Archive for the ‘History’ Category

An American Jesuit’s Life in Sri Lanka

“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.

Campion, Walpole and Southwell: Jesuit Heroes and Friends in the Lord

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

China opens Ricci Exhibition Center

China’s first exhibition center dedicated to Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) has opened in Zhaoqing, the place where the Italian missionary first set foot on the mainland, reports Ucanews.

The new Matteo Ricci Cultural Exchange Exhibition Center details the life of the Jesuit priest, known as Li Madou to Chinese people, through an array of exhibits and written accounts.

The center is located near the ruins of the first church and Jesuit house that Fr. Ricci and his companion Jesuit Father Michele Ruggieri were allowed to build after they arrived in China in 1583. The church, called “Xianhua Temple” out of respect for Buddhist custom, was dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

Jesuit Father Gabriel Li Jiafang of Jiangmen, who attended the opening, hoped the exhibition, which is designed to boost tourism, would make more people aware of the missionary and the Catholic faith.

“The local Church has provided historical material such as books  and written records for the Ricci exhibition center which is managed by the  city museum. A replica of a Ricci statue owned by the parish is also erected there,” the pastor of Zhaoqing’s Immaculate Conception Church said.

Other exhibits include Fr. Ricci’s writings, items of clothing, scientific instruments and astronomical data, to help visitors understand his background, his six years in Zhaoqing (until 1589) and his contribution to cultural exchanges between East and West.

History Spotlight: Remembering a Jesuit Math Whiz

This year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the death of Christopher Clavius, the great Jesuit mathematician. He was a contemporary of Copernicus and Galileo, and lived from 1537 to 1612.

Clavius, who signed his 23 books Clavius Bambergensis, after his birthplace in Bamberg, was received into the Society of Jesus by St. Ignatius in 1555 and studied in Coimbra , Portugal, where he observed an eclipse of the sun, a portent of his later interest in astronomy. He became the Professor of Mathematics at the Jesuit Roman College in 1567 and held the chair until 1595.  After his retirement he revised his publications and focused his attention on astronomy.

Clavius’ great work lay in the teaching of mathematics. At the Roman College he fostered good scholars who went on to teach in the Jesuit Colleges throughout Europe. He published several manuals for teaching mathematics and wrote commentaries on the geometry of Euclid and Theodosius.

He came to public notice, however, with the reform of the calendar. The Julian calendar, prescribed for the Roman Empire by Julius Caesar in 45 BC, was current though Western Europe. But it was inaccurate, and the inaccuracies affected the dating of the spring equinox, and consequently of Easter. Gregory XIII commissioned a reform of the calendar and proclaimed it in 1582.

Clavius was given the task of explaining and defending the reform. This was a delicate task, because the reform meant that 10 days would be lost from the calendar in 1582. Such theft of time from people’s lives could cause riots. Some Protestant critics also saw the reform as an abuse of papal power.  Clavius published three books explaining and defending the reform.

This work focused his increasing interest in astronomy. One of his earlier books had been acommentary on the astronomical synthesis of an English thirteenth century teacher, Johannes Sacrobosco (John Holywood to his friends). This was based on the authoritative work of Ptolemy, a second century scholar from Alexandria. Clavius remained convinced of Ptolemy’s argument that the earth was the centre of the universe, and that other heavenly bodies revolved around it.  But although not persuaded by the heliocentric thesis of Copernicus, he was impressed by his arguments, as he was by the discoveries of Galileo. He saw the need for a reformed astronomical theory.

In this Clavius was true to his fundamental insight, that science needed to be founded on mathematics and on experiment, not simply on deduction and on ancient authorities. In this respect he was part of the beginnings of modern science. And his position provokes one of the great unresolvable ‘what ifs’ of Jesuit and European cultural history.

Clavius worked to persuade other Jesuits of the importance of mathematics in the educational curriculum.  In a draft revision of the Ratio Studiorum, the curriculum for Jesuit studies, he proposed that mathematics should be made central within the teaching of philosophy in Jesuit Colleges. He also proposed that the lack of good teachers should be remedied by a specialist academy for the training of gifted Jesuit mathematicians.

The response to the draft was that the lack of good teachers made the proposal unworkable. The final draft was simply aspirational in its general commendation of mathematics. At a time when the Jesuit Colleges played such an important part in higher education and culture in Europe, one wonders what would have been the effect of making mathematics a central part of their curriculum. Might the gaps that developed between church and science, and between metaphysics and the common scientific world view, have become so neuralgic?

Clavius made a key contribution to his age, but some doors even he was unable to unlock.

[Australian Province Express]

By Andy Hamilton SJ

Jesuit WWII Internee Remembered

Jesuit Father John Ruane, who was interned in the Los Banos civilian internment camp on the island of Luzon in the Philippines during World War II, recently passed away at the age of 92. He was Professor Emeritus at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City for 38 years.

Fr. Ruane, who entered the Society of Jesus upon graduating from St. Peter’s Preparatory in 1937, said that going to the missions appealed to him, and he was sent to the Philippines to study philosophy at Ateneo de Manila in July 1941. By 1942, all the priests and seminarians were placed under house arrest by the Japanese military, and in 1945, the Jesuits were moved to the Los Banos camp. They could take few belongings, and the 80 Jesuits were assigned to live in huts with 16 internees in each.

Given rice mixed with a little meat and water twice a day, Fr. Ruane said, “We were weak.” He said that they didn’t move around too much to preserve their strength and people would blackout often. “One pig would last for 1,000 servings.”

The priests would take turns saying Mass with the wine they had smuggled into the camp, and some of the Jesuits professors who would lecture the internees.

Fr. Ruane said they never gave up on the Americans and knew they were close since their airplane engines were stronger than the Japanese. Eventually, Fr. Ruane and the other internees were rescued by the U.S. troops.

Jesuit Father John Ruane

Jesuit priests and seminarians, above, in a photo taken at Loyola College in Los Angeles after they were freed by American soldiers in 1945. Father John Ruane is in the top row, second from right.

After World War II, Fr. Ruane returned to the United States to be ordained; earned a doctorate in philosophy at Louvain, Belgium; and then returned to Cebu in the Philippines to teach Jesuit seminarians until 1969.

With the passing of Fr. Ruane, Jesuit Father James Reuter, now 95, is the only other Jesuit survivor. Fr. Reuter still lives in the Philippines.