For Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, the issue of race is what first sparked his interest in social justice. “Growing up in New Orleans in the late 1950s, the race issue was just beginning to open up,” Fr. Kammer recently told an audience at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania.
Fr. Kammer said he remembers, at age 9, the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when the court declared the segregation of schools unconstitutional.
“But it really didn’t hit,” Fr. Kammer said. “The glamour of that court decision was the court said, ‘You should desegregate schools with all deliberate speed.’
“The problem is, what is all-deliberate speed? For many states there wasn’t much speed at all,” Fr. Kammer said. “States held off and resisted.”
Fr. Kammer was under what he calls “extra special pressure” being a young man attending a Jesuit school in the wake of desegregation. He said all eyes were on him as a Jesuit student who was supposed to be representing his school.
“The buses were desegregated. I was 13 [when I sat] down next to a person of color for the first time,” Fr. Kammer said. “I had grown up in a segregated world, watching other people sit down or not sit down, or a black person sit down next to a white person who got up.”
The values that drew Fr. Kammer to social justice have stayed with him. As a Jesuit, Fr. Kammer went to law school and worked in legal services in Atlanta and Baton Rouge among the poor. Today Fr. Kammer is the director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans.
Fr. Kammer says being active in social justice is not as daunting as people may think.
“If you can find one way to be engaged with people who are poor and needy – disadvantaged – and one issue that you get really interested in, even for the rest of your life, that’s a wonderful combination,” Fr. Kammer said.
To read more about Fr. Kammer’s talk, visit Cabrini College’s Loquitur website.
Slovenian Jesuit Robert Dolinar has received a prestigious religious architecture award. Bestowed jointly by the American Institute of Architecture’s Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture and Faith & Form magazine, the award honors Dolinar’s work on the Chapel of Our Lord at the Ignatian House of Spirituality in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The annual Religious Art & Architecture Design Awards program, founded in 1978, honors the best in architecture, liturgical design and art for religious spaces.
“I’m glad to see that the jury recognized this little chapel. While architecture is a solitary and often secluded activity, I am always happy when a project is concluded and people move in,” Dolinar said. “Then the only important thing to me is whether the building helps people to open themselves toward their inner self and God.”
The Chapel of Our Lord is part of a retreat house built in 1925. During the building’s reconstruction in 2010, the Jesuits decided to convert a room into a space for meditation and prayer.
Dolinar served as architect, and the project reflects on the qualities of silence.
Existing walls were cut through to reveal the history and character of the original building, and Dolinar chose materials that are rarely used for architectural design, including spruce, limestone gravel, plaster, gauze and wheat, to represent the fragility of human existence. He also shaped the forms by hand, allowing architecture to fuse with sculpture and vice versa.
The jury commented that Dolinar’s space “presents a series of evocative, tactile experiences that are united through texture, color, material and craft throughout … One uses all of one’s senses, and each of the materials is expressed in a very natural way, raw but refined at the same time … It provides a series of surprises that keep the senses engaged.”
Dolinar joined the Society of Jesus as an architect, and during his Jesuit formation he has built several sacred spaces, including chapels and an interreligious prayer room. The Chapel of Our Lord has already received two architecture awards in Slovenia.
Drawing comparisons between the life of a Jesuit and that of an architect, Dolinar says, “A Jesuit likes silence. He listens to people carefully, and then he draws into reflection and study. He deepens to meditation and after discerning, he finally acts. I believe that the approach of an artist is very similar. Both Jesuit and artist focus on people’s deep needs.”
Dolinar, who says he is driven by the phenomena of silence, sacredness and home, is currently designing a memorial to victims of totalitarianism and building a chapel for the Salesian Sisters in Ljubljana.
An exhibition of the award-winning projects will be displayed at the 2013 National Convention of the American Institute of Architects in Denver this June, and the awards will be presented at that time. For more on the awards, visit Faith & Form magazine and the 2012 Faith & Form/IFRAA Religious Art & Architecture Awards.
