Monday, February 27, 2006

Continued coughing.

I regret to inform the readers of this blog that I'm still not feeling well. The antibiotics the doctor prescribed for the malady I described a couple weeks ago provided only temporary relief from the coughing and congestion I've been facing. Most of last week I felt better, but over the weekend my symptoms returned in full force. Nonetheless, I have a full week ahead of me that includes teaching, Ash Wednesday stuff, chaperoning a couple student field trips and attending at least one basketball game. I'm not so sick that I can't do all these things, but being under the weather still isn't fun so I ask for your prayers for my health and for all others who are currently waylaid by the opportunistic infections that winter seems to keep in business. AMDG.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Massachusetts' longest-serving elected official set to retire.

Today's Boston Globe reports on Edward J. "Eddie" Sullivan's pending retirement as Clerk of the Middlesex Superior Court. A member of an important political family, Sullivan served five terms on the Cambridge City Council before being elected to his current position in 1958. After serving eight six-year terms as Middlesex County Clerk of Courts, the spry 85-year-old is retiring to spend more time with his family. Here's how the Globe describes the personal mementoes that fill Sullivan's courthouse digs:

The walls of his office are adorned with memorabilia that recall a bygone era, an ever-present reminder that Sullivan is a throwback, one of the last of a breed that flourished when all politics was not only local, as illustrious Cambridge pol and Sullivan friend Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. once said, but also very colorful and retail. There are several photos of President Kennedy with Eddie and his brother Walter, a Cambridge councilor for 34 years. In another, Eddie is shoulder-to-shoulder with President Lyndon B. Johnson at a 1964 campaign rally. A young Francis X. Bellotti, then lieutenant governor and sporting a crewcut, is next to them.

Describing some more of Sullivan's pictures, the Globe reports that the Clerk "is also pictured alongside governors, including Edward J. King. Old-school Eddie Sullivan was not a Michael Dukakis kind of guy." I note this point of pride for the benefit of Jake Martin and others who may be familiar with my lectures on the rivalry between King and Dukakis and differences between their supporters.

Another point of pride for "old-school Eddie Sullivan" is an understanding of politics as a system intended to meet concrete human needs. As the Globe quotes Sullivan: "Many people think it's a crime to do a favor. In my opinion, if no one's getting hurt, what's wrong with doing someone a favor if you can help them out? If they need assistance one way or another, why not help them?" I suspect that individuals who may quibble with this point have always had the means to meet all of their needs. Potential critics put off by Sullivan's old-fashioned style and lengthy tenure should also be aware of the Clerk's efforts to make the Middlesex courts fair and efficient dispensers of justice - efforts that the Globe notes with appreciation.

Near the end of its article on Sullivan's retirement, the Globe reports a story which I'd like to quote in full, both for what it says about the Clerk's approach to politics and for its insight on the oft-touchy subject of town-gown relations in Cambridge:

A common subject [of Sullivan's stories] - and one he loves to needle - is Harvard University, which sits near his boyhood home on Surrey Street. In one of his yarns, he recalls that while holding the largely ceremonial post of Cambridge mayor in the mid-1950's, he broke protocol by sending a surrogate to Harvard's commencement ceremony.

There was a practical reason for this snub, however. The Harvard exercises conflicted with the public school graduations he wanted to attend. Sullivan recounted explaining the situation to an aide. "There's no . . . votes up in the Harvard Yard for me," he said. "I'm going where the future votes are."

"Thirty years later, I spoke to a group at Harvard and told them the story," Sullivan said. "I said I guess I made the right decision because they're still voting for me."

Well-done, good and faithful servant. Eddie Sullivan may be on the brink of disappearing from the political scene, but here's hoping that his legacy endures. AMDG.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cornbread and beef stew in Jesuit life.

