By Doris Yu
Against the backdrop of MAGIS and World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, National Jesuit News sat down with Jesuit scholastics Eric Sundrup and Sam Sawyer, associate editors of The Jesuit Post, to talk about their experience interviewing Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolás. Sundrup and Sawyer took the opportunity to interview Fr. Nicolás during his appearance at MAGIS at Colégio Antônio Vieira, the Jesuit high school in Salvador, Brazil.
Speaking about his impressions of Fr. Nicolás, Sundrup said, “It’s very clear Fr. General speaks profoundly and in great depth. … When he talks to Pope Francis, he talks to him like he talks to any other Jesuit. I think he did the same thing with me and all of us that were present for the interview. He just talks to us like he would talk to any other Jesuit. ”
Sawyer said, “I think what strikes me about him is, more than some particular program or strategy for the Society, what he has is a very clear sense of what we need to pay attention to, and he keeps calling us to pay attention to it.”
Sawyer added about Fr. General’s dry sense of humor, “We laughed a lot when we got to talk to him off-camera and we got to interact with him that way.”
Click the audio player below to listen to NJN’s interview with The Jesuit Post.
The New York Times recently reported that sequestration cuts are hurting Native American communities, including the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where the Jesuits have served since 1888. Jesuit Father George Winzenburg, president of Pine Ridge’s Red Cloud Indian School, spoke to The New York Times about the sense of resignation that has set in on the reservation.
“It’s one more reminder that our relationship with the federal government is a series of broken promises,” Fr. Winzenburg said. “It’s a series of underfunded projects and initiatives that we were told would be funded to allow us to live at the quality of life that other Americans do.”
According to reservation officials and residents, the poverty trap that has plagued the reservation for generations will likely be exacerbated by recent developments in federal policy. When budget cuts went into effect on March 1, many programs were exempted that benefit low-income Americans, but virtually none of the programs aiding American Indians were included on that list, reported The New York Times.
“Imagine how people feel who can’t help themselves,” said Robert Brave Heart Sr., executive vice president of Red Cloud Indian School. “It’s a condition that a lot of people believe is the result of the federal government putting them in that position, a lot of people are set up for failure. People have no hope and no ability whatsoever to change their fate in life. You take resources that they have, that are taken away, it just adds to the misery.”
Read the full story at The New York Times website.
Jesuit Father TJ Martinez was recently profiled by his hometown paper, The Brownsville Herald of Brownsville, Texas, about founding Cristo Rey Jesuit in southeast Houston. “Within 24 hours of graduating from Harvard [with an MA in educational leadership], I was on a plane from Boston to Houston,” Fr. Martinez recalled. “My first assignment as a new priest was to start this new school.”
Part of the Cristo Rey network of schools, the high school exclusively serves children living at or below the poverty line and charges no tuition, supported instead by donations and a work-study program in which students are employed at local corporations one day a week.
“We wanted to see if we could launch not just a Catholic high school but, more importantly, to at least begin a movement of Catholic education reform focused on children who are most in need. We started with nothing but a good idea,” said Fr. Martinez.
The school celebrated its success with its first graduation ceremony this past June. The entire first graduating class received scholarships, most covering full tuition and expenses, to some of the most prestigious schools in the country.
When the school was founded in 2009, Cristo Rey Jesuit relied heavily on donors in the city of Houston for financial assistance. However, Fr. Martinez also sought to “involve the community in the bigger concept. … We didn’t want just donors and corporate sponsors. We wanted them to become supporters so that they would take ownership of the movement.
“If we could turn someone who was being supported by the taxpayers into someone who contributed to our community,” achieving the goal would change Houston, said Fr. Martinez. “I was shocked that the support came from as many non-Catholics as Catholics. They realized that we could change the landscape. … It’s an investment.”
Cristo Rey Jesuit students participate in a work-study program that employs them in entry-level positions one day a week to earn the remainder of the tuition not covered by donations. According to Fr. Martinez, the jobs allow these students who have grown up in the toughest neighborhoods and come from the most broken families to re-imagine themselves as future business leaders and future family leaders.
