metaphor, Father VerEecke said, of Ignatius reflecting, through the Spiritual Exercises, the “power of God and his own personal limitations as well.”

Father VerEecke, a native New Yorker and graduate of Regis High School, is a New England Province Jesuit and pastor of St. Ignatius Church near the campus of Boston College and temporary administrator of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Roxbury. He also finds time to be a part-time instructor of dance at Boston College, a long-term interest. As a boy growing up in Floral Park, Long Island, he always danced but figured when he entered the Jesuits in 1966 that those days were over.

Yet while serving as a theology professor he had opportunity to study classical ballet one summer at Santa Clara University. “For me it was an epiphany experience. It opened up the physical and spiritual,” he said.

The more he formally studied dance, he discovered its roots through the Jesuit schools that played a significant role in the development of classical dance in France and Germany.

“For the Greater Glory of God” has undergone many permutations through the years. The Fordham production featured two alumni of the Fordham/Alvin Ailey program. Dancers have changed, the music has evolved, but the theme remains the same: “To open people up to the overall dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises,” said Father VerEecke.

While Father VerEecke expects the Fordham production to be the final live presentation, he expects to continue to test his troublesome Achilles at least one more time. The show is expected to live on through a presentation that will be videotaped later this year.

Jesuits to Link Chinese and American Scholars

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The California Province of  the Society of Jesus is striving to firm up friendship between Chinese and American scholars as a way to mark the 400th anniversary of Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci’s death in Beijing in 1610.

Father Ricci’s first publication in classical Chinese was a treatise On Friendship in 1595. His methodology was to inculturate Christianity through respect for local culture and the formation of personal relationships.

The California Province is reviewing the Malatesta Program this week with a hope to continue such person-to-person exchange. The program’s objective is to promote academic collaboration in the area of theology and allied disciplines through exchanges between faculty and graduate students at three California Jesuit universities and those at selected Chinese universities.

It seeks in particular to support the development of religious studies programs in China and to enhance the state of theological investigation there and at the California Jesuit universities.

The idea began in the 2006-07 academic year after two faculty members from the Jesuit School of Theology were invited to lecture in China, where they met faculty from some prestigious mainland universities who expressed enthusiasm for academic exchanges.

The program was named after Jesuit Father Edward Malatesta, a biblical scholar who died in Hong Kong in 1998. He was one of the first priests from outside China to teach at Sheshan Seminary in Shanghai in 1989 and had contributed 20,000 books to the seminary’s library.

The California province’s involvement in China began in 1928 when Pope Pius XI requested the Jesuit society to provide men for the China mission.

The Malatesta Program is administered by a committee that includes two faculty members each from the Loyola Marymount University, Santa Clara University and the University of San Francisco (USF). Its office is located at the USF’s Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History, co-founded by Father Malatesta and the California province in 1984.

Jesuit Brother Jim Boynton's Reflections from Haiti

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Jesuit Brother Jim Boynton has been on the ground in Haiti from the moment the earthquake hit in January. Br. Boynton teamed up with an group of former Marines who had honed their medical and emergency skills while deployed to Iraq and Afganistan and helped them as they provided assistance to the critical injured and wounded in Port-Au-Prince. During this time, Br. Boynton provided his own insights and reflections via the emergency team’s blog. The Chicago and Detroit Provinces have collected all of Br. Boyton’s blog posts and compiled them into one location on their website, which also includes information on how to help with the Haitian relief and rebuilding efforts.

Here is a recent blog post from Br. Boynton:

There are now over 40 camps of refugees in Port-au-Prince with population estimates ranging from 240,000 to 600,000. Each of these camps is filled with children who have been away from school for about a month, and who wander aimlessly with little to keep them occupied. Last week some of us were talking about the possibility of setting up refugee schools for these kids, and two days later the Jesuit Province was behind the idea. Foi et Joie (Faith and Joy), the school system I work for, will be setting up camp schools in three of the largest areas of displaced people in the city. Our estimates are that we will be educating around 7,000 students, something that even raised the eyebrows of our friends over at UNICEF.

As you can imagine, the planning going into this is enormous, and includes recruiting teachers; requesting funding; meeting with other NGO’s; securing tents, classroom materials, and everything else that any school would have. At times it seems overwhelming, but I do have confidence in our team and the products of the Fe y Alegria educational system around the world. One walk through the camps lets me see firsthand the tremendous need in the educational area, and rekindles the hope that some of these emergency schools might grow into something permanent.

Jesuit Brother Jim Boynton’s Reflections from Haiti

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Br Jim BoytonShare/Bookmark

Jesuit Brother Jim Boynton has been on the ground in Haiti from the moment the earthquake hit in January. Br. Boynton teamed up with an group of former Marines who had honed their medical and emergency skills while deployed to Iraq and Afganistan and helped them as they provided assistance to the critical injured and wounded in Port-Au-Prince. During this time, Br. Boynton provided his own insights and reflections via the emergency team’s blog. The Chicago and Detroit Provinces have collected all of Br. Boyton’s blog posts and compiled them into one location on their website, which also includes information on how to help with the Haitian relief and rebuilding efforts.

Here is a recent blog post from Br. Boynton:

There are now over 40 camps of refugees in Port-au-Prince with population estimates ranging from 240,000 to 600,000. Each of these camps is filled with children who have been away from school for about a month, and who wander aimlessly with little to keep them occupied. Last week some of us were talking about the possibility of setting up refugee schools for these kids, and two days later the Jesuit Province was behind the idea. Foi et Joie (Faith and Joy), the school system I work for, will be setting up camp schools in three of the largest areas of displaced people in the city. Our estimates are that we will be educating around 7,000 students, something that even raised the eyebrows of our friends over at UNICEF.

As you can imagine, the planning going into this is enormous, and includes recruiting teachers; requesting funding; meeting with other NGO’s; securing tents, classroom materials, and everything else that any school would have. At times it seems overwhelming, but I do have confidence in our team and the products of the Fe y Alegria educational system around the world. One walk through the camps lets me see firsthand the tremendous need in the educational area, and rekindles the hope that some of these emergency schools might grow into something permanent.

Jesuit Working in Russia with Humility and Hopefulness

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As a young Jesuit from Arizona, Father Anthony Corcoran, SJ went as missionary to Siberia after the fall of the communism. He served in the parishes in and around Novosibirsk and in the formation of young priests. Recently, Fr. Corcoran was appointed as regional superior for the Jesuits in Russia, Siberia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Fr. Corcoran spoke of his support of the Jesuit and collaborators in the region and also of  the development of the Saint Thomas Philosophical Institute in Moscow and a new Spiritual Center in Novosibirsk in a “Jesuit Voices” podcast from the Jesuit headquarters in Rome. Click here to listen.