Dinner at the St. Ignatius Jesuit Residence often involves an informal lesson or two on the history of the Society. The community I live in includes a number of accomplished raconteurs, and over the past couple months my experiences at table have been enriched by many anecdotes about Jesuit life in the 1940's, '50's and '60's. The older men here often tell stories about their own experiences in formation at the old Chicago Province novitiate in Milford, Ohio, in theology at West Baden College in Indiana or Bellarmine School of Theology in North Aurora, Illinois and working both as regents or young priests in the province's various high schools. Oral history provides an important medium through which the culture, customs and traditions of the Society are passed on, so hearing these stories is an important part of my formation as a Jesuit.

Monday's dinner provided a somewhat surprising lesson in Jesuit history. On the menu that night was beef stew served with cornbread. The older Jesuits in the community partook of this meal with great relish, some mashing up the cornbread and mixing it with the stew and others keeping the bread on the side and washing it down with maple syrup. I'd had an unusually heavy lunch (a cheeseburger and fries from Chicago's Busy Burger down the street) and I'm not much of a beef stew afficionado anyway, so I went light on the entree. One of my brother Jesuits noticed this and urged me to go up for seconds, noting that beef stew and cornbread were part of Jesuit tradition. I'd never heard this before, so I asked for an explanation. I was told that beef stew and cornbread were served regularly at the old novitiate in Milford - especially at breakfast. I must have looked fairly incredulous, because my dining companion helpfully explained that at Milford the novices had to wait a fairly long time after waking up before they had breakfast - rising at 5 a.m., each member of the community would perform his morning ablutions and meditate for nearly an hour before attending Mass and finally moving to the refectory for the first meal of the day around 7 o' clock. Under these circumstances, many novices welcomed the prospect of a hearty breakfast of beef stew and cornbread.

Having discovered the importance of beef stew and cornbread as menu items at the pre-Vatican II Milford novitiate, I wondered whether the tradition was unique to my own Chicago Province. I found a partial answer last night in the pages of I'll Die Laughing! by Father Joseph T. McGloin, S.J. A bestseller when it was first published in 1955, I'll Die Laughing! offers a lighthearted and affectionate if decidedly tongue-in-cheek account of Jesuit formation before the Second Vatican Council. In its day, McGloin's book played the role that books like The Fifth Week and In Good Company have played more recently as introductions to Jesuit life for young men interested in joining the Society. Anyhow, regarding his own novitiate at Florissant, Missouri, Father McGloin writes: "Three times a week, we had corn bread and stew for breakfast. The number of square feet of corn bread and the number of barrels of stew consumed over the course of a year would probably astonish even Ripley."

Putting Father McGloin's recollections in a larger context, one may surmise that the cornbread-and-stew tradition came to Milford from Florissant. In 1928, the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus, which then covered nearly the entire middle third of the United States, was divided into two, with northern Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio forming the new Chicago Province. The new province adopted the traditions of the old, especially in the area of formation; thus, the new novitiate at Milford followed the ordo and regulae of the Florissant novitiate virtually to the letter. It's easy to imagine the custom of eating cornbread and stew several times a week came to Milford in this manner, but that still leaves a few questions unanswered. How, for example, did the cornbread-and-stew tradition begin at Florissant - did it originate there, or was it brought from somewhere else? Were cornbread and stew staples at other American novitiates as well? My interest in such questions may be enough to convince some readers that I'm crazy; if nothing else, this interest shows how fascinated I am by the minutiae of Jesuit history. Whatever their sentiments, readers will no doubt be consoled to know that I'm not going to lose any sleep over these matters. However, if anyone out there - particulary Jesuits and others with knowledge of our formation - has any data on this strikingly obscure topic, feel free to post a comment. AMDG.

Wolfpack defeat Eagles, 65-39.

