Archive for the ‘History’ Category
A little-known day of Jesuit thanksgiving was celebrated on March 12 to mark the canonizations of two of the most famous Jesuits: St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. Every year on that date, each Jesuit offers a special prayer or Mass of Thanksgiving for the gift of the saints’ canonizations, which occurred on March 12, 1622 — 66 years after the death of Ignatius and 70 years after the death of Xavier.
The founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius lived most of his priestly life in a small room in Rome, directing the newly founded Society. Francis Xavier, one of the Society’s most well-known missionaries, lived most of his Jesuit life traveling around Asia, preaching and baptizing.
Pope Gregory XV was responsible for canonizing the two Jesuits, and he held religious orders in high esteem. The pope was educated by the Jesuits at the “Collegio Romano,” the university founded by Ignatius in Rome that is now known as the Gregorian University.
On the same day Ignatius and Francis Xavier were canonized, Pope Gregory XV also canonized Teresa of Avila, reformer of the Carmelites; Philip Neri, founder of the Oratorian Fathers; and Isidore of Madrid, a simple but devout farmer, now patron of farmers, peasants, day laborers and rural communities.
The grouping of these five dissimilar saints took some by surprise and illustrated that there is no mold for being holy or even for becoming a canonized saint. Pope Gregory XV was never canonized, but he did keep his connection to the Jesuit saints. The pope was buried in the Church of Saint Ignatius in Rome when he died in 1623. [Society of Jesus in Thailand]
On October 12, 1963, American-born Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek (1904-1984) arrived in New York after 23 years in Russia, much of it spent in captivity in Siberian labor camps and Soviet prisons. To add to the intrigue surrounding this extraordinary Jesuit’s life, Fr. Ciszek’s daring release — a complicated prisoner exchange — was negotiated with the help of President John F. Kennedy just one month before the president’s tragic assassination. Although Fr. Ciszek’s life reads like a Hollywood script, his experience results from one simple question: Will you devote your life to the service of others? As Jesuits have for centuries, Fr. Walter Ciszek answered that call.
To commemorate his inspirational life, the Society of Jesus, the largest order of priests and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church, has chosen to highlight Fr. Walter Ciszek and the theme, Life in Service, for November’s Vocation Month.
Father Robert Ballecer, director of the Office of National Vocation Promotion for the Jesuits, explains, “Walter Ciszek’s work is a legacy of the frontier spirit of the Society of Jesus. It’s the spirit of ‘Where is God calling me today?’ Walter Ciszek answered the call by going to the Soviet Union. Today, Jesuits are working around the globe on the frontiers – from building schools in Malawi to aiding migrants at a small border town between the United States and Mexico. That’s the spirit of the Society; that’s the spirit of service.”
According to Fr. Ballecer, Fr. Ciszek is still beloved by American Jesuits, and those who knew him remember his kindness and humility. Among other tributes, Ciszek Hall, the community of young Jesuits in “First Studies” at Fordham University, is named for Fr. Ciszek.
A Call Answered
Born in 1904 in Shenandoah, Pa., to Polish immigrants, Fr. Ciszek joined the Jesuits in 1928. The next year, he learned that Pope Pius XI was calling on seminarians to enter a new Russian center in Rome to prepare priests for work in Russia. For Fr. Ciszek, it was “almost like a direct call from God.”
Missioned to Rome to study theology and the Byzantine rite, Fr. Ciszek was ordained in 1937, but since priests could not be sent to Russia, he was assigned to work in Poland. When war broke out in 1939, Fr. Ciszek was able to enter Russia with false identification papers. He worked as an unskilled laborer until June 1941 when the secret police arrested him as a suspected spy.
After his arrest, Fr. Ciszek found himself in the infamous Lubianka Prison in Moscow, where he was interrogated as a “Vatican spy” and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in Siberia. Although forced to work in a Gulag coal mine, Fr. Ciszek found ways to hear confessions and say Mass.
“For all the hardships and suffering endured there, the prison camps of Siberia held one great consolation for me: I was able to function as a priest again. I was able to say Mass again, although in secret, to hear confessions, to baptize, to comfort the sick, and to minister to the dying,” he wrote.
