Archive for 2011

Face to Face with a Martyr: The Humor and Humanity of Blessed Miguel Pro

“A joyful heart is a good medicine,” reads Proverbs, and Blessed Miguel Pro would know. For years, the Jesuit martyr grappled with debilitating stomach problems that not even a series of surgeries could remedy. And during his convalescence in December 1925, he celebrated Christmas with Jesuit Father John J. Druhan, then a New Orleans Province scholastic, in a Belgian hospital. Pro was just 34 years old at the time, Druhan 32.

The two Jesuits, having met the previous year in the Belgian house of studies, had an easy rapport, and Fr. Druhan wrote that “…Pro’s quips and pranks and infectious good humor spoke all languages with equal fluency.” Pro spoke American slang in his Mexican accent, Druhan said, and he liked to sing popular songs, particularly “random bars of a song which was quite popular during the war and in which a doughboy pledged a tryst with a certain Katherine while the moon was shining over the cowshed.”

Though their Christmas celebration was hampered by illness, Druhan and the newly ordained young Jesuit entertained themselves with a camera; Druhan captured a pensive Pro reading a commentary on Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. “The exposure was so long that the subject confessed he nearly ruptured his inner sutures,” Druhan wrote, “A month later the developed picture and print proved that the foolhardy virtue of amateur photographers sometimes brings its own reward.”

The invaluable discoveries of this rare photograph of Pro and Druhan’s account of their time together are credited to Joan Gaulene, volunteer for the New Orleans Province Archive at Loyola University New Orleans.

“I picked up a negative in Druhan’s box and put it aside thinking it was him, but the last item in his box was this writing about his time with Miguel Pro,” she recounts. Druhan’s reflection, Side Lights on Father Miguel Pro, S.J., is five pages in length, typed with proof marks and signed by its author. It reveals their storytelling and the “tricks and jokes” by which Pro entertained and eventually convinced the sisters of the hospital that he was “well enough to resume the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice.”

Realizing the subject of the negative was Blessed Miguel Pro, Gaulene contacted the province archivist, Jesuit Father William Huete, who says of these newfound treasures, “Druhan’s account shows us Pro was a modern person. He was disarming.” It was because of this, Gaulene adds, that “he was able to pull off all sorts of things.”

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Dutch Jesuits Reflect on War-Time Service to Beirut Catholics

They regularly had to dodge the bullets during Lebanon’s civil war. But, while many people were fleeing the country, four Dutch Jesuits stayed to carry on with their work. During a recent ordination Jubilee celebration, they took a break from the festivities to take a look back at their wartime service.

The four tenacious Dutch clerics were celebrating their 50th anniversaries as Roman Catholic priests and their 60th anniversaries as members of the Jesuit order. Their time in Lebanon has meant that Jesuit Fathers Theo Vlugt, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, Paul Brouwers and Michael Brenninkmeijer have become devoted to the country.

“If you make yourself at home somewhere, it becomes your home. It’d take us a long time to get used to the Netherlands again,” Fr. Brouwers explains. He, like his colleagues, is in his eighties. For years, he headed a successful Beirut publisher.

Fr. Theo Vlugt, who was born and bred in Amsterdam, sometimes had to eat tinned brown beans for weeks on end during the long and bloody civil war (1975–1990). “I occasionally think back and ask myself: did it really happen?” He was often seen by Dutch people as the face of Lebanon during the civil war.

For instance during the ‘One million for a shoe’ appeal in 1989, which raised three million Dutch guilders to buy shoes for Lebanese children. The campaign was inspired by Vlugt who headed a primary school in a poor district of Beirut. “They sometimes came to school with plastic bags tied round their feet,” he explains.

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Jesuit at Vanderbilt Finds his Niche on the Frontiers

Last year, Jesuit Father Bruce Morrill, was enjoying a comfortable post teaching and writing at Boston College, a Jesuit-run institution in a heavily Catholic city. But last spring, on his annual eight-day silent retreat, he began thinking about how he might better fulfill the Jesuit mission of “going out to the frontiers.”

The frontier, in this case, is a secular university in an overwhelmingly Protestant city. Fr. Morrill, the recently appointed Edward A. Malloy Chair of Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, has only been in town a few months, but is already finding his presence is much needed at the school and in the community.

