Archive for December, 2012
Jesuit Father James Schall recently gave his last lecture at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., after teaching there for 35 years. Fr. Schall, who has written over 40 books and taught thousands of students, will retire to California, where he first joined the Society of Jesus in 1948. “The gratitude of many will carry him westward,” writes Jesuit Father Kevin O’Brien, Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Georgetown University.
Fr. O’Brien recalls taking “Elements of Political Theory” with Fr. Schall in 1986, when Fr. O’Brien was a junior at Georgetown. “He introduced me, and by now thousands of other Georgetown students, to Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas. In his classroom, I became captivated by the idea of virtue as the measure of human character.”
Fr. O’Brien writes that Fr. Schall’s retirement has prompted him to reflect on the Jesuits who inspired him to join their ranks and who have sustained him in his commitment. “More than ever, I realize that I stand on very broad shoulders and rest in even larger hearts. One of the reasons I am a Jesuit is because of men like Fr. Schall, whom I have had the privilege of calling a brother,” Fr. O’Brien writes.
Fr. O’Brien says, “Fr. Schall is a humble man, reticent about accolades and attention. In his goodbyes, he will undoubtedly point to others — to God first, of course, through whom all things are possible. But he can also point to fellow Jesuits, colleagues, students and alumni with whom he has shared his life here. He too can recognize the very broad shoulders on which he has stood — some of whom are buried down the hill at the Jesuit cemetery.”
Fr. O’Brien says there is a certain humility that comes with taking leave:
“All that we are asked to do is leave a place better than when we found it and invite others into the ongoing project of giving glory to God and serving others. Fr. Schall has done that and more. In his retirement from teaching, he can relish all the good that continues to be done through the people he has influenced along the way.”
Read Fr. O’Brien’s full tribute to Fr. Schall at The Hoya.
Against the odds in a struggling economy and city, Loyola High School in Detroit is celebrating its 20th anniversary of educating young men in the Jesuit tradition of excellence. The school, which is co-sponsored by the Society of Jesus and the Archdiocese of Detroit, also welcomed a new president this year, Jesuit Father Mark Luedtke.
Fr. Luedtke came to the close-knit school of 150 young men at the invitation of his provincial, Jesuit Father Tim Kesicki. “He offered me the opportunity to go to a school that directly impacts the city of Detroit and those young men who find themselves most in need of what we can offer here as Jesuits and as Catholics, and that’s a great opportunity for me,” Fr. Luedtke says.
“When I walk into school I’m really filled with a sense of hope — not only for the possibilities of the day, but hope for these young men and the faculty and staff,” he says.
Fr. Luedtke is impressed that three alumni have already come back to work on staff at Loyola High. “Their presence and care for our young men really makes a difference,” he says.
“This school is a gem in Detroit because it’s made it — it’s made it 20 solid years in the city. It shows the rest of the city that if we commit to what’s good for the city and good for our young people and we invest in it, that good things can come out of the schools,” says Fr. Luedtke.
Learn more about Loyola High School by watching the Ignatian News Network video below.
How can networking help the Society of Jesus accomplish its mission? A new initiative, International Jesuit Networking, hopes to promote reflection on this topic and foster international networking in the Society.
In April 2012, encouraged by the call made by the Society’s 35th General Congregation to promote international networking, a group of 26 Jesuits and 7 lay partners from 10 countries gathered at Boston College to discuss the issue.
“I think of all of these graduates of schools, of parishioners, of lay people working in Jesuit institutions and of all the students, and if those folks felt they were part of a broader network, it seems to me that there’s a really incredible opportunity to get a lot done,” says conference participant Chris Lowney from Jesuit Commons, one of the most promising new examples of Jesuit collaborative efforts at a global stage.
As a result of the conference, a final document has been released and is available on a newly launched website, www.jesuitnetworking.org. The initiative has also opened channels for a global conversation on the topic through social media, including Facebook and Twitter. All Jesuits and collaborators are invited to join those platforms to explore future emerging collaborative networks.
“It’s very important that we collaborate and integrate our common mission and work together,” says Jesuit Father Xavier Jeyaraj, who serves in the Jesuit Curia in Rome and attended the conference.
Watch the video below to learn more about the networking initiative and hear from conference participants.
Jesuit Father John Surette has a dream for the Society of Jesus. Responding to Father General Adolfo Nicolás’s call for Jesuits to explore the “frontiers, those geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find difficult to reach,” Fr. Surette looks to a frontier very close to home: planet Earth.
“Forests are shrinking, water tables are falling, soils are eroding, fisheries are collapsing, rivers are running dry, glaciers and ice caps are melting, coral reefs are bleaching, the ocean is becoming more acidic, the atmosphere is warming, plant and animal species are going into extinction at a greater rate and the children of all species are increasingly being born sick. In all of this and much more we are reaching the limits of what life on Earth can tolerate…we are facing ultimacy,” Fr. Surette writes.