In 1955, Fr. Ciszek’s sentence ended early since he had surpassed his work quotas, and he was freed from the labor camps but forced to live in the Gulag city of Norilsk, where he worked in a chemical factory. Happily, after decades of being presumed dead, Fr. Ciszek was finally allowed to write to family members in the United States.
In Norilsk, Fr. Ciszek and other priests ministered to a growing parish but, before too long, the KGB threatened to arrest him if he continued his ministry. Missioned to another city, the KGB quickly shut him down again.
Then, in 1963, Fr. Ciszek learned he was going home. In a release negotiated by President John F. Kennedy, he and an American student were returned to the United States in exchange for two Soviet agents. Following his return, Fr. Ciszek worked at the John XXIII Center at Fordham University (now the Center for Eastern Christian Studies at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania), until his death in 1984.
Jesuits Called to the Frontiers
Like Fr. Ciszek and his Jesuit brothers, the present-day Society of Jesus is also called to the frontiers.
Fr. Ballecer explains, “In Fr. Ciszek’s time, the frontiers were physical boundaries, parts of the world we hadn’t fully explored. Today, the frontiers are often in new areas, including media, science and technology. From Jesuits working with a development team on a particle accelerator in Europe to the Higher Education at the Margins program, which brings college courses to refugee camps, Jesuits aspire to serve where the need is greatest.”
An Inspiring Life in Service
A quarter century after his death, Fr. Ciszek’s life is still inspiring those considering a Jesuit vocation, and soon even more people may learn of his legacy. This past March, the Vatican gave its formal approval to begin the canonization process for Fr. Ciszek.
Fr. Ballecer says Fr. Ciszek is more relevant today than he ever was. “A life in service like Walter Ciszek’s means commitment; it means something that’s unknown; it means relinquishing control of your life to something that’s bigger than you. What will you do when someone asks you to do something difficult, but worthwhile?”
In his memoir describing his years in Russia, “He Leadeth Me,” Fr. Ciszek wrote: “My aim in entering Russia was the same from beginning to end: to help find God and attain eternal life.” By devoting his life to serving God and his people, Fr. Ciszek succeeded in both goals.
A Jesuit and two others with Jesuit connections will be among the newest Catholic saints canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21, 2012. Among those being elevated are: Blessed Jesuit Father Jacques Berthieu, a French Jesuit missionary; Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who will become the first Native American saint; and Blessed Peter Calungsod, a lay Catholic from the Philippines.
“The Society rejoices that the church canonizes a new saint from among us, proposes him as a model to all the faithful, and invites them to seek his intercession,” writes Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicolás in a letter to all Jesuits published in America magazine.
Fr. Berthieu, martyred in Madagascar in 1896, was a diocesan priest for nine years before deciding to enter the Society of Jesus at age 35. A highly successful missionary, he was appointed to the Madagascar mission where he nearly tripled the number of mission stations on the island’s northern end.
While accompanying refugees who were attempting to escape a violent rebellion, Fr. Berthieu was attacked and brought to the attackers’ village, where their chief lived. Fr. Berthieu refused to accept the chief’s offer to become a counselor to his tribe. The chief promised to spare Fr. Berthieu’s life if he would renounce his faith, but Fr. Berthieu replied that he would rather die than abandon his religion. Fr. Berthieu was then attacked and killed by several men with clubs, and his body was dumped into a river.
Reflecting on the new Jesuit saint, Father General Nicolás, writes: “May the Holy Spirit help us put into practice the choices of Jacques Berthieu: his passion for a challenging mission that led him to another country, another language, and another culture; his personal attachment to the Lord expressed in prayer; his pastoral zeal, which was simultaneously a fraternal love of the faithful entrusted to his care, and a commitment to lead them higher on the Christian way; and finally, a life lived as gift, a choice lived out every day until the death which definitively configured him to Christ.”
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in Ossernenon (now Auriesville) in upstate New York. Her father was a Mohawk chief, and her Catholic mother was a member of the Algonquin nation. At age 4, she survived a smallpox epidemic that killed most of her village and her family, and she suffered from poor eyesight and health for the remainder of her life due to the illness.
Blessed Kateri, deeply moved by the preaching of the Jesuits who traveled among the villages, was baptized by the Jesuits at age 20. She then dedicated her life to prayer, penance, caring for the sick and infirm and adoration of the Eucharist. In 1677, she began a 200-mile trek to a Jesuit mission in Canada where she could more openly practice her faith. Her health continued to deteriorate, and she died on April 17, 1680, at age 24.
