Archive for April, 2012

Jesuit Brother with Passion for Science Finds God in Meteorites

Finding God in all things is at the core of Ignatian Spirituality and is rooted in the growing awareness that God can found in everyone, in every place and in everything. But in rocks from outer space? Jesuit Brother Bob Macke says yes. Currently in his first year of theology studies at Boston College, he shared his thoughts on how God can be found in lunar material, some of which is more than 4.5 billion (yes, with a B) years old.

One of the things that attracted me to the Society of Jesus was the Ignatian principle of finding God in all things. I saw Jesuits seeking and finding God in so many ways, from ministering in the Third World, to delving into questions of philosophy and theology to exploring the grandeur of the universe.

As someone with a background in physics and astronomy, I am no stranger to the idea that by studying God’s creation we encounter God. As a 38-year-old, first-year theology student at Boston College and a recent graduate of a physics doctoral program, I can see in hindsight a pattern of formation as a Jesuit brother that has only strengthened this idea.

After I completed philosophy studies in 2006, I began my regency assignment teaching physics and astronomy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, a wonderful opportunity to teach in my field and minister to students.  During that time, I heard from a friend at the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, who told me about an opportunity to study meteorite physical properties in a doctoral program at the University of Central Florida. I had spent a summer at the Vatican Observatory doing exactly that kind of research. So, with the provincial’s blessing, I left regency after only one year and spent the next four years at the University of Central Florida measuring the densities of meteorites, the percentages of pore space within them and their responses to a magnetic field. And somehow, as part of graduate studies and in the context of Jesuit life, I was to find God in these rocks from outer space.

Studying meteorites can be tedious work, but the pursuit involved travel to New York, Washington, Chicago and London where meteorites are held in museum or university collections.

As I studied more than 1,300 specimens, sometimes the tedium of the repetitive process became too great. I then would hold one of the more primitive meteorites in my hand and muse upon it, reminding myself that it was 4.5 billion years old, one of the earliest objects to form when the solar system itself was forming, and holding clues to that history.

Embedded within the meteorite are a few tiny grains of material that survived the heat and shock of its forming and that remain essentially unchanged from the moment they were created in stars. They are literally stardust. I am awestruck, and in that awe I once again encounter God.

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Jesuit Father Mike Kennedy Brings Ignatian Spirituality to Those Behind Bars

When Jesuit Father Mike Kennedy was pastor of Dolores Mission, located in the barrio of East Los Angeles, he witnessed firsthand the impact to the community of having so many of its youth facing life without parole. After serving as pastor from 1994 to 2007, Fr. Kennedy left Dolores Mission to start the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative (JRJI) to provide support and hope to juveniles with life sentences.

Through the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a series of meditative prayers helping people find God in their everyday experiences, the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative provides tools that allow prisoners to find healing and forgiveness and to recognize their lives have meaning and purpose. As JRJI’s Executive Director, Fr. Kennedy also reaches out to victims and their families to provide support and healing. The group’s advocacy outreach from its headquarters in Culver City, Calif., includes mobilizing communities to transform the justice system from one that is solely punitive to one that is restorative.  Fr. Kennedy has been recognized for JRJI’s efforts to transform the lives of incarcerated youth, their families and communities by the California Chief of Probation Officers and the City of Los Angeles.

In this Ignatian News Network video piece below, you can find out more about Fr. Kennedy and the work of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative to bring hope to Los Angeles’ incarcerated juveniles:

The Unseen Titanic: Photos from Jesuit Reveal Life Aboard Doomed Ship

This Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the world’s most famous and ill-fated ocean liner, Titanic.  Among the lesser known stories surrounding the steamship’s last days is the fascinating tale of Irish Jesuit Father Francis Browne, whose photographs are some of the only surviving images of life onboard the luxury liner during its first, and final, voyage.

Fr. Browne sailed the first leg of the Titanic’s maiden voyage, between Southampton, England and Cobh, Ireland — taking a series of black-and-white photos of life onboard the opulent ship. He planned to stay on the ship to New York but was ordered by his Jesuit superior to return home instead.

That order saved his life.  After striking an iceberg on April 15, 1912, the Titanic took 1,500 people to a watery grave miles below the surface of the Atlantic.

Fr. Browne survived, as did his photographs, which were rediscovered in 1985 by a fellow priest.

Fr. Browne’s absorbing photographic record of the Titanic is documented in the book “Father Browne’s Titanic Album: Centenary Edition,” which has been rereleased by Ireland’s Messenger Publications to coincide with the anniversary.

The new edition of the book is edited by Jesuit Father Edward O’Donnell, and the foreword is written by Robert Ballard, who first located the ship’s wreckage in September 1985, the same month as a chance finding of 42,000 of Fr. Browne’s photographs in the basement of the Jesuits’ headquarters in Dublin.

Because of the remarkable documentation they provide of life on the ocean liner, Fr. Browne’s photographs were used as historic references during the set design process for the film “Titanic.”  Fr. Browne’s images have also been studied by maritime historians and engineers eagerly seeking answers to a tragedy that still grips the public’s imagination.

