Monday, February 28, 2005

Jesuits to withdraw from Florida parish.

This news item came out during the Long Retreat, but I only just got wind of it today. At the end of July, the New Orleans Province Jesuits will withdraw from Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, ending the Society's 115-year association with the historic downtown parish. I've never been to Sacred Heart (indeed, I've never even been to Tampa), but I've heard good things about it, and the pastor was one of my traveling companions on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land five years ago. The Society's imminent departure from Sacred Heart isn't particularly surprising; as the number of Jesuits decreases, many provinces have cut back their involvement in parochial ministry in order to focus their resources on arguably more distinctive Jesuit apostolates in the realms of education and social ministry. Nonetheless, it's sobering to realize just how much the Jesuit presence in Florida has receded over the past few years. The New Orleans Jesuits' decision to withdraw from Sacred Heart follows earlier withdrawals from historically Jesuit St. Ann Church in West Palm Beach, now under diocesan administration, and Gesu Church in Miami, which is now administered by the Jesuits of the Santo Domingo-based Antilles Province, which also runs Belen Jesuit High School and several other institutions in greater Miami. When they pull out of Sacred Heart, the New Orleans Province Jesuits last remaining Florida apostolate will be Tampa's Jesuit High School, which itself faces the challenge of remaining true to its roots as the number of Jesuits on staff shrinks. In recent years, there's been a lot of talk in Jesuit circles about how the Society can focus its apostolic energies to respond to the dramatic increase in the number of Catholics in the Southern states. As Florida's Catholic population - and, for that matter, its population in general - continues the rapid growth of the last few decades, I can only hope that the dwindling of the Jesuit presence in the Sunshine State is merely temporary. At some point in the future, I hope the Society is able to respond to the ministerial challenges that Florida and the rest of the Sunbelt have to offer. This may not mean establishing or leading another Sacred Heart, St. Ann's or Gesu, but it will surely mean responding to the present and future needs of the Church in Florida with the same creativity and energy which the Society brought to these three historic parishes. Even if I'm not a part of these efforts, Jesuits of my generation certainly will be. Though it's sad to see the New Orleans Jesuits end their long association with Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, I'm hopeful that greater things await the Society in the Sunshine State. AMDG.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Benedictine monks in Detroit.

This morning I attended Mass at St. Scholastica Church, one of two Benedictine parishes in the city of Detroit. As you may have surmised from this recent post, I have a certain fascination with what could be described as 'urban monasticism,' and St. Scholastica's is a place I've been wanting to check out for months. The frequent travel and weekend commitments that come with novitiate life kept me from getting there until today, but I'm glad I finally had a chance to check up on our Benedictine brethren. My experience this morning confirmed a lesson I learned some time ago - though united by observance of Benedict's Rule and membership in the Benedictine Confederation, every Benedictine house has its own essentially unique culture and way of proceeding. The monastic community at St. Scholastica's is quite small (from what I gather, the monks in residence number no more than four or five), serving what seems to be a fairly small congregation: there were about seventy people at this morning's liturgy, which was one of three Masses offered each weekend. The parish also sponsors a grade school and until recently had its own high school as well; like many other Catholic parishes in inner-city Detroit, St. Scholastica's offers more to the residents of its predominantly non-Catholic neighborhood than the church's relatively low Mass attendance would suggest. Befitting a Benedictine parish, the liturgy was done well in virtually all respects - particular kudos go to the small but superb choir. The church's novel unusual decor also had a characteristically Benedictine quality to it, fitting well the Order's widespread (though hardly universal) reputation for daring and often gutsy feats of liturgical design. The mosaics behind the altar at St. Scholastica's are particularly worthy of note; their vivid and sometimes garish imagery calls attention to the Benedictine heritage of the parish (Saints Benedicts and Scholastica and various Benedictine symbols are prominently depicted) and to the theme of discipleship in the modern world (they include, for example, the image of Mother Teresa). I really wish I had a picture of these mosaics, because I've never seen anything like them and really can't describe them except to say that they present Catholic iconography done in a style reminiscent of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. In short, St. Scholastica's struck me as a unique and wonderful place - I look forward to worshipping there again, and if you're passing through you may want to consider worshipping there as well. AMDG.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Short Experiment Update.

First off, another mea culpa is in order for the scarcity of posting this week. What I wrote on Sunday still applies - things have been fairly monotonous here, so I've had less to write about. The kids from La Salette were off school for the second half of this week, so the first-year class had time to visit the men at Colombiere and to return to the nursing homes we worked at during hospital experiment in the fall. Colombiere was pretty much the same as always, albeit with a few new faces. Returning to Abbey Mercy Living Center was a different experience - I noticed the sights, sounds and smells as if the first time, and though I was able to speak with and get caught up with several residents I had gotten to know during the experiment the more surprising thing for me was how many names I had forgotten. Nonetheless, it was great to be back for a visit.

The title of this post promises an update on my planning for Short Experiment, so here goes. For two months from mid-March to mid-May I'll be in California - a state I have heretofore never visited - working for the Refugee Services Program of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. Meanwhile, I'll be living with the Jesuit community at Santa Clara University. As happens with many novices, my experience of the Long Retreat helped me figure out what I wanted to do for Short Experiment. At different points during the retreat I found myself returning to an image of the Holy Family as refugees. I was particularly struck by the realization that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees twice over - not only when they fled from Bethlehem to Egypt in advance of King Herod's massacre of the Holy Innocents, but also when they returned from Egypt. I hadn't noticed this before the Retreat, but Matthew 2:22 seems to suggest that Mary and Joseph would've preferred to return to Bethlehem after their brief exile in Egypt, but since political conditions there remained distinctly unfavorable (Herod's son being a chip off the old block, apparently) they felt compelled to go to Nazareth instead. This insight led me to reflect on personal experiences relating in one way or another to the plight of refugees and fueled my desire to do refugee work on Short Experiment. There's a lot more to the story than that, but that's it in a nutshell. I should also note that second-year novice John Shea, an acknowledged reader of this blog, also did refugee work for Catholic Charities in Santa Clara last year and loved it (if I'm misrepresenting your sentiments, John, feel free to chime in below). As my departure for the West Coast nears I'm sure I'll have more to say about Short Experiment, but for now I hope this brief update satisfies the curiosity of those who may have been wondering what I'll be doing. AMDG.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

No monks in Manhattan?

We had a lively discussion at table this evening about whether any Roman Catholic male monastic orders have foundations in New York City generally and Manhattan in particular. The answer, according to the authoritative Official Catholic Directory, is no. This raises what is, to my mind, an interesting question: why aren't there any monks in Manhattan? A facile answer would be to suggest that the values of monasticism lend themselves to bucolic rural living; one could easily argue that the spirit of solitude and contemplation characteristic of the monastic vocation can be better lived in the quiet of the country than amid the distraction and noise of the urban jungle. However, there's plenty of evidence to contradict the thesis that monks don't belong in big cities. There are, it seems, plenty of urban Benedictines. The English Benedictine Congregation has two foundations in major American cities: St. Anselm's Abbey in Washington, D.C. and St. Louis Abbey in the Missouri metropolis of the same name. Chicago is home to the Benedictine Monastery of the Holy Cross and Detroit has two Benedictine parishes, Holy Family and St. Scholastica. One can even find Benedictines in Cleveland and Richmond. There may not be any Benedictines in New York City, but right across the river in New Jersey one finds Newark Abbey, which has charge of a prep school and parish in one of America's most challenging urban areas. Looking at Europe, one finds urban Benedictine foundations in major cities like Paris, Rome and London (home to both Ealing Abbey and the Priory of Christ the King, Cockfosters). One can also find communities of monks in cities as diverse as Bahia, Manila and Nairobi. Then there's Hagia Maria Sion Abbey in Jerusalem, which actually came up in a dream I had during the Long Retreat. Though the college towns of Oxford and Berkeley hardly fit most definitions of "major cities," the former is home to St. Benet's Hall and the latter, intriguingly enough, includes a monastery of Camaldolese Hermits. At this point, skeptical readers may point out that essentially all the examples I've offered involve the Order of Saint Benedict. Now, I'll admit that I've yet to come across any urban Trappists (though the non-Trappist or "non-reformed" Cistercians do live and work in cities - see, for example, their community in Dallas). It may well be that some monastic orders are more open to adapting to urban life than others. That said, my initial question remains unanswered. Since there are urban monks (or, one might better say, urban Benedictines) all over the world, how is it that monasticism has never taken root in a city many think of as "the capital of the world"? I have no explanation. At the very least, however, I hope readers have enjoyed the smorgasbord of sundry links served up in this post. AMDG.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005.

The legendary Gonzo journalist committed suicide yesterday at 67. There are probably already a lot of Thompson eulogies on the 'net, but rather than search for a particularly striking one I think I'll just direct you to David Carr's appreciation in the New York Times. The bio blurb on Better Than Sex, Thompson's postmortem of the '92 presidential campaign, said of the author: "He will be gone by 2000." And yet Thompson stuck around an extra five years - years in which he wrote Kingdom of Fear, did commentary on ESPN and - like many other pop icons - became more and more of a caricature of himself. I probably don't fit the expected profile of a Thompson fan, but I've enjoyed his books; my favorite remains the very first I picked up, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, which I still vividly remember reading in high school study hall on a series of dreary winter mornings nearly a decade ago. I can't think of Thompson without recalling that memory, and in that sense I suppose the journalist's death represents the cutting of yet another link to my youth. Goodbye, Dr. Thompson. If you pick up any new readers on account of this post, I suppose I'll have done my bit to keep your memory alive. AMDG.

Six months a novice.

Believe it or not, but it's been six months since August 21, 2004, the day my classmates and I entered the novitiate. I can't say that "it feels like yesterday" or "it feels like years ago," because neither accurately captures my perception of Entrance Day. In some sense the events of the day feel very distant, but I remember them with crystal clarity. Likewise, many of my experiences over the past six months feel like part of some far-off past - a past more remote, in some ways, than my recollections of events that took place before Entrance Day - and yet I can still imagine them in vivid detail. Reflecting on relationships in the novitiate, in some respects it seems like my classmates and I have known each other for ages and yet in some ways we're all just beginning to get acquainted. At the very least, I can say that living in community is a much different experience that I expected to it be - very different, certainly, than the group living situations I found myself in when I was in college and law school. Some readers (perhaps especially candidates for the Society) may want more detail on this topic, but I've said as much as I'll say about it in this space. As a Jesuit I know at Georgetown is fond of saying, "a religious community has the right to have its own private life," and to protect that privacy I've always tried to err on the side of discretion in posting on this blog. I will say, however, that my understanding of community life is probably what has changed most for me in the six months I've been a novice. I'll also say that I'd do it all again if I could, and that just as I've enjoyed my first six months as a Jesuit I'm looking forward to the next six months and (I hope and pray) all the years to come. AMDG.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The ennui of a winter afternoon . . .

is what I'm feeling right now. Very little has been going on here at Loyola House, which should partly explain the paucity of posts in the last few days. Don't get me wrong, things are going well - it's just that we've settled back into the monotony of routine and I've consequently had a harder time coming up with things to write about. I have a few things on the docket, including a promised post on Nineteenth Annotation retreats, so hopefully I'll post more frequently this week than last. In case you're wondering, teaching at La Salette is going well and Short Experiment is coming together - more on that later. In the meantime, stay well and have a great Sunday (or whatever day of the week you're reading this on). AMDG.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Sister Lucia dos Santos, O.C.D., 1907-2005.

In conversation at table during breakfast this morning I belatedly learned of the death this past Sunday of Sister Lucia, a Portuguese Carmelite nun who earned a unique place in history as a ten year-old shepherd girl in 1917. That year, Lucia and two other children reported a series of Marian apparitions that became the basis of the popular (and highly controversial) devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. Though the Church regards the Fatima events as authentic, Catholics are not required to accept their veracity as a matter of faith. Personally, I do not have a devotion to Fatima and I could probably best be described as indifferent on the question of the apparition's authenticity - I don't know if the events Sister Lucia claimed to have experienced really took place or not, and whether or not they did has no impact on my faith. Why, then, am I blogging about the death of this purported visionary? Because Sister Lucia was the last living link to a fascinating and influential phenomenon. Most American Catholics today have probably forgotten (or never knew about) the "Three Secrets of Fatima" reported by Sister Lucia and her companions. In the cultural milieu of mid-20th century American Catholicism, however, the Fatima Secrets were a big deal. In the fevered years of the early Cold War, anti-Communism and devotion to Our Lady of Fatima often went hand in hand, often under the aegis of militant lay groups like the Blue Army. The Second Fatima Secret explicitly called for the Marian consecration of Russia and included apparently accurate predictions of the end of World War I, the reign of Pope Pius XI, the start of World War II and widespread persecution of the Church. The release of the Third Fatima Secret - expected to occur by 1960 - was hotly anticipated by many Catholics who speculated that the Secret would reveal calamitous events like the triumph of Communism or a nuclear war. Ultimately, Pope John XXIII opted not to reveal the Third Secret, a decision that shook the faith of many Fatima devotees and spawned numerous conspiracy theories; reports that the Pontiff wept when reading the text of the Secret for the first time led many to fear the worst. Interest in the Fatima Secrets waned over the following four decades, and Pope John Paul II's decision to finally reveal the contents of the Third Secret in 2000 seemed almost anticlimactic. In the grand scheme of things, Fatima is a small footnote in the history of the Church. With its Cold War connections, however, it's a very interesting footnote - deserving at the very least of a high quality academic monograph. Thus the death of Sister Lucia also marks the death of a unique and intriguing era. AMDG.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

My first day teaching at La Salette.

After several days of in-class observation and out-of-class lesson planning, today I actually got up and taught a seventh grade religion class at La Salette. It was, I must report, a delightful and truly invigorating experience. Before today, my experience of teaching religion was largely limited to the once-weekly CCD classes I taught while I lived in South Bend. Going in today, I was nervous about making a good first impression, presenting the lesson in a cogent fashion and having enough material to fill the time. When I got going, however, these fears disappeared and I found myself moving along with almost effortless confidence. The students helped a lot in this regard - I'm blessed to be teaching a class of kids who are bright and well-behaved, energetic and engaged. Their knowledge of Scripture and church history never ceases to amaze - particularly as it far exceeds the grasp I had of either topic when I was at their grade level. Though I'm sure there are many challenges to come - regular lesson-planning, for example - if today is any indication I'm hopeful that the teaching experiment at La Salette will be a richly grace-filled and life-giving experience. AMDG.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Back into the swing of things.

It's been a week since the primi returned home to Loyola House, and I'm finally starting to get my bearings back. Our daily routine (the ordo, in the parlance of Catholic religious life) is different from the one we followed in the fall. We still get up at 7 am most days for morning prayer or Mass, but our commitments outside the house are basically limited to teaching for forty minutes a day at La Salette. Each of us teaches at a different time, and with my slot at 12:20 pm I have most of the morning free. (Incidentally, after a few days of observation I'll be doing my first day of actual teaching tomorrow, so wish me luck.) The last few days have also been devoted to individual prayer and discernment regarding our short experiments; I have a good sense of where I'll be going, but I won't announce my assignment here until it's official. Beyond that, I have a new house job - librarian! - which is both enjoyable and demanding enough that I've gotten into the habit of putting in an hour or two of work a day on it even though we're officially only obliged to do house jobs on Saturday mornings. As a general matter, our schedule is lighter and more flexible than it was before the Long Retreat, giving us ample time to get readjusted and try to integrate the graces of the Exercises into the daily lives we lead in this "Fifth Week."

Winding down this post, a couple random asides should assure any worried readers that Novitiate Notes' pop culture apostolate is alive and well. The first aside relates to world cinema, a pet interest I share with fellow novice Jake Martin. God only knows why, but this afternoon I suddenly found myself wondering, "Hey, what ever happened to Louis Jourdan?" Jourdan, as you may remember (or more likely have forgotten), was an international star of the '50's, '60's and '70's who (in common with many other familiar though obscure character actors) got typecast early in his career and went on to play essentially the same role over and over again. In Jourdan's case, that role was of a suave and courtly though often somewhat shady European aristocrat. (As I write this, I find myself wondering whether Jourdan was in any sense a prototype for Christopher Walken's recurring SNL character The Continental.) I suspect that most movie viewers of my generation would recognize Jourdan, if at all, as a scenery-chewing Bond villain (he played Kamal Khan in Octopussy) or as the mutant-creating Dr. Anton Arcane from the Swamp Thing movies. To be honest, I myself thought of the aforementioned films first when Jourdan's name popped into my head, and only after that did I rack my brain to remember the other movies he was in earlier in his career, which is kinda sad given that Jourdan would probably rather be remembered for his roles in '50's flicks like Gigi and Three Coins in the Fountain.

The second aside, even more of a non sequitur than the first, involves a song I had stuck in my head today. Of all things, I found myself humming the theme from Scarecrow and Mrs. King. For the backstory on this, consult these old blog entries by Jon and myself. The really remarkable thing about this isn't the song itself (though it is, I must admit, a catchy little number) but how long ago it seems that I last wrote about it here. Memories can work in a strange way: events that occurred a mere three months ago in the novitiate now seem like ancient history, while things I did before I entered - trips I took this past summer, for example - seem very recent. Though these comments stem from a chance recollection I had today, the memory puzzle I'm referring to is one I pondered much during the Long Retreat and continue to wonder about. If any readers have any insight on the topic, feel free to share them. As I wrote above, this aside is something of a non sequitur, but if it gets you thinking about the role of memory in your own experience I'll feel like I've done my job. AMDG.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

(More) Profiles of the Class of 2004.

As previously reported, the Fall 2004 issue of Company included profiles of about half of the new class of Jesuit novices. Now the Winter 2004-05 issue of the same publication covers the remaining half, including Loyola House residents Adam DeLeon, Drew Marquard, John Petit, Jim Shea, Tony Stephens and myself. (Also included is Kevin Koehler who, astute readers may recall, left the novitiate in November.) In case you're wondering, the data included in the profiles is culled from a survey Company sent to all the novices-to-be over the summer. Most of them, I trust, are reasonably accurate; I say "reasonably" because some of the data provided unsurprisingly got mangled during the editing and writing process. My classmate Adam, for example, has been at pains to emphasize that he taught fourth and fifth formers in Jamaica, not fourth and fifth graders - in other words, high school and not grade school kids. I'm satisfied with my profile, though I may not have ranked "architecture" as one of my top three interests - I suspect it was chosen over the other half-dozen things I listed because it was the most unique. In any event, I hope you enjoy learning more about me and my classmates and what we all did before we entered the Jesuits. If something of our experience resonates with yours, perhaps you should consider contacting your friendly neighborhood vocation director for more info. Who knows? Someday you too could grace the pages of Company. AMDG.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Chi Prov news roundup.

Being on retreat for the month of January, I've been out of the loop on a lot of recent news - including goings-on in my own Chicago Province. The last week has given me a chance to catch up with what I missed, and I found a couple Jesuit news items I felt I should discuss on this blog.

The first item is the death of Chicago Province Jesuit Father Stan Wisniewski on January 27th. I and many of the other first-year novices got to know Father Wis during our hospital experiment at Colombiere in the fall, and his passing - unexpected to us - was something of a shock. A perfect gentleman and an able conversationalist, Wis always had a few pearls of wisdom to impart to the novices lucky enough to sit at his table during lunch. He had a clear-headed and incisive understanding of the challenges facing the Church today as well as great optimism for the future. I'll miss having the opportunity to speak with him when I visit Colombiere, especially considering the long list of questions I never got to ask him - about his many years in teaching, his parish work, his experience of the Exercises, and so forth. So, Wis, until we meet again, Godspeed. Hope you're praying for us as we'll be praying for you.

The second news item comes from Cincinnati, where Chicago Province Jesuit Father Paul Huber recently completed 53 years at St. Xavier Church. I've met the 93 year-old Father Huber just once, at the Chicago Province ordination weekend last June, but from the first time I heard about him I've been impressed by his great dedication to the people of his parish. While Jesuits are none for their mobility, Paul Huber's life shows that we can sometimes find and serve God best by staying put. Father Huber's departure from the downtown Cincinnati parish where he's served with distinction for over half a century marks the end of an era, and I'm sure he'll be sorely missed there. Now that he's at Colombiere, however, a new generation of Jesuits - i.e., us novices - will have a chance to get to know him and pick up valuable life lessons in the process. AMDG.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hi, Russ!

During my retreat I received a gracious letter from Russ Plywaczynski, a former Chicago Province novice who I lived with for slightly over two months at Loyola House and who was my dux on the shopping team. Though no longer a member of the Society, Russ remains part of the Ignatian family and I'm proud to call him my friend and my brother. Russ recently moved to Bethlehem Farm, a lay community in rural West Virginia, and I commend the good work he's doing there to the prayers of my readership. Hopefully this post goes a long way toward correcting my oversight - gently acknowledged by the subject in his letter - of not mentioning Russ on this blog. So, Russ, if you're reading this, God bless and hope to be in touch soon. AMDG.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Notes on Ash Wednesday.

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and regarded by many as the most distinctively Catholic day of the liturgical year. Though Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, more Catholics go to Mass today than attend on some bona fide holy days and many who pack the pews today are seldom seen there otherwise. The appeal that Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season have for Catholics of all stripes - from the ultra-devout to the minimally practicing - is easy to appreciate. The act of signing with ashes (a reminder not simply of one's sinfulness but of one's baptism as well) and the speaking of the powerful words "remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return" are among the most poignant and widely recognized features of Catholic practice. (As an aside, I should note that I was pressed into service today to help distribute ashes at Our Lady of La Salette Church across the street, and I was surprised to find the experience more deeply moving than any of the many times I've served as a eucharistic minister.) The Lenten practices of fasting, abstinence and penance help foster an attitude of introspection that can lead even the most casual believer to consider how he or she can better live in relationship with God and others. Ash Wednesday and Lent offer potent reminders of the cultural distinctiveness of Catholicism as well as the gravity of our baptismal commitment.

On a somewhat different note, "Ash Wednesday" is also the name of a famous and beautiful poem by T. S. Eliot, which I commend to your attention. AMDG.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

What happens in Gloucester stays in Gloucester . . .

so don't expect a blow-by-blow account of the Long Retreat on these pages. I'll admit that making the Spiritual Exercises was an intense and unforgettable experience, but I can't say much more than that - partly because I'm still trying to make sense of it all. To reference the title of a classic Jesuit vocation book, I've begun the "Fifth Week" - i.e., Jesuit life post-Long Retreat. Sorry if this all sounds a bit trite, but I'm still a bit disoriented by the transition back to normalcy - that is, if the frequent transitions entailed in novitiate life can be considered characteristic of normalcy. This week's schedule is a perfect example. Last night we got back from Gloucester, today we basically hung around the novitiate getting reacclimated, and tomorrow we start teaching at Our Lady of La Salette School across the street. As noted in a previous post, the first-year novices will spend the rest of February and part of March teaching religion to the students at La Salette - I've got the seventh grade, which happened to be my first choice. I'm sure I'll have more to say about that and other topics in the coming days. For now, let me just say that it's great being back at Loyola House, it's great being able to post these Notes once again, and it's great being a Jesuit novice. AMDG.