A member of the Society of Jesus for 55 years, Fr. Surette has spent the last 22 years giving retreats and workshops on eco-spirituality. He sees the state of the Earth as one of the most important issues today:
“What is happening to Earth belongs to an order of magnitude beyond any other into which we Jesuits have poured out our apostolic energies in the past. It is of greater magnitude than any of the present day social justice issues.”
Fr. Surette believes that Jesuits are called to make a religious response to Earth’s fate. “This appears to be the most challenging role that we Jesuits have ever been asked to assume,” he writes. “It will require that we move beyond any denial and paralysis and that we move into the future with hope, courage and intention.
“In my dream this future begins with embedding our passionate love of humanity within an equally passionate love of Earth and its web of life. This love will lead us into working with others to bring about a mutually enhancing relationship between Earth and its human community,” Fr. Surette concludes.
For more of Fr. Surette’s planetary spirituality, read his homilies online.
Jesuit Father Robert VerEecke, the longtime pastor of St. Ignatius Parish at Boston College, is also a dancer, a choreographer and the Jesuit Artist-in-Residence at Boston College, earning him the nickname “the dancing priest.”
Fr. VerEecke also founded the Boston Liturgical Dance Ensemble in 1980 to perform in church venues, and each Christmas the troupe produces a show. For 28 years, that show was “A Dancer’s Christmas,” a holiday tradition in Boston until 2008. For the past four years Fr. VerEecke’s ensemble has been performing “Christmas Reflections,” which includes an almost 80-member cast of professional dancers, Boston College students, alumni and others. The story reflects on the meaning of the season through Luke’s Gospel.
Fr. VerEecke was recently interviewed by the Boston Globe about his calling to the priesthood and to dance. The interview is below, along with a video of Fr. VerEecke discussing “Christmas Reflections” that shows the dancers in action.
Q. Are you a priest who happens to be a choreographer, or are the two inextricably combined?
A. They’re inextricably combined. When I think of Catholic ritual, there’s so much movement and choreography. What makes ritual work for people is a sense of flow and movement integrity. I work with young Jesuits and try to help them understand that sense of the larger picture. It’s such a passion, for me there is no separation between religious expression and movement expression. It always comes together quite spontaneously. It’s when I’m most alive.
Q. What happened when you were called to the priesthood at age 18?
A. I entered the Jesuits thinking I’d never have a chance to do anything artistically. Then in 1970, the Jesuits organized an artist institute and they had a track to study ballet, and I took that. When I started taking class, it was an epiphany. It gave me the vocabulary for choreographing, but the advantage of not having early training was that I was never set in a particular language of moving, so my choreography tends to be more from within. I feel free to use whatever comes.
Q. I know with all the “Nutcracker”s this time of year there was intense competition to get performers for “A Dancer’s Christmas.” Was that part of why you stopped the production after 2008?
A. The challenge was always mounting such a big production and trying to replace people every year without a huge budget, particularly male dancers. But the real issue is that I was very aesthetically pleased with the work that had evolved, so I said this is the last year. It had become absolutely perfect for me. It had reached its apex.
Q. But the very next year you were back with “Christmas Reflections” How did that come about?
A. There were all these children who were heartbroken that “A Dancer’s Christmas” was ending, and it got to me. We were all crying — one of my nicknames is Sobby Bobby. I just couldn’t say this is the end, so I said I’d try to think of what else we do, not on the same scale. “Christmas Reflections” is like “A Dancer’s Christmas” in miniature, like one of those little [snow] globes, very delicate and charming.
Q. “A Dancer’s Christmas” used pageantry, modern dance, ballet, and folk dance to tell the Christmas story from three historical periods. How different is the new show?
A. The pieces are shorter. It uses a lot of familiar Christmas music. The three-act format is still very similar. This first is scriptural, the second has the playfulness, the third has some of the repertory of the third act of “A Dancer’s Christmas.” One of the new pieces we added, which is a lot of fun, is “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with the dancers representing all the characters. A local championship Irish dancer, Helen O’Dwyer, a BC alum, was a dancer for a number of years in “A Dancer’s Christmas.” I asked her if she thought her school might want to participate, and now there are 30 to 40 Irish dancers. We have a guest artist, Jamaican contemporary dancer Steven Cornwall, portraying Joseph, and he’s a spectacular dancer. He brings a beauty and strength that is very powerful to watch.
Q. You’ve always maintained that “A Dancer’s Christmas” created a unique sense of family and community among the performers. Have you been able to re-create that?
A. It’s what’s kind of magical about it, because people put a lot into it, and the story draws people in. A lot of people listen or sing these songs, especially more traditional carols, but they never had a chance to dance to them, and it can be powerful for them. “Silent Night” is the final number, with children joining adults in the end, and there’s something quite moving about seeing it all unfold.
Q. At the core, what do these shows mean to you and perhaps to the others who come to them year after year? What is the takeaway message?
A. It’s about the profound sense of joy that is available to all of us in the Christmas season, no matter how we celebrate it. From a religious point of view, it’s about God loving us so much that he wants to dance with us. These days there’s so much negative about God and salvation. My image is that God is enmeshed in the flesh of Jesus. He wants to have arms and legs so he can dance with us.