Archive for February, 2012

Deployment of a Lifetime: A Different Kind of Service

God’s invitation to the priesthood or religious life reaches us through parents and family, teachers and friends, and through the many events and experiences that each of us encounters in life. This includes military service. St. Ignatius Loyola was a soldier wounded in action. As he read the lives of the saints while he recovered, God invited him to reconsider his goals in life.

Here are the stories of three men who entered the Society of Jesus after serving in the military.

Missioned in a New Way
By Thomas Simisky, SJ

“How could you go from being a Marine to a Jesuit?” This is the question I am always asked when people hear a little about my past. I asked myself, and God, the very same question many times throughout my discernment.

Having been a Marine artillery officer for four years after graduating from Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts, with a political science degree, I had already received a strong formation that shaped my character in many lasting ways. And in spite of growing up active in our local parish and attending St. John’s High School, I had slipped away from regular Mass attendance. All of this led me to wonder if I was worthy, or even capable, of a priestly vocation.

I was finally able to listen to Christ’s call when I was a graduate student at Boston College. While on a five-day Ignatian retreat, I reflected back on when God was most present in my life and when I felt most alive and fulfilled. Strangely, I thought of my deployment to the Persian Gulf in 1995.

I realized that I enjoyed working with and teaching the young Marines in my unit, many of whom came from difficult family backgrounds. I also felt inspired by the sense of being sent on mission, doing something greater than myself in which it was understood that we had to sacrifice our individualism for the greater good. And I enjoyed living in community (as shipboard and barracks life really is). All of this allowed me to see that my missionary vocation as a Jesuit was actually always present.

Many close friends were surprised (though always supportive) when I told them I was entering the Society of Jesus. Over time, the response inevitably becomes, “It makes total sense.”

Vowed life permits me to be missioned in new ways. My eight years in the Society have been filled with many travels and assignments. But fundamentally it continues allowing me to grow in faith, increasingly free to follow Christ with greater courage. SEMPER FIDELIS!

Thomas Simisky, SJ, is a first year theology student at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

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A String of Happy Accidents: My Vocation as a Jesuit Brother

Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno is the curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo, the Papal summer residence.  His research explores the connections between meteorites and asteroids, and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system. Prior the joining the Jesuits, he obtained his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Earth and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a PhD in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona.

After speaking at the Jesuit Brothers Institute on Jesuits in the Sciences, Br. Consolmagno took some time out to sit down with National Jesuit News and share the story of his vocation:

Loyola University New Orleans President Receives MLK Jr. Jazz Award

Loyola University New Orleans President Jesuit Father Kevin Wildes and six members of the New Orleans community were recently recognized as exemplifying the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his vision, receiving the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Jazz Award.

In addition to Wildes, Sunday’s ceremony recognized Marlin Gusman, Orleans Parish sheriff; Wm. Raymond Manning, president and CEO of Manning Architects; Bill Summers, master percussionist; Jim Singleton, chairman of the Dryades YMCA; Dwight Payne, director of VIP Services for the House of Blues; and Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Jazz Award honors individuals who have contributed to enriching their community, advancing cultural awareness through music and art, and furthering economic opportunity while adhering to the principles of non-violence.

Fr. Wildes, was appointed in July to the New Orleans Civil Service Commission. This appointment continues Fr. Wildes’ long-time record of service for the city. Following Hurricane Katrina, he played a key role in establishing the city’s Ethics Review Board and in setting up an independent Office of the Inspector General. Wildes currently sits on the Public Belt Railroad Commission.

“While I believe public service is always important, the challenges for post-Katrina New Orleans make public service even more vital today,” said Wildes. “New Orleans citizens are demanding, and rightly so, to live within a city government that functions transparently, efficiently and justly. I am honored to be able to assist in this effort.”

Congressional Chaplains Try to Instill Civility in a Quarrelsome Flock

The New York Times recently featured the work of the two men in the unique position of Congressional Chaplain, and how, among many things, they are working to foster civility between the parties. Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy, who was sworn in the post this past fall, says he looks to the Society’s founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, for guidance in his job, who taught the importance of recognizing “godliness in the other.”

Jesuit Father Patrick J. Conroy invited all the members of the House of Representatives and their families to the holiday reception he was hosting last month as the chamber’s chaplain. He put out hot cider, cookies and a not-quite-functional chocolate fountain, and for the benefit of the children he picked up his folk guitar to perform “The House at Pooh Corner.”

Amid the well-organized cheer, though, Fr. Conroy noticed one subtly disquieting scene. It was apparent that two of his guests, representatives from opposite sides of the partisan aisle, and both sent to Washington to do the nation’s business, had never even spoken directly to each other before.

