Posts Tagged ‘Vocation’
Jesuit Father Rocco Danzi, director of campus ministry at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J., was a guest on The Busted Halo Show with Fr. Dave Dwyer last fall, where he discussed vocations, spirituality, pastoral ministry and what inspired him to join the Society of Jesus. “The movie that fired me up for the Jesuits was ‘The Mission,’ Fr. Danzi recalls. “I began to say to myself, what if I joined this group and found myself going over a waterfall? Well you have to watch what you ask for!”
Fr. Danzi first encountered real-life Jesuits when he attended Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. After college he was working as a teacher when he began to discern his vocation to the priesthood. Fr. Danzi says he felt a calling to the Society but was resistant because he was not sure he fit in. “I was selling myself short because the Jesuits I knew had doctorates and were professors at St. Joe’s,” he explains.
With encouragement he met with the Jesuits and entered the Society in 1989. “My own ministry as a Jesuit has been very pastoral. As a Jesuit you can do all sorts of things, with or without a doctorate,” says Fr. Danzi. “It’s not the degree, it’s the heart. It’s the call within the call and discerning what kind of ministry excites you the most.”
As a campus minister, Fr. Danzi has enjoyed going on service trips with the students and says that many young adults are not sure about the prayer portion of the trip before they go. Fr. Danzi says that often changes. “Service seems to trigger and bring forth a lot of personal and spiritual things that come to the surface,” he says.
Fr. Danzi has been inspired by his own service trips to Haiti while he was a Jesuit novice. “It’s a place where I really encountered God and found that strength to keep going on that journey toward Jesuit priesthood and Jesuit ministry,” says Fr. Danzi.
Listen to the entire interview with Fr. Danzi at the New York Province website.
It’s not uncommon for Jesuits to discover their vocation to the Society of Jesus while attending Jesuit-run high schools or universities. But Jesuit scholastic Jason Brauninger’s vocation story is different — he found the Society of Jesus on the Internet.
Brauninger was always curious about a religious vocation, but the diocesan and monastic life didn’t seem to fit him. The more he researched the Society of Jesus, the more he felt called to it, despite having never met a Jesuit. What he learned online made an impact. He was struck by the Jesuit commitment to working in the world and the emphasis on using one’s gifts and talents to serve others.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Brauninger had started training as a junior firefighter at the age of 14 and received a bachelor’s degree in fire science before entering the Society. However, while praying during a 30-day retreat as a Jesuit novice, he felt drawn toward the nursing profession. “It wasn’t quite what I expected to hear,” Brauninger says of the discovery. “But everything has fallen into place and it all happened because of the grace of God.”
Brauninger completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Saint Louis University and became a cardiac care nurse. Now Brauninger is at Regis University in Denver, where he lives with the Regis Jesuit Community, works as a trauma nurse at a local hospital and teaches in the school of nursing.
“It is a great privilege to be at Regis. I’m able to continue my formation as a Jesuit, work as a clinician and learn how to be a professor,” Brauninger says. “I love being with the students.”
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 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.”
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 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.
Jesuit Father Joseph Billotti, assistant to the vice president for college relations at Canisius College, celebrated 60 years as a Jesuit in 2010 and said that he finds still finds Jesus in his apostolate today through his Jesuit vows — especially obedience.
Fr. Billotti’s assignments have taken him to many places, including Le Moyne College, his provincial’s office, Canisius High School and Micronesia, but he said that none of these apostolates would have happened if it were not for his vow of obedience.
“It was not only that my superiors missioned me to them, but without my vowed commitment to go anywhere I was sent, the opportunities to serve God’s kingdom in these scattered areas of the world would never have even presented themselves to me,” Billotti reflected.
“Never would I have been blessed to labor among such diverse peoples. Never would I have seen my own country through the eyes of so many cultures. Never would I have gazed upon the Body of Christ ornately clothed in so many colors, shapes and languages,” he wrote.
Read more of Billotti’s reflections at the vocation website for the Maryland, New England and New York Provinces.
Jesuit Father Paul Coelho, from Kohima, India, and currently working at the Center for Service and Justice and in campus ministry at Creighton University, has lived in Jesuit communities across the globe.
He admits that he came to the United States with a certain amount of apprehension. “I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in; I wasn’t sure how well I would be accepted. I had lots of doubts,” he said.
But, Fr. Coelho said, “It took me just two days to realize that a Jesuit community anywhere in the world is the same.”
While there are superficial differences, he said, he’s found that what it boils down to at the deepest level is amazingly similar.
“I’m convinced that when you’re a Jesuit you almost belong to a different nationality — the Jesuit nationality. It transcends natural borders and geographic and demographic borders,” Coelho said.
He has found that he’s at home in any Jesuit community because of the Society’s long, shared history. For more of Coelho’s reflections, watch the video below.