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.

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