Tonight the St. Ignatius varsity boys' basketball team beat the Eagles of Jones College Prep by a 26-point margin. Though the Eagles got within striking distance of the Wolfpack early in the game, St. Ignatius developed an insurmountable lead in the second half. Though the Wolfpack will play again soon in the IHSA sectionals, this was the last official game of the season. As a result, tonight was "Senior Night," with special recognition given to the Wolfpack's stellar senior players and many of their classmates in the bleachers (here's a special shout-out to the K94 participants I spotted among them). It was another great night for Wolfpack basketball, though I feel at least tinge of sadness in realizing this was one of the last games I'll see while I'm here. I'll certainly miss the times I've spent rooting for St. Ignatius at home and away games, but I'll also treasure my memories of those special winter evenings. Go Wolfpack, AMDG.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Yesterday afternoon I returned from my first - and hopefully not last - Kairos retreat. Attending the retreat as an adult observer, I had no specific responsibilities aside from a general 'ministry of presence' and thus enjoyed the freedom of taking in the experience without the burden of undue concern or preoccupation. I listened attentively to the various retreat talks given by a well-prepared team of student leaders and other adults, and I tried as best I could to get a sense of how the 46 retreatants were doing on the basis of their comments, reactions and overall demeanor. Over the course of four days of observation, my perceptions of Kairos changed a great deal. On the first day, I figured that a retreat experience geared specifically toward high school students wouldn't do much for someone a few years older and in a different place spiritually than most teenagers. My feelings changed as I heard the different student leaders and the retreatants speak about their experience of God. By the end of the retreat, I felt deeply moved not only by how God's love has been present and active in the lives of the students on the retreat but also by how God's love has become present to me in a new way through the students I encountered on Kairos and back at St. Ignatius. In this regard, I was particularly affected by the comments I received from students at the end of the retreat. The students' words of appreciation and encouragement - thanking me for my presence on the retreat, affirming my vocation, and telling me I'd make a good priest - meant a great deal to me. I'm grateful to the students who went on St. Ignatius Kairos 94 for their kind words of support and for sharing their Kairos experience with me. I'm also grateful to God for revealing Himself to me in new and unexpected ways during the retreat, and I prayerfully hope that the graces of the experience stay with me as I continue my experiment here at St. Ignatius. AMDG.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I'll be away for the next few days attending a senior Kairos retreat at the Resurrection Center in Woodstock, Illinois (a place I made another retreat at barely a month ago, as recounted in this post). Kairos, in case you don't know, is "a religious retreat program grounded in Christian incarnational theology and Ignatian spirituality," in the words of the SICP Pastoral Ministry webpage. The roots of Kairos go back to 1965, when a diocesan priest in Brooklyn pioneered a "Christian Awakening" youth retreat modeled after the highly successful Cursillo Movement. In the 1960's and '70's, Kairos spread to Catholic high schools across the United States, becoming especially popular at Jesuit institutions. Students at St. Ignatius have been going on Kairos retreats since the mid-1980's. Not having attended a Jesuit or even a Catholic high school, I've never made a Kairos retreat. However, I have made a number of retreats based on the Cursillo model and have done enough preliminary reading on Kairos to get the gist of it. As an adult observer, I won't actually be "making" this retreat but will rather be expected to provide support and supervision in tandem with other adult chaperones. I'll probably post some reflections on the experience at the start of next week. AMDG.

Tonga gets first elected leader.

When I was in high school, I was fascinated by the Kingdom of Tonga, a Polynesian island nation in the South Pacific. I'm not totally certain where I first stumbled upon Tonga, but I have a feeling it may have been in the pages of National Geographic. I collected back issues of National Geographic when I was a kid, largely because the magazine's vivid if dated accounts of putatively exotic foreign lands fed my youthful imagination. I remember one 1967 issue of National Geographic had a story contrasting two royal events that occurred that year: the lavish coronation of the Shah of Iran and the equally dignified though much humbler crowning of Tonga's King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. Wherever my interest in Tonga came from, it bore fruit in a class presentation I gave in eleventh grade. Back then the Internet was relatively undeveloped as a source of information, so I wrote to the Tongan government for assistance with my project. In response, I received a gracious letter from a senior government official on palace stationery, an official photograph of the King and Queen and a crisp copy of the country's major (and, I suspect, only) newspaper. These items featured prominently in my presentation, which got an 'A.'

