Posts Tagged ‘Southern Jesuit’

From English Classes to Prisons: Jesuit Honored for Life’s Work in Belize

Jesuit Father Jack Stochl found his heart’s home when he first went as a Jesuit scholastic in 1948 to Belize, where he remains today at age 87.

The government of that Central American nation recently recognized his commitment when it presented him last fall with the Meritorious Service Award for his 64 years of helping the people of Belize by teaching English and, more recently, caring for prisoners.

This disciplined man followed the same daily routine for years, rising at 4 a.m. to exercise, pray and teach English each morning at St. John’s College in Belize City. He ran the Extension School in the late afternoon and evening, returning home in time for bed at 9:30 p.m.

Fr. Stochl founded the Extension School in 1957 in the heart of Belize City. The school’s academic offerings were limited but effective, and were aimed at helping students earn a grade school diploma or “leaving permit” that would qualify them for a government job. He had great organizational skills and was ready to take charge of things.

Jesuit Father Jim Short, who now lives at Bellarmine House in St. Louis, worked with Fr. Stochl for years, including time together at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Belize City. “Jack had a good touch with people and chose good teachers,” he said. “He had goals and knew what he wanted to achieve.”

That keen sense of focus was evident in his various roles over many years in the Jesuits’ mission in Belize. He was first and foremost a dedicated and demanding teacher of the English language, constantly pushing his students to master English.

He served as headmaster of the secondary education division of St. John’s College from 1965 to 1969 and from 1987 to 1992; he was the mission superior from 1977 to 1983.

The Meritorious Service Award noted his radio work as well, saying that “his voice may be familiar to some early risers because for the past 34 years, going back to the days of Radio Belize, he has delivered a brief Morning Devotion talk each week.”

He took up residence at St. Martin’s parish in 1987 and served as its pastor from 1995 until 2004.

“He turned out to be an excellent pastor,” Short said, someone who continued the good relationships with people in the parish that his predecessors had begun.

In 2005, when he turned 80, Fr. Stochl became pastoral minister to inmates of the Belize prison. At the urging or a parishioner, he reluctantly visited prisoners who were reading the Bible. Fr. Stochl said he was not sure at first whether they were sincere or just faking, but “we got along comfortably and I continued to visit them each week. So when I retired from the parish and looked for something to do, the prison was the obvious choice”

Fr. Stochl’s work has grown. He goes to the prison at least five days a week and offers Mass on Saturdays for around 100 inmates with no guard present. He also runs three weekly counseling groups and visits men in the Maximum Security and punishment sections.

“Being present to them and interested means a lot,” he said. He is secretary of the Belize branch of Prison Fellowship International, and is involved in two rehabilitation programs.  “The work grows on you, and so do the inmates once you get to know them as persons.”

The thread that connects these different areas of Fr. Stochl’s ministry is his sense of identifying with the Belizean people.

He became a Belizean citizen in 1974, not as a political statement but as a sign that he would remain with the people. Early on he developed a great affection for the Garifuna, Afro-Caribbean people who live along Belize’s southern coast and other parts of Central America. As a scholastic, Fr. Stochl worked with a number of Garifuna students to create a way of writing their language. He continued this project during summer vacations in theology with the help of now retired Bishop Martin. The result was a dictionary and a small prayer book,

In Belize City, he always took time to chat with ordinary people. Now, he talks with prisoners, teaching a religious sensibility that will help them.

“He is where he should be,” Fr. Short said. “His heart is in the right place.”

This article, by Jesuit Father Tom Rochford, originally appeared in the Jesuits of the Missouri Province’s magazine Jesuit Bulletin. To download the full magazine, please click here.

Jesuit Spiritual Director Shares his Experiences as an Active Listener

Jesuit Father Joseph Tetlow is the director of Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas, Texas where he gives retreats, workshops and writes. Before his came to Montserrat, Fr. Tetlow spent several years in Rome as head of the Jesuit General’s Secretariat for Ignatian Spirituality, guiding the efforts of 250 Jesuit retreat houses.

Widely considered one of the Jesuits’ leading authorities on spiritual direction, Tetlow recently wrote this piece for the New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus’ magazine Southern Jesuit. You can read more article about the work of the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province by visiting Southern Jesuit‘s online magazine.

I really began listening to what people need when I was ordained in 1960. I was sent to the Cenacle Retreat House in New Orleans to give a weekend retreat. When I got there, Sr. Margaret Byrne, R.C., asked me what I wanted to do. Actually, she knew what needed to be done a lot better than I did, and she patiently helped me learn.

What I learned is this: my need of grace and yearning for God are gifts to be shared; they are not for me, alone. The prayers and desires given to me are not just for me. They are also for all to whom God sends me.

Realizing that gave me an insight into the Spiritual Exercises. They were created by St. Ignatius because he needed them. During his recovery from a battle wound, he began to experience “spirits” – joy when he thought about God, misery when he thought about being famous and powerful. How was he to understand these “spirits?” He needed order and method in his praying and desiring that would give him a sense of making progress. His needs, in God’s design, are also felt by all of Christ’s followers. We all feel, in a vague sort of way, the need for order and progress, and we are helped as Ignatius was by learning about discernment.

Guided by the Holy Spirit, he organized the prayers and desires into Spiritual Exercises, and as the Holy Spirit brought him clarity of mind and heart, the Spirit also opened his eyes to other people’s need for the same things. So Ignatius began sharing his spiritual experiences. At first, he went too far: the illiterate people of Manresa were not helped by tales of mystical experiences of the Trinity.

So Ignatius had to listen. And like him, I had to learn about others’ needs. Some need solid instruction. Some need a way to reform a life that has gone bad. Some need to hear what God wants with their whole lives. You find, when you listen to enough men and women today, that we all feel this same broad range of needs.

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