While onboard, the self-taught photographer managed to obtain pictures of the Titanic’s first-class accommodation and dining rooms as well as gymnasium and library.  He also captured passengers enjoying a stroll on the promenade, as well as many passengers in third class, recording some of those who would later perish in the freezing waters of the Atlantic. He took the last image of the Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith.

Fr. Browne’s story is as amazing as his unique photos. In 1912, the Jesuit novice was still three years from ordination.  But because of a gift from his uncle, he was able to experience the Titanic’s luxurious accommodation during the initial stages of its maiden voyage.

The young Jesuit photographed the Titanic leaving port for the last time as it left Queenstown, in County Cork, for New York. He could have been onboard: an American couple he befriended on the ship offered to fund the final leg of the journey to New York.

From the Titanic, Fr. Browne sent a telegram to his provincial in Dublin requesting permission to stay onboard. However, a frosty telegram awaited him in Queenstown: “Get off that ship.”

When news of the Titanic’s disastrous fate reached Fr. Browne, he folded the telegram, put it into his wallet and kept it there for the rest of his life. He later said it was the only time holy obedience had saved a life.

You can see some of Fr. Browne’s photographs via this link to

You can listen to an audio interview from the Jesuits of the Irish Province with Fr. Edward O’Donnell, who found Fr. Browne’s collection, here.

Messenger Publication’s book “Father Browne’s Titanic Album: Centenary Edition,” can be purchased at their website.

Xavier University President Receives the American Jewish Committee’s National Human Relations Award

The President of Cincinnati’s Xavier University, Jesuit Father Michael J. Graham was recently honored with the American Jewish Committee Cincinnati Regional Office’s 2012 National Human Relations Award. The award recognizes Fr. Graham’s professional achievements, generosity of spirit and vision of excellence. At the same time, the event raises funds for the global advocacy and human rights work of the American Jewish Committee, which advances freedom, liberty, tolerance and mutual respect worldwide.

As president of Xavier, Fr. Graham has earned a sterling reputation by focusing on academic excellence and on partnering with the community. Xavier attracts students from across the nation and abroad, while still reaching out to its surrounding neighborhoods and to diverse friends across the city.

After civil disturbances in 2001, Fr. Graham was asked to co-chair the task force on Police and Community Relations of CincinnatiCAN. This collaboration left a legacy of improved police-community relations.

Fr. Graham continues to work toward improving Cincinnati by serving on the boards of St. Xavier High School, the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, United Way of Greater Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Community Police Partnering Center. He also is a board member of Loyola University Chicago and Gonzaga University, and he heads the Atlantic 10 Council of Presidents.

The ‘Bicycle Padre’ Keeps Rolling at 93

Jesuit Father Harold Rahm learned long ago the value of staying close to the people.

In El Paso, his first assignment in his native Texas, Fr. Rahm celebrated Mass in people’s backyards. He prayed the rosary on street corners and ministered to those on bread lines. He got his foot in the door of residents’ homes by asking to use the phone. And, he rode a bicycle to talk and play with street kids in his battle to eliminate youth gangs.

During his 14 years in El Paso, Fr. Rahm was fondly known as the “Bicycle Padre,” and says he learned to work with the people and the laity. South El Paso was ruled by gangs in those days, so he and his team worked with schools, founded clubs, and built a youth center. They engaged adolescents in sports, music, bands and theater, offering free lunches and daily ice cream. As the teens grew up, he said, they did not join the gangs.

Over the last nearly 50 years, Father Rahm used similar techniques to reach out to the abandoned, the poor, the addicted and the desperate of Brazil, where he lives and works today.

Fr. Rahm, now 93, spends his days directing “Christian Yoga” retreats aimed at helping people use their senses and meditation to form a union with God.

“I endeavor to do my little part to serve the poor and those especially in need, both financially and spiritually,” he said.

When Fr. Rahm arrived in Brazil, he set out to find priests and scholastics to staff the Centro Kennedy mission in São Paulo, which worked to improve lives through education and human development.  He and his team worked with alcoholics and drug addicts and founded Amor-Exigente or Tough Love, which now has 10,000 volunteers serving 200,000 people each month throughout Latin America.

Today, a center in his name in Campinas, Brazil, Instituçào Padre Haroldo, offers several programs for the therapeutic treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts. He said the treatment involves learning new values, behaviors, skills, habits and responsibilities in order to integrate back into society.

He also started the Pastoral Sobriety, the search for sobriety as a way of life, and has ministered to prostitutes and street children.

“I would like to stress that I only founded these movements,” Fr. Rahm said. “It is evident that the wonderful Brazilian people and leaders direct and work in them. I personally should not receive the credit. “

Fr. Rahm has written books on spirituality, addiction and his experience with gangs. For more information on the Instituçào Padre Haroldo, visit

This article by Brooke Iglesias originally appeared in Southern Jesuit MagazineTo download the full magazine, please click here.