I've given relatively little thought to Tonga over the past decade, though given the opportunity I'd still enjoy visiting the country. Earlier this week, however, Tonga reentered my consciousness when I spotted this BBC News report on recent political developments in the country. Traditionally dominated by the royal family and hereditary nobles, Tongan politics have been inching toward democratization in recent years. Economic woes and corruption scandals have helped increase calls for a more open and accountable government. In the last few days, as reported by the BBC, public pressure has forced the resignation of a prime minister chosen by the King from among the nobility and his replacement by Dr. Feleti Sevele, a commoner and one of a handful of elected representatives in Tonga's parliament. It's been a long time since I paid any attention to Tongan politics, so I'm ill-equipped to analyze the full import of this development. However, I hope Dr. Sevele's accession to the office of prime minister is a positive step forward for the Tongan people. I'm also pleased that this news gave me an opportunity to reflect on a long-neglected interest in a small island nation. God save Tonga, AMDG.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Under the weather.

This weekend, Massachusetts and the rest of the Northeast were hit by a record-breaking Nor'easter some are calling the Blizzard of 2006. While Boston and New York received upwards of two feet of snow, my home region got only 8 to 14 inches - still enough to generate a flurry of school closings and keep a lot of residents home from work. Here in Chicago, I've been feeling the effects of the season with what I take to be a nasty cold - lots of coughing, a sore throat and some congestion, but thankfully no fever or fatigue. My duties today and tomorrow are fairly light, so I'm taking it easy. However, I'm teaching on Wednesday and will be heading off on a Kairos retreat on Thursday, so hopefully I'll get well soon. AMDG.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"I'll be the judge of that . . ."

Last night I attended a St. Ignatius varsity boys' basketball game at my brother novice Jake Martin's alma mater, St. Laurence High School in Burbank, Illinois. The St. Laurence Vikings provided the Wolfpack with some notably stiff competition, leading for most of the game until St. Ignatius finally pulled ahead and won by 67-62. Jake, I'm sure you're eager to hear my impressions of St. Laurence, so here they are: In its architecture and layout, St. Laurence seemed a carbon copy of many another suburban high school built in the 1950's and '60's. I was a bit surprised that St. Laurence is housed in a one-story building, but since it's a relatively small school I suppose the scale makes sense. The only discernable hints that the school was Catholic and not public were relatively subtle, such as the fact of an all-male student body and the presence of a handful of Christian Brothers (though I wouldn't have identified them as such if they hadn't been pointed out to me). St. Laurence left a decidedly positive impression on me, perhaps in large part because its design and physical setting closely resembled those of my own high school. It was also good to finally see a school of which I've heard so much - I hope you're happy, Jake. AMDG.

Father Norman F. Martin, S.J., 1914-2006.

Yesterday I received word that Father Norman Martin, a Jesuit I lived with at Santa Clara, died last Sunday at the age of 91. Fine tributes to Father Martin may be read on the SCU website and in yesterday's San Jose Mercury-News. A fixture at Santa Clara for over half a century, Father Martin arrived at the university as a freshman in 1933 and entered the Society of Jesus two years later. After completing his Jesuit formation and earning a doctorate in Mexican history, Father Martin returned to his alma mater in the 1950's and spent the rest of his life there, first as a professor and then as an employee of the university development office. Father Martin enjoyed friendships with several generations of Santa Clara alumni, becoming a member of many families he had served and gotten to know over the years. These words quoted in his Mercury-News obituary could serve as a fitting epitaph: "Every one of those people I loved and understood and became a part of their lives, part of their accomplishments, part of their laughter, part of their tears." The relationships Father Martin built through his lifelong association with Santa Clara defined his life.

