Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Today is the Feast Day of St. Ignatius, Founder of the Society of Jesus

Today is St. Ignatius Day, the feast day of the founder of the Jesuits, who died on this day in 1556.  To commemorate the occasion, Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, will say Mass today at the Church of the Gesù in Rome, where St. Ignatius is interred.

Jesuits across the globe will also mark the feast day by celebrating Mass and gathering together in community as they have since the Society of Jesus was founded in 1540.

National Jesuit News recently caught up with several U.S. Jesuits as they gathered in Denver for a four-week Novice History Colloquium. Watch the following video to see why St. Ignatius is still such an influential and inspiring figure to Jesuits, more than four centuries after his death.

 

Tour Explores South America’s Jesuit Heritage, Pope’s Homeland

Jesuit Reductions

Photo by Jorge E. Taracido

By Becky Sindelar

A Jesuit heritage tour of Argentina and Paraguay will follow the footsteps of Jesuits from the early 1600s through the present day — including the first Jesuit pope in his hometown. Sponsored by the California Province Jesuits, participants have the chance to immerse themselves in South America’s rich Jesuit history.

Jesuit Father John Mossi, from the California Province, and Argentinian Jesuit Father Michael Petty will lead pilgrims on the cultural and spiritual journey from February 17 to March 1, 2014. The tour will begin in Córdoba, Argentina, where a group of Jesuits missioned from Spain arrived in 1599 and created a center of learning.

From there, the journey continues to the Jesuit Reductions in Posadas, on the border of Paraguay. The Jesuits in the 17th century built the famous Jesuit Reductions, indigenous cities of culture, education, food production and religious evangelization in the jungle areas of today’s Argentina, Paraguay, southern Brazil and Uruguay. These thriving cities were one of the most ambitious creations of Catholic missionary activity, according to Fr. Mossi.

“They were renowned for their architecture, systems of government and flourishing community life that empowered the indigenous peoples,” explains Fr. Mossi. “As European governments saw the slave trade as a means of profit and commerce, the Reductions became sources of exploitations. The Jesuits kept moving the Reductions deeper into the jungles in order to protect them. Eventually, the creation of the Reductions and protection of native people was interpreted as subversive action instigated by the Jesuits and became another element of the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773.”

The tour will end in Buenos Aires, and while it was planned before Pope Francis was elected, the schedule is being updated to explore his connections to his native city.

“Fr. Petty, our local Jesuit guide, is an Argentinian who knows Pope Francis. He’s working to include sites and churches Pope Francis frequented in Buenos Aires,” says Fr. Mossi.

Fr. Mossi believes participants will come away with a sense of Jesuit missionary spirituality, history and culture in South America. He expects a group of about 25 people, including many who have participated in previous Jesuit pilgrimages sponsored by the California Province.

Photo by Jorge E. Taracido

Joe Naylor, assistant for advancement and communications for the California Province, has been on Jesuit pilgrimages to Europe and China and says that the groups bond from their Jesuit connections. He’s already looking forward to next year’s trip.

“A highlight of the pilgrimage will be visiting the religious sites where our new Jesuit pope celebrated the Mass. These pilgrimages provide not only an insight to the rich legacy of St. Ignatius and the traditions of the Jesuits, but also a more global view of our Jesuit ministries,” Naylor said.

To learn more about the Jesuit Reductions Tour, visit www.jesuitscalifornia.org/argentina.

A Day of Jesuit Thanksgiving: The Canonizations of Sts. Ignatius and Francis Xavier

St. Ignatius of LoyolaA 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.

St. Francis XavierOn 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]

Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek: A Life in Service

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 Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek 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.”

Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek in 1938

Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek (center) in 1938.

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 hometown welcome for Fr. Ciszek upon his return to the United States in 1963.

A hometown welcome for Fr. Ciszek upon his return to the United States.

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.

French Jesuit and Two Others with Jesuit Connections to be Canonized on Oct. 21

Jesuit Father Jacques BerthieuA 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 TekakwithaBlessed 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 Pedro CalungsodBlessed 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 NewsFordham MagazineManila 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.