Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Jesuits withdraw from Russian parish in San Francisco.

Yesterday I received some very sad news. This past weekend, the Society of Jesus formally concluded fifty-five years of service at Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church in San Francisco. Though Our Lady of Fatima remains a vibrant, faith-filled parish and seems assured of a great future under the leadership of its new pastor, Capuchin Father Eugene Ludwig, the withdrawal of the Jesuits represents the apparent end of a unique chapter in the Society's history.

The story of Our Lady of Fatima is part of a larger story in which the Society of Jesus has played an important role. The Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, of which Our Lady of Fatima is a part, was born in the late 19th centuries through the efforts of Russian Christians who desired to live the Orthodox faith in its integrity in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The pioneers of Russian Catholicism endured persecution, exile and even martyrdom as they bore witness with their lives to the dream of Christian unity. In the 20th century, the Society of Jesus became involved in the pastoral care of Russian Byzantine Catholics in their homeland and in the diaspora. Initiated at the special request of the Holy See, the Society's involvement in this apostolate has taken numerous forms, from the direction of the Pontifical Russian College (the Russicum) in Rome to the establishment of Russian Byzantine Catholic missions and parishes in different parts of the world. Of the four Russian Byzantine Catholic worshipping communities in the United States, three - including Our Lady of Fatima - have gone through lengthy periods of Jesuit staffing; nonetheless, Our Lady of Fatima remains unique as the only parish among the four that was founded under Jesuit auspices. With the shrinking number of Jesuits, the number of men available for the Russian apostolate has inevitably decreased. As a result, Our Lady of Fatima found itself in recent years the only Russian Byzantine Catholic church in the United States with a Jesuit pastor. When the parish lost that distinction on Sunday, an important part of the Society's living history was inevitably lost as well.

I had the chance to worship at Our Lady of Fatima when I was in California this spring, and it's fair to say that I fell in love with the parish. I've written about my experiences at Our Lady of Fatima in a couple previous posts. This church was one of several Byzantine Rite Catholic communities I visited during my two months in the San Francisco Bay Area. These worship experiences played an instrumental role in reviving my old but long-dormant interest in Eastern Christianity, and if anything sealed the deal it was attending the Paschal liturgy at Our Lady of Fatima. This and other experiences have nurtured a deep desire to serve the people of God both in the Roman Rite to which I belong and in the Byzantine Rite that is also an integral part of the Catholic tradition. Getting to know several Jesuits who have ministered to Eastern Catholics and worshipping at Our Lady of Fatima has shown me that my desire to be bi-ritual accords strongly with the mission of the Society.

Though I've been to any number of Eastern Catholic churches, the fact that Our Lady of Fatima was a Jesuit parish made it very special to me. I retain a great love for San Francisco's Russian Catholic parish and hope to return whenever I'm in the Bay Area, but somehow it won't be the same. And yet, in some shape or form I'm hopeful that the Jesuit tradition of Our Lady of Fatima will live on - in the religious witness and warm hospitality of the parishioners, and in the apostolic desires that experiences there helped kindle within me. AMDG.


At October 13, 2005 4:05 PM, Anonymous David Nowaczewski said...

Great blog and informative, though sad, post on OL Fatima. I should have posted long ago as I've been reading your blog for awhile. We have many similarities in our life, both law school grads, both know Rick Garnett, at one time both novices in the Society (I was a novice in the New Orleans province back in 99, married now, 1 kid here and one in via) and both live in Metro Detroit (I'm in Warren). We should grab a burger or beer sometime before you take off for your long experiment. Drop me an email (scotus77@yahoo.com) if you feel so inclined. My prayers for you and yours.

At October 17, 2005 12:44 PM, Blogger Joe said...

David -

Thanks for the comment. Expect to hear from me soon.


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