Though I only got to know Norman Martin in the last year of his life, he made a strong impression on me. He was one of my favorite people in the Jesuit community at Santa Clara, an unfailingly generous, kind and patient person and a genuine 'man for others.' At age 90, he swam every morning in the university's outdoor pool before working from 9-to-5 in the development office and then returned to the Jesuit residence for Mass and dinner. After dinner, he would often work a few more hours in his room at the residence, keeping up a voluminous correspondence that included scores of birthday cards, notes of congratulation and sympathy and letters to countless Santa Clara alumni. Father Martin truly cherished the relationships he'd enjoyed throughout his long life and would often share stories about the many people whose lives had touched his, from Santa Clara students and their families to friends and fellow Jesuits he had known during youthful studies in Latin America. As one whose life was touched by Father Martin, I'm grateful for having known him and for his influence on my own developing Jesuit vocation. May he rest in peace, and may he continue to bless all who remember him. AMDG.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Another Jesuit killed in Central Africa.

To modern ears, the word 'martyr' can often have a deceptively antique ring, evoking images of early Christian saints dying for their faith in gory and unusual ways. Believers living in the more affluent and peaceful corners of today's world may find their faith threatened more by indifference than by outright violence. We shouldn't be so complacent, having so recently completed the most violent century in human history and finding ourselves in a new century that seems no better than the last. If you're at all skeptical about the place of martyrdom in the modern world, take a look at this list of Jesuit martyrs of the 20th century. In the first few years of the 21st century, the Society's martyrology has continued to grow.

The Society of Jesus gained a new martyr this week in Father Elie Koma, a Burundian Jesuit who was killed last Saturday in Bujumbura, one of the latest victims of a civil war that has claimed the lives of over 300,000 people. If media reports of his death are accurate, Father Koma died not because he was a Jesuit but simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A pastor and spiritual director, Father Koma was on his back to the Jesuit community in which he lived after a long day's work when he drove right into a skirmish between government soldiers and members of a rebel militia. Caught in the crossfire, the 59-year-old Jesuit was struck by three bullets and died almost immediately. The priest's death may have been purely accidental or, as sometimes happens, he could have been targeted by combatants eager to eliminate an inconvenient witness.

Reading about the death of Father Koma, I was reminded of last year's killing of Father René De Haes, an event I wrote about here. A Belgian Jesuit who spent much of his life in the Congo, Father De Haes died much as Father Koma did - in an act of random and senseless violence in a country where many innocent people had died in the same way. Given the manner in which they died, Father De Haes and Father Koma both died in solidarity with the people they served. In my work with refugees in California and Ontario, I spent a lot of time with people from the very countries in which Fathers De Haes and Koma died. Having heard stories of persecution and dispossession told by refugees from Burundi and the DRC, I feel strangely close to the conflicts that have torn these countries apart. The violent death of two of my brother Jesuits in Central Africa makes that connection seem even stronger. AMDG.

Random retreat reflections.

As far as I can tell, this week's sophomore retreat at Techny was a great success. The student leaders did an excellent job, and the sophomore retreatants seemed both to enjoy themselves and to get something from the various activities of the retreat. Beyond providing supervision along with other adult chaperones, my major responsibility on the retreat was to run a Thursday morning reconciliation service. The service went well and in a larger sense I enjoyed my first high school retreat experience. Let's hope I get as much out of next weekend's Kairos retreat.

One random observation I have regarding the retreat concerns the popularity of Notre Dame apparel among St. Ignatius students. Granted a brief respite from the restrictions of the school dress code, the students on the retreat augmented their casual wardrobe with all manner of logo gear which couldn't be licitly worn within the halls of St. Ignatius. The array of ND hoodies, t-shirts and baseball caps was truly staggering; the Fighting Irish seemed to be more popular not only than any other college or university but than any sports team that SICP students might logically support, including the Chicago White Sox. I'm not surprised that many SICP students root for the Fighting Irish, given that Chicago is home not only to many ND alumni and their families but also to many "subway alumni" who didn't attend Notre Dame but are loyal fans of its football team. However, I wouldn't have expected the Irish to be the most popular team among Ignatians as measured by student apparel. Go Irish, go figure.

