Archive for February, 2013

Building One House and Helping One Family at a Time

Jesuit Brother Mike Wilmot One house, one family and one community at a time. That’s how Jesuit Brother Mike Wilmot approaches his goal to help alleviate poverty and stabilize neighborhoods in North Omaha, Neb., through his Gesu Housing, Inc. ministry.

Gesu Housing’s mission is to build and sell high-quality, affordable, energy-efficient homes to people who are hard-working and have a good credit rating, but who live below the area’s 80 percent median family income and are therefore considered low-income by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “In the process, we believe we are also re-building a community in North Omaha,” Br. Wilmot says.

The origins of Gesu Housing can be traced to 1994, when Br. Wilmot returned from serving Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda to help build Omaha’s Jesuit Middle School. There, he worked with Phil McKeon, a former student of his at Creighton Prep in Omaha, and the school’s concrete contractor. Recognizing the energy efficiency benefits that poured concrete walls could provide and feeling a calling to help the area’s working poor realize the dream of home ownership, Br. Wilmot began building concrete houses with McKeon, and Gesu Housing was born in 2002.

Since then, Gesu Housing has turned to building wood frame houses because they are less expensive, but its goal of building energy-efficient homes remains.

Br. Wilmot chose to start building in his own neighborhood, Clifton Hills, where he and several Jesuits have their residence. This sets Gesu Housing apart from other low-income homebuilders because it’s part of the community. The community has a significant need, with “plenty of vacant lots, a lack of home ownership and noticeable urban decay,” Br. Wilmot says.

The neighborhood also qualifies as a “low-to moderate-income” area, per government guidelines. After qualifying for federal grants through the Omaha Planning Department, hopeful families are then able to take out a mortgage. The goal is to have these families own a higher-quality, more attractive house than much of the lower-income housing that is available – for a monthly payment of approximately $600. Because the federal grant and homeowner loan do not cover the cost of each house, Gesu depends on fundraising for the rest.

Br. Wilmot says that with proper funding, the goal is to build six houses each year. “We will fight to continue this improvement one neighborhood at a time.”

Each home closing is a reminder of why Br. Wilmot does this work. “It’s incredibly rewarding to give the keys for a new house to a family or individual who has worked hard to reach this dream,” he says.

For more on Gesu Housing and Br. Wilmot, visit the Wisconsin Province website.

The Jesuit Post on Lent and Poverty

Jesuit Brendan BusseTo mark the beginning of Lent, Jesuit scholastic Brendan Busse wrote at The Jesuit Post that, “If ever there were a day to accept failure it was Ash Wednesday … Accept that you will ultimately fail (in death if not before) and your priorities shift, your humility rises, your every action takes on a little more significance; your very life rises out of the dust of nothingness.

“It’s as if there is a moment in which you accept your essential poverty.  And suddenly there is nothing to lose. And all of life becomes gift,” he wrote.

According to Busse, the antidote to poverty is not wealth but generosity. “Generosity begins with our attention. Reading. Listening. Considering. Being attentive and literate. Being sensitive and considerate. Generosity continues with our responsibility, that is, our ability to respond.”

He concludes:

“While two days past was Ash Wednesday … yesterday was Valentine’s Day … which reminds me that we were not made for failure … we were made for love.

“After all, you have to make love to make us and it is only in love that our failure finds redemption. What if this were true? It would follow that it is only in poverty – in standing with, listening to, learning from the poor and all who suffer – that we will find the fullness of life.”

Read Busse’s full essay at The Jesuit Post.

Prayer Life Out of Shape? Jesuit Offers Personal Spiritual Training

Jesuit Father Randy RocheThe New Year often brings about resolutions to exercise more, but one Jesuit is now offering personal spiritual training for those who want to “work out” a different part of their lives.

Jesuit Father Randy Roche is the director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  Recently, Fr. Roche came up with the idea of adapting the personal training approach used for physical training to spirituality and added personal spiritual training to the center’s offerings.

“One day I thought, ‘What if we could be personal trainers for people looking for help with a particular problem or who want to learn how to bring more reflection into their lives?’” Fr. Roche said. “We could offer a less formal version of the Spiritual Exercises for people who know they have a hunger and are looking for someone to guide them.”

The exercises, which include meditating and contemplating, are “spirituality for busy people.” The personal training sessions are designed to meet immediate individual needs and take only the time necessary to help accomplish a goal.

Fr. Roche said most of the participants at the center are LMU faculty and staff members with questions about how to reflect and get in touch with feelings as they relate to making choices. Others need help with striking a balance between thinking and feeling. Once the goal is accomplished, things don’t stop there. Participants can return for maintenance sessions or an occasional spiritual tune-up.

Currently Fr. Roche shares training duties at the center with Jesuit Bishop Gordon Bennett and Anne Hennessy, CSJ. “My dream has always been that there will eventually be some faculty and staff who will do some of the training,” said Fr. Roche.

Fr. Roche has also started a blog for the center. “It lets people comment and add their own take on Ignatian spirituality and it’s open to anyone. We also are on Facebook and I’m writing a weekly spirituality essay for our website,” Fr. Roche said.

For more on Fr. Roche and the Center for Ignatian Spirituality at LMU, read the full story at AJCU Connections.


Jesuit Seeks to Find God Through His Camera Lens

Jeremy ZippleDuring his Jesuit formation, scholastic Jeremy Zipple has been making documentaries. Sometimes his films are about spiritual subjects, such as St. Xavier, and sometimes not, as with his documentary, “Rat Attack,” about a plague of rats that overrun the forests of India every 48 years. No matter the subject, Zipple has used his camera to seek to find God in all things.

Making films was his first passion. Zipple, a Mississippi native, has been shooting documentaries since high school. He ended up meeting the Jesuits by chance during a college tour in Boston when his father suggested visiting Boston College, which wasn’t on his list.

Zipple applied and was accepted and during a dinner at Boston College for prospective Presidential Scholars, he found himself at a table with Jesuit Father William Neenan, vice president and special assistant to the president.

“He sealed the deal. I had no category for a person like this — a priest, an economist, witty, with a wide breadth of knowledge and a taste for literature,” says Zipple. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow! Who are these Jesuits?’ I felt like I could learn a lot from these guys.”

After graduation, Zipple taught at a Catholic grade school in New Jersey, served as codirector of a contemporary liturgical choir and studied philosophy at Fordham University. In 2002, he entered the Society of Jesus.

Zipple describes his regency, a period of three years Jesuits normally spend in ministry before theology studies, as “untraditional.” He spent that time as a writer, producer and director for National Geographic Television in Washington, D.C., where he coproduced not only “Rat Attack” but “Quest for Solomon’s Mines,” about treasure seekers who, inspired by the Bible’s account of King Solomon’s riches, search for evidence of temples and palaces yet to be found.

Now back at Boston College for divinity studies, Zipple will be ordained to the priesthood this May. He also continues to make documentaries. He directed, wrote and produced his latest film, “Quest for the Lost Maya,” based on new archaeological findings about a forgotten Mayan society in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It aired on public television nationwide last March.

After ordination, Zipple plans to stay at Boston College and study for his licentiate in sacred theology. He says he may focus on the history of American Catholicism and “and hopefully get a film out of that, too.” For more on Zipple, read Boston College’s Becoming a Jesuit: Five Lives at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry.

Jesuit Appointed Next President of the Gregorian University Foundation

Jesuit Father Alan FogartyJesuit Father Alan Fogarty has been appointed the next president of the Gregorian University Foundation, which oversees the fundraising operations of the consortium of three Jesuit institutes of higher education in Rome: the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Pontifical Oriental Institute.

“Serving the universal church as president of the Gregorian University Foundation is a great opportunity to give myself to the mission of the Society of Jesus in ways previously unimagined. I very much look forward to building relationships in support of the three consortium institutes,” Fr. Fogarty said.

The Society of Jesus’ recent 35th General Congregation declared that the interprovincial institutions in Rome are among the five global apostolic preferences of the Society requiring “special or privileged attention” as “a special mission received directly from the Holy Father.”

Jesuit Father Alan Fogarty

Jesuit Father Alan Fogarty, with Joyce Bateman, a member of Canada’s Parliament, and St. Paul's students, after receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Photo by CiJae Filipchuck.

Fr. Fogarty will succeed Jesuit Father Robert O’Toole, who has held the position for the past nine years. With this appointment, Fr. Fogarty becomes a member of the Roman Delegation, which is comprised of Jesuits from around the world who make up the international houses, apostolates and colleges associated with the General Curia and Father General Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

“My sincere hope is to build on the fine work of my predecessors and further strengthen the bonds among the alumni and friends of these long-standing pontifical centers of higher learning,” said Fr. Fogarty. “I am also excited about generating bonds with new benefactors and collaborators.”

Fr. Fogarty currently serves as president of St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg, Canada. He was recently recognized with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his service in Winnipeg. Fr. Fogarty will complete his six-year term as president of St. Paul’s on July 31 and, after a sabbatical, begin his new appointment at the foundation in New York City in January 2014. [St. Paul’s High School]