The only Jesuit priest currently serving in the Diocese of Nashville, Morrill has begun serving as the de facto spiritual advisor for the group of seven Jesuit Volunteer Corps members in Nashville. These recent college graduates who live in community and work at social justice organizations around town rely on Father Morrill’s support.

“It seems to be a really good fit,” Father Morrill said of his newly adopted city. “The people are fantastic, at Vandy and in the wider community,” he said.

In his first semester teaching at Vanderbilt, Morrill is teaching two master’s level courses and one doctoral seminar. His current courses are “Suffering, Politics and Liberation,” which is a survey of European, North and South American theologies; and “Aquinas, Rahner, and Metz,” a doctoral seminar on “one trajectory of 20th century Roman Catholic theology,” he explained.

A widely published theological scholar, Morrill focuses his research and writing on liturgy and the sacraments, with a particular interest in ritual, cultural anthropology, political theology, and investigating the problems of suffering in social contexts.

Next semester he’ll teach the second-half of a year-long required course in constructive theology for the Master of Divinity students, and then an advanced seminar in liturgical theology.

As Morrill’s seen so far, his presence is definitely a welcome addition to the “frontiers” of the Catholic Church in Nashville. The Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, were founded more than 450 years ago “to be available for missions and do things that nobody else can do,” Father Morrill said. “We were founded from the start to be men who are mobile and can work alone.”


Pope Benedict Appoints Jesuit a Bishop of Bogota, Columbia

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI announced the appointment Jesuit Father Juan Vicente Cordoba as the new bishop of the Fontibon district in Bogota, Columbia.

Born in Quito, Ecuador in 1951, Fr. Cordoba went on to study philisophy, technology and history at Bogota’s Pontificia Javeriana University, before specializing in clinical psychology at Rome’s Pontificia Gregoriana University.

Cordoba has held numerous academic positions, including rector of San Pedro Claver College in Bucaramanga, and dean of the faculty of medicine at Bogota’s Pontificia Javeriana University.

Cordoba remains secretary general of the Colombian Episcopal Conference as he replaces Enrique Sarmiento as bishop, who the Vatican confirmed handed in his resignation on the grounds of age.

Looking Back: Celebrating 50 years as a Jesuit in the Seattle Times

Fifty years ago,  in 1961,  Jesuit Father Patrick Howell entered the Society of Jesus at Sheridan, Ore, the novitiate for Jesuits in the Northwest.Today, Fr. Howell is the rector (religious superior) of the Jesuit Community at Seattle University and professor of pastoral theology. In this piece for the Seattle Times, Fr. Howell looks back upon his time as a Jesuit and his own travails. 

A recent graduate of Gonzaga University, I was only 21, but my peers, most of whom had entered directly from a Jesuit high school, such as Seattle Prep or Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, considered me one of the “old men.”

The years pass swiftly, but they have been full of grace and certainly much more joy than sorrow.

I was blessed with first-class opportunities for advanced education. After initial studies in spirituality, prayer, Jesuit tradition and a dose of Latin and Greek, I studied philosophy and English literature at Boston College.

Then came three years of high-school teaching at Jesuit High in Portland. I survived the trials and testing by high-school boys and grew to love the personal interaction and challenge of teaching English, creative writing and poetry and advising the high school newspaper.

This “formation” period of teaching in high school probably accounts for why most Jesuits are such good teachers and homilists. Survival demands that you develop rhetorical skills and a flair for the dramatic — even though it’s not native to your personality — in order to grab the attention of 28 sophomore boys for 50 minutes each day…

But another significant portion of my life has been spiritual care of those who have suffered severe mental illness.

All this arose as a surprise, when I suffered a psychotic breakdown myself at age 35 and then recovered through excellent psychiatric care and the good graces and support of family and friends…

This “grace” led to an amazingly rich ministry with people with mental illness and their families.

Years ago, Jesuit Father Michael Buckley, in an address to Jesuit seminarians asked, “Is this man sufficiently weak to be a priest?”…

Why weakness? Because, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is in this deficiency, in this interior lack, in this weakness, that the efficacy of the ministry and priesthood of Christ lies. “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)

I think, after 50 years, I can rejoice in being “weak enough” to allow the grace of Christ to shine through and carry the load.

More of Howell’s life as a Jesuit can be found in this piece in the Seattle Times.