Blessed Kateri also has a special connection to the Jesuits’ Fordham University in New York. While it was not the official miracle that paved the way to her sainthood, she is attributed with saving the life of Fordham football player John Szymanski over 80 years ago. When Szymanski suffered a severe head injury during a 1931 Fordham football game, his surgeon announced there was no hope for his recovery, and Szymanski received last rites. But Fordham students began praying a novena and asked God to heal their classmate through the intercession of Blessed Kateri. Szymanski made a full recovery.
Blessed Peter Calungsod, or Pedro, as he is known, was a lay Catholic from Cebu, Philippines. He accompanied Jesuit missionaries to Guam as a catechist and was martyred there in 1672. As a young boy, Calungsod studied in the Jesuit town of Loboc in Bohol. He was chosen at age 14 to accompany the Jesuits in their mission to the Marianas Islands. At 17 he and Blessed Jesuit Father Diego Luis de San Vitores were martyred in Guam for their missionary work.
For more on these new saints, visit the following: EWTN News, Fordham Magazine, Manila Bulletin and Catholic News Service. The New York Province Jesuits also have several podcasts about Blessed Kateri on their website, including one with Jesuit Father Peter Schineller, province archivist, on the canonization process and the meaning of her life for us today.
“I feel at home only here,” says Jesuit Father Harry Miller in describing Batticaloa, the east coast city of Sri Lanka where he has lived for the last 64 years.
Raised in New Orleans to devout Catholic parents, Father Miller decided at the age of 16 to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and join the Jesuits. In all, six of his seven siblings would become Jesuit priests or nuns.
When he was missioned to Sri Lanka in 1948 at the age of 23, Father Miller traveled by train to New York and then boarded a ship for the long voyage to South Asia, finally arriving at the Jesuit mission in Batticaloa.
Before Father Miler’s arrival, Jesuit missionaries had come in waves to Sri Lanka. Although French missionaries had traditionally been sent to the country, in the 1930s, the Vatican called upon Americans from French Louisiana to help out with the Jesuit schools in eastern Sri Lanka.
“We didn’t volunteer for a few weeks, a month or a year. It was for life,” Father Miller said about his 60 years of service to the people of Batticaloa as educator, priest, protector and witness.
Through the years, Father Miller taught physics, English and history, and coached the soccer team at St. Michael’s College, a boys’ school founded in 1873. He worked actively to build bridges between communities and documented the unrest in Sri Lanka that claimed thousands of lives. Many people simply disappeared during the Sri Lankan Civil War and a 1980s insurrection; one of those still missing is Father Miller’s friend and colleague, Jesuit Father Eugene John Hebert. Father Hebert, who was known for his human rights work, disappeared in August of 1990.
In 2009, unsure whether he would stay in the United States, Father Miller returned to his native New Orleans. Once there, he realized that his true home was in Batticaloa, and he quickly returned.
In this video piece, Father Miller talks with great love about his home in Batticaloa.
Jesuit Matthew Baugh, currently in his second year of studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of Toronto, shared this reflection with Southern Jesuit Magazine about the influence that Jesuit Martyrs have had in his formation as a Jesuit.
Two years ago, having just pronounced my first vows as a Jesuit novice in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, I was on a flight bound for London. All of a sudden it hit me: For the first time, I was arriving in England as a Jesuit. Four centuries earlier, my brother Jesuits had arrived under starkly different circumstances. They had to enter the country in disguise, under assumed names and beneath the watchful eyes of priest-hunters. Edmund Campion, for one, passed himself off as a jewel merchant named Mr. Edmunds. Having left England eight years earlier to become a priest and a Jesuit, he was for that reason regarded as a traitor and public enemy.
Campion and his companions—Robert Southwell, Nicholas Owen and Henry Walpole—were among the first Jesuits I ever encountered. At that time, nearly ten years ago, I was an overly ambitious young graduate student at Oxford University, my sights set on a career in politics and foreign affairs. But, I also had a profound sense that the Lord was calling me deeper into prayer and union with him. When I began attending daily Mass at the university chaplaincy, I encountered one of the most astonishing preachers I had ever heard, a British Jesuit by the name of Nicholas King. Here was a man who had met the Word of God and knew how to help others do the same.