When Pope Francis was elected on March 13, Jesuit Father Richard Ryscavage was texting back and forth with some of his former seminarians who are now in Argentina. Fr. Ryscavage had gotten to know these friends about 25 years ago when they studied theology together in Cambridge, Mass., when the Jesuit School of Theology was part of Harvard Divinity School.
“Yes, I heard of him 25 years ago,” said Fr. Ryscavage of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the man who is now Pope Francis. “His reputation was unusual. He was close to the poor and concerned with them. He was a simple man and a prayerful man.
“Personally, he was a very skilled spiritual director, adept at helping people in their prayer life. Men would go to him just for that direction,” said Fr. Ryscavage, who is a professor of sociology and Director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University in Connecticut.
Fr. Ryscavage said the pope was humble. “He had a quality of trying to stay in the background. He loved to spend time with the poor and would regularly go to the barrios. He was especially concerned with AIDS patients and would visit them often.”
Fr. Ryscavage said his friends halfway around the globe were “very happy” about Cardinal Bergoglio becoming pope, although they — like many Jesuits — were surprised. “It was really shocking to all of us,” said Fr. Ryscavage.
As a Jesuit, the pope is extremely familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and Fr. Ryscavage said he wouldn’t be surprised if it’s reflected in the pope’s talks. Fr. Ryscavage notes that the exercises indicate that “we’re supposed to start by reforming ourselves.”
For more of Fr. Ryscavage’s thoughts on the first Jesuit pope, visit the Minuteman News Center.
Yesterday, Jesuits washed the feet of young inmates at a juvenile detention facility in Los Angeles, as Pope Francis did for young Italian prisoners rather than for clerics as is the custom on Holy Thursday.
The decision to hold Holy Thursday services with young prisoners exemplified the particular Jesuit calling for “faith that does justice,” Jesuit Father Michael Kennedy told The Los Angeles Times. Fr. Kennedy ministers to inmates and their families for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles through the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative.
The Times reported that “the Jesuits in black shirts and clerical collars knelt before the youths in standard-issue gray sweats as they poured cool water over their feet and dried them, drawing both smiles and solemn looks.”
The young people also read letters to the pope, asking for healing and blessings. The inmates’ letters were then sent to Rome, where Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said in an email that Pope Francis would “surely read them with profound gratitude and he will pray for all the young people that are in the Juvenile Hall, and all that are in prisons.”
According to Fr. Kennedy, the pope’s visit to the Casal del Marmo juvenile jail for his first papal Holy Thursday service electrified social justice advocates across the globe.
“He’s going to places nobody wants to go to be with people who are forgotten,” Fr. Kennedy said of the pope. “It’s really shifting the paradigm of who we need to embrace and who is important in God’s eyes.”
Read the full story at The Los Angeles Times website.
Jesuit Father Fred Betti, director of campus ministry at Canisius High School, in Buffalo, N.Y., offers a reflection on the themes of triumph and tragedy in the final Lenten podcast from the New England and New York Province Jesuits.
Fr. Betti reminds us that on Good Friday we are encouraged to focus on the most essential part of our faith: the cross of Jesus. He recounts an inspiring story from one of his students that helped Fr. Betti appreciate the place of the cross. The student visited Long Island, N.Y., during Christmas vacation to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. While sorting through the rubble, the student found a beautiful silver crucifix with dried palm branches wrapped around it from the previous year’s Holy Week.
According to Fr. Betti, the student said, “There in the midst of the rubble, I saw the crucified Christ. And it was almost as if Christ was saying, ‘I’m here. I’m here suffering in the midst of all this disaster with all those who also were suffering through the terrible aftermath of that hurricane and how it destroyed so much in people’s lives.’”
Fr. Betti explains that God loves us but does not simply take our suffering away – he suffers with us.
“As we think about what the cross means to us, we realize Jesus, through his cross, made an unbearable burden bearable, because he took that suffering with him, the suffering of all times and all places. He destroyed its fatal power by offering it to God through his voluntary death on the cross for each and every one of us.”
Fr. Betti encourages us to take a moment each day to ask ourselves, “How seriously do I take this story of Jesus’ greatest act of love for me?”
Listen to the full podcast at the New England Province website.