Nearly five months before that Christmas party, the chaplain of the Senate, the Rev. Dr. Barry C. Black, offered the opening prayer for a rare Sunday session. The Senate was deadlocked along partisan lines on a measure to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. The imminent prospect of a default on government bonds or a downgrade of the federal credit rating had not been enough to overcome the fierce dispute between Democrats and Republicans.

“Save us, O God,” Dr. Black pleaded in his prayer, “for the waters are coming in upon us. We are weak from the struggle. Tempted to throw in the towel. But quitting is not an option.”

In these two episodes, one private and the other very public, one can grasp the unusual and supple roles being played by the House and Senate chaplains. At a time when Congress is stunningly unpopular, with approval ratings in various recent polls around 12 percent, Father Conroy and Dr. Black serve as pastors to what must be one of the most reviled congregations in the country.

That harsh reality puts these clergymen in the position of trying to nurture civility within this fractious flock and trying to explain to a skeptical public that all is not as dire and broken as much of the citizenry plainly believes. They encounter senators and representatives not through speeches and sound bites but as participants in prayer breakfasts and Bible studies, or in casual moments in the Capitol’s cloakroom or restaurant or gym.

Very different paths brought the ministers to their respective roles. Dr. Black, 63, a Seventh-day Adventist, spent 27 years as a Navy chaplain, rising to the rank of rear admiral, before being appointed to the Senate position in 2003. He is the first African-American to be a Congressional chaplain. Father Conroy, 61, a Roman Catholic from the Jesuit order, had devoted much of his career to college chaplaincy and social-justice work. Named to his House post last May, he is even newer to the job than the chamber’s 87 first-term members.

“I’m dealing with a Crock-Pot,” Dr. Black put it, referring to the Senate’s reputation for deliberation. “He’s got a microwave.”

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Jesuit Doctoral Students Plan Work Back Home in Africa

Jesuit Father Jean-Baptiste Mazarati spoke to students, faculty and staff about the Jesuit ministry in Africa and his plans to return to the continent after receiving a doctoral degree from Georgetown. // Photo: Georgetown University

Two African Jesuits completing their doctorates in health care at Georgetown spoke to students, faculty and staff last week about their plans to return to the country to help their communities.

The talk, “Jesuits in Africa: The Hope of International Development” was part of Jesuit Heritage Week, which began on Jan. 29 and ran through Feb. 4.

“Jesuits are working in 28 out of 54 African countries today,” noted Jesuit Father Rodrigue Takoudjou.“We African Jesuits clearly perceive health care and education as priorities in our ministries.”

Fr. Takoudjuou, of Cameroon, is getting his Ph.D. in pharmacology, plans to teach at a Jesuit medical school in Chad.

One of the main health care issues that Jesuits are helping combat in Africa is HIV/AIDS, mostly through organizations such as The African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN).

“AJAN’s mission is to stimulate and coordinate the work of African Jesuits in responding to HIV and AIDS in an effective, coordinated and evangelical manner, culturally sensitive and spiritually grounded,” he explained. “The African Jesuits are involved in more than 100 HIV/AIDS initiatives throughout the continent.”

Fellow panelist Jesuit Father Jean-Baptiste Mazarati, of Rwanda, will teach at the state medical school in his country when he graduates with a doctorate in tumor biology in 2012.

“Africa stands in the world as a big question mark. So who will answer that question?” Mazarati said. “It is a question of endemic poverty. It is a question of endemic disease. It is a question of endemic conflicts. It is a question of lack of leadership. …It is a question of a continent that holds so much richness, yet is struggling to take off.”

Africa also has a large population of children, he said, so there is a strong need for educational advancements.

Jesuits are sending Rwandan priests around the world to seek higher education in the sciences, social sciences and development “to make sure that tomorrow we come back to Rwanda stronger,” and ready to teach, Mazarati said.

Carol Lancaster, dean of the School of Foreign Service, moderated the event. Katherine Marshall, a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, also participated in the panel discussion.

“Jesuits have made such a contribution to this university and to the world,” Lancaster said.

The Jesuits’ personal stories of mission and ministry in Africa enlightened, yet posed more questions for some in the audience.

“The intersection between religion and African development is an extremely interesting field that must be further explored to fully understand the challenges and hopes of development,” said Vivian Ojo, who helped organize the event with Mariana Santos.

“The Jesuits provided some answers to some of the most difficult questions [plaguing Africa],” Ojo added. “I left the conversation with a desire to search for more answers about a topic not often explored.”