“It’s almost like pressing a reset button on their minds,” Fr. Martinez said. “It ignites a positive potential, a ‘divine spark’ that I believe exists in every child.”
This fall, Fr. Martinez will travel to Kenya on a six-month mission to meet Jesuits who are considering opening a similar school in Nairobi. After his time abroad, Fr. Martinez will return to Cristo Rey Jesuit for another term as president. [The Brownsville Herald]
Jesuit Father Matthew Carnes, assistant professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., untangles the politics that underlie labor policy, social welfare and inequality issues in his research and in the classroom. “I’m convinced that inequality is the issue of the next century,” he said.
“We have 1 in 5 children in the United States growing up in poverty and 16 percent of the population living below the poverty line. It’s not something that happens naturally; it’s something we actually choose,” Fr. Carnes explained.
According to Fr. Carnes, many political choices affect the levels of inequality — from how much we tax individuals and corporations to how much we fund public education or how we defund welfare programs. “At the end of the day, society gets to make that choice. We are a democratic system, which gives us mechanisms for choosing. But I think we need to recognize it as a choice and talk about those mechanisms.”
Students in his courses study the variation of political behavior over time, across the United States and among different countries. “There are lots of other ways the world can be, [which shows students] we can create the world we want to live in,” said Fr. Carnes, who received Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service Faculty of the Year Award this May.
Fr. Carnes said that while inequality raises complicated and contentious issues, he also sees that his students are eager to tackle them. “I push them to be constantly thinking and rethinking and challenging ideas,” he said.
By showing students how political choices have created the world we live in, Fr. Carnes hopes they understand that their actions can also change it. “Students have this real enthusiasm with trying to make a difference. I point to the fact that there are differences and those differences are human made, so if they want to make a difference they can.”
Read the full interview with Fr. Carnes at the Georgetown University website.
After the Jesuits took over Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles in 2000, the school began accepting only low-income students and doubling up on core classes. Evidence shows that their Cristo Rey Network model is working: all 60 graduating students of the class of 2013 announced they would be going to college at the school’s commitment day ceremony this year.
The all-male high school in the Watts neighborhood of the city was the subject of a recent feature story in the Los Angeles Times’ Column One section. For the sixth straight year, the college acceptance rate was 100 percent for its almost entirely Latino and African-American students.
This celebration of the school’s success highlights the dramatic changes made in Verbum Dei’s recovery from financial problems. In 2000, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which long kept the school afloat, announced that Verbum Dei was on the verge of closing. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony asked the Jesuits to take over, and they linked the school with the Cristo Rey Network of Catholic schools in 2002, which provides a college preparatory experience for disadvantaged urban teenagers.
By 2009, Verbum Dei was fully operating under the new program. The school, once an athletic powerhouse, directed its focus toward new achievements. “You might not see any more championship athletic banners in the gym,” said Paul Hosch, vice president for mission advancement at Verbum Dei. “But what you will see is five to six college acceptance letters per student.”
Students’ days at Verbum Dei are highly structured, the schedule designed to bring underachieving students to grade level. “Every student here has obstacles or challenges, and we accept that,” Principal Dan O’Connell said. “But that cannot be an excuse. The real world is not going to allow them to use that as excuses.”
The school condenses six years of learning into four, with double sessions of core classes such as English and math. In addition to schoolwork, students work one day during the school week as part of a corporate work-study internship that pays half of their tuition. Parents are asked to pitch in what they can afford, and the remainder of the tuition is made up through grants and fundraising.
School officials said the work at law firms, banks and engineering companies inspires the teens. Ricardo Placensia, who will be attending the University of California, Riverside in the fall, interned at Locke Lord law firm. “I see I made [my mother] proud,” said Placensia. “That’s the one thing I’ve wanted to do.” [Los Angeles Times]