In the "small world" department, I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a priest of the Society of the Divine Word, the religious community that runs the Techny Towers Retreat Center. Pleased to hear that I was a Jesuit novice, the Divine Word priest noted that his order's novices had just completed the thirty-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius on the Massachusetts coast. I told him that my province's primi had just done the same (speaking of which, watch Richard's blog for promised reflections on his experience of the Exercises). At almost exactly the same time that Jesuit novices from half the provinces in the United States Assistancy were making the Exercises in Gloucester, the novices of the Society of the Divine Word were going through the same experience about seventy miles south at Miramar Retreat House in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Pleased by this coincidence, my interlocutor noted that the Church needed all these men, Jesuits as well as Divine Word Missionaries. I readily agreed.

Rounding out this post, I should say something about the main chapel at Techny. Built in the 1920's for what was then Divine Word Seminary, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit is the kind of place you have to explore for hours to fully appreciate. The many stained glass windows, statues and mosaics in the chapel serve as a kind of visual catechism illustrating key aspects of Catholic belief and important chapters in Church history. What most caught my eye in the chapel was a minor but telling detail, a small plaque noting that the chapel's marble high altar was "the gift of the children of the United States." I've seen many similar plaques in old chapels and churches, plaques announcing that this or that altar, statue or window was the gift of a particular family, group or individual. And yet, I've never seen a plaque that could match this one in terms of poignancy and evocative power. The plaque on the high altar at Techny conjures up images of the legions of parochial school children in 1920's Catholic America who saved their pennies, nickels and dimes to contribute to the construction of a grand chapel for a missionary seminary. Raised in the bosom of a Church that must have seemed like an impregnable fortress, these children sacrificed from their own meager means to help evangelize countries and cultures very different from their own - countries and cultures that, as presented in the popular media and in mission magazines of the day, must have seemed exotic and inviting as well as decadent and dangerous. I wonder how many of the children who helped pay for the high altar at Techny later went on to study there and to become missionaries themselves - not many, perhaps, but certainly more than a few. For me, that small plaque in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Techny is a memorial not simply to those schoolchildren of the 1920's - nonagenarians now - but to the precious ability of old places to evoke a distant past. For the precious hours I spent this week at Techny, I give thanks. AMDG.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sophomore Retreat.

One area of my work at SICP that hasn't received much attention on this blog is pastoral ministry. While I spend the better part of my time here in the classroom, I've also been helping out with student retreats. Most of the retreats at St. Ignatius are run by students for students, so my role as an adult team member is mainly to supervise and provide guidance when necessary - and, given my inexperience in this area, to learn something about how high school retreats are done. Tomorrow, I'll go into the 'field' for the first time when I join about ninety SICP sophomores, a team of about twenty student leaders and several other adult chaperones for Lux Vitae, an overnight retreat at Techny Towers Retreat Center north of Chicago. The Lux Vitae retreat is offered several times during the academic year and is mandatory for all sophomores at St. Ignatius. The students who go on this retreat are given a chance to reflect on areas of light and darkness in their own lives and to grow along with their peers in faith and in their understanding of interdependence and mutuality. The retreat includes a number of small- and large-group sharing sessions as well as Mass and the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After helping to plan this retreat over the past month, I'm looking forward to seeing it come to fruition over the next couple days. Your prayers for the retreatants and their leaders are most welcome. AMDG.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


You've certainly heard a lot about Super Bowl XL in the last few days, but unless you move in Jesuit circles you probably haven't heard about GC35. In a letter to the whole Society released last Thursday, Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach announced the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, which will be held in Rome in early 2008. Though the convocation of GC35 has been long anticipated in Jesuit circles, the exact timetable for the Congregation wasn't clear until last week's official announcement. A news story about the event is available here. For more background on what a General Congregation is, Wikipedia has a brief but informative article providing the bare essentials.

