Father Alexander Santora, the current pastor of The Church of Our Lady of Grace & St. Joseph in Hoboken, recently featured Jesuit Father Gerald Blaszczak in his weekly column for The Jersey Journal. Fr. Santora, an alum of St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, didn’t know Fr. Blaszczak while they were high school students at Prep, as they only shared the school’s halls for one year. Following graduation, Blaszcsak entered the Society of Jesus.
As a freshman at St. Peter’s Prep in 1966, I was in awe of the seniors who were outstanding athletes, student leaders and academic stars.
Gerald Blaszczak was among the latter and, unfortunately, I never met him personally. He entered the Society of Jesus after graduation in 1967 and through the years I used to hear about his appointment as vice president of Fordham University or pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan, their flagship parish.
Those are just two of the many appointments of a gifted scholar, linguist, missionary, administrator and priest, tapped last year by the relatively new General Superior of the Jesuits, the Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, to become his Secretary for the Promotion of the Faith, a newly created position.
Since last fall, Blaszczak has resided in Rome with some 50 other Jesuits from around the world and answers only to Nicolas, who reshaped his curia, or advisers, and handpicked Blaszczak. “I heard rumblings last April and then received a letter from the General,” said Blaszczak, who was not seeking the position but admitted, “It’s not in our Jesuit DNA to say no.”
At the time, he was Vice President for Mission at Fairfield University, Connecticut, and that position was somewhat like the work he will do for the entire society: to address the main issues in the service of the faith like evangelization and culture.
Blaszczak put it rhetorically: “How does the essence of faith inspire those called for service of faith?”
He understands that the institutions and agencies of the Jesuits face an increasingly “secular culture” and his job is to see how the spirituality apostolates through their many retreat houses, youth programs, and parishes and foster faith. He also works with some of the related Vatican offices or dicastries like Culture and Promoting Evangelization.
Blaszczak is kind of a trail-blazer since he is creating the office from scratch. He spent two months learning Italian, which along with German, French, Spanish, Latin and Greek, will help him communicate with the most international religious community in the Catholic church, counting more than 18,000 priests and brothers.
The Jesuits in India are now the most numerous and there are tremendous vocations in Africa, where Blaszczak spent three years teaching Jesuit scholastics in Kenya. Right after he completed his novitiate, or first stage of formation, he was selected for advanced philosophical studies in Germany and then went on to Harvard on a Danforth Fellowship, receiving a doctorate in the Study of Religion.
Ordained in 1979, he then taught at LeMoyne College in Syracuse for two years. He completed his tertianship, or final formation, in Quebec.
His first contact with the Jesuits came at Dallas Prep, where he studied for two years before transferring to St. Peter’s in Jersey City, where he commuted via the Tonnelle Avenue bus from Ridgefield.
In Dallas and at Prep he noted that the Jesuits were “an amazing group” and as part of their studies, “the students were expected to know other parts of the city.”
In the ‘60s, this meant dealing with racial tensions and poverty. For him that meant that “the Jesuits made the connection that faith had to do with justice.”
In Rome, Blaszczak builds relationships with religious groups like Focolare and Sant’Egidio, whose members commit to live a certain lifestyle, and the Orthodox and Anglicans on behalf of the society.
At one point, he was rector of Fordham’s Jesuits in the Bronx, which was their largest single community in the world. But he says the toughest position he ever held was a parish pastor, “my health fell apart.” I always knew he was a bright light!