Friday, September 09, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of St. Peter Claver.

Today the Church remembers 17th-century Jesuit Peter Claver, the "Slave of the Slaves" who spent four decades working among African slaves in Cartagena, Colombia. In the United States, Claver's name has been given to numerous institutions and organizations serving African Americans. The Chicago Province honors our brother Peter's memory with the Claver Jesuit Mission, a community of Jesuits serving in diverse ministries in an innercity African American neighborhood in Cincinnati.

Though Peter Claver is remembered today mainly for his dedicated spiritual and physical ministry to the slaves, what intrigues me most about this saint is the role that friendship and mentoring played in the development of his vocation. Early in his Jesuit formation, Claver got to know Brother Alphonsus Rodriguez, the long-serving porter of the Jesuit college in Palma, Mallorca. Though he lived and labored in obscurity, Rodriguez had a reputation as a wise and patient spiritual counselor and, like Claver, he would ultimately become a canonized saint. When the two men met, Claver was 25 and Rodriguez was 72. Despite great differences in age and life experience, the two men became close friends. Rodriguez's advice and encouragement helped Claver to discover his calling as a missionary.

Intergenerational friendships of the kind that blossomed between Claver and Rodriguez are an important part of Jesuit life - or perhaps of religious life in general. Though such relationships can and do occur outside religious life, something about the structure of religious communities seems to encourage and nurture them. In my view, this is a very good thing. I'd even go so far as to say that friendships of the Claver-Rodriguez variety are an essential part of religious life. I couldn't imagine life as a Jesuit novice without the example, encouragement and support of my elders who have been Jesuits for much longer than I've been alive. Friendships between younger and older Jesuits provide a significant amount of mentoring, but at their best they're also characterized by a certain brotherly equality and give-and-take that suggests that different generations can learn from each other. From my perspective as a Jesuit novice, it strikes me that at their best intergenerational Jesuit friendships can also help young Jesuits sort out their deepest apostolic desires from more transient ones and figure out what they want to do with their Jesuit lives. So it was with Peter Claver and Alphonsus Rodriguez and, I hope, so it can be today. AMDG.


At September 13, 2005 12:40 AM, Blogger Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

I agree. Intergenerational friendships are one of my favorite parts about religious life so far too. How often do you get to hang out with, have fun with and play practical jokes with men or women 40-50 years your senior? And the wisdom we can learn from them. ... It's been a surprisingly fun experience. I spent the weekend being regaled by the funniest stories from an 80 something Irish nun.

At September 15, 2005 9:28 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Susan -

You're absolutely right. The only thing I could add is that intergenerational community living is as great a gift as intergenerational friendship. We have a Jesuit living with us here at the novitiate who is 89 and works full-time in the province office. When I was on experiment in California, I lived in a community that had at least a couple guys in each age bracket from the twenties to the eighties, plus one in his nineties. Living with this kind of generational mix has been a great experience, and it's one I probably would never have outside of religious life.


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