A General Congregation is a deliberative body composed of representatives of the whole Society and is called into being only in exceptional circumstances. One of those circumstances is the election of a new General, a piece of business that Father Kolvenbach hopes GC35 will take up when the Congregation meets in January 2008. Though life tenure for the Superior General is one of the most distinctive elements of the Society's governance, experience has also shown the desirability and necessity of procedures permitting the General to resign under particular circumstances. In 2008 Father Kolvenbach will mark his 80th year of life and his 25th year as leader of the Society, and he believes the time may be ripe for a new General.

Other than to elect a new Superior General, General Congregations may be called to address "matters of great moment" that demand urgent action on the part of the Society of Jesus. In the past, such matters have included the need to reform the Society's governance and laws in response to changes in the wider Church (as in the case of GC31, which took place during and immediately after Vatican II) or to respond more generally to 'the signs of the times' (as at GC32, from which the Society's modern mission of "the service of faith and the promotion of justice" emerged). GC35 is expected to address various "matters of great moment," including issues related to ministerial collaboration among Jesuit provinces and with non-Jesuits and questions about the meaning and shape of community life.

For my own part, I look forward to GC35 with great anticipation. This is the first General Congregation called since I entered the Society, and I felt a special feeling on receiving a copy of the General's letter to the entire Society announcing the Congregation. Given the special nature of the General Congregation, I'm also curious and excited to see what emerges from the meeting two years hence. There will be a lot of discussion and speculation about GC35 in Jesuit circles over the next two years, and I'm looking forward to that as well. After spending a great deal of time in the shadow of the past four General Congregations, we in the Society of Jesus now live in expectation of GC35. In a very real sense, what we shall become has not yet been revealed. At this point, I can't even begin to imagine - nor would I be so bold as to predict - what pronouncements will emerge from GC35. At this point, I have no choice but to look ahead with hope. AMDG.

Winning, losing, dancing.

The title of this post neatly summarizes the various school-related activities I took part in this weekend. On Friday night, I watched as the SICP varsity boys' basketball team beat the Guerin Prep Gators 64-47. Though the outcome of the game was never in serious doubt, as always I enjoyed seeing the Wolfpack emerge victorious. Saturday morning I joined the SICP varsity Scholastic Bowl team for a tournament at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Chicago's south suburbs. St. Ignatius' student scholars won three of the five rounds in which they competed, but that wasn't enough to move into the higher echelon of teams competing in the afternoon. As a result, I got to go home earlier than I expected and had a chance to rest up before I had to report for chaperoning duty at Saturday night's school dance. Other than standing at the door like a bouncer in clerics, checking to make sure the students had handstamps that showed they had paid the admission fee, my major responsibility was to walk around, stand around and generally make myself visible. The general impression I got was that school dances haven't changed much in the past decade. The kids evidently had a good time, and as far as I can tell they were also remarkably well-behaved. The music that the hired deejay played was predictable in the extreme, but that's about what I anticipated. At one point during the night I thought to myself, 'I wonder if they'll play You Spin Me Right Round in the next ten minutes.' Sure enough, they did. AMDG.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Still minding the gap.

In a recent post, I bemoaned the fact that cultural knowledge I take for granted as one who grew up in the 1980's and '90's is apparently lost on today's high school students. Well, experiences since have helped restore my faith in the wisdom of modern youth. One such experience took place this afternoon at Scholastic Bowl practice. In response to a question asking for the name of a James Bond known for carrying a white Persian cat, one student called out "Charles Gray!" Told that the correct answer was "Ernst Stavro Blofeld," the teenage Bond fan admitted that he was wrong but correctly noted that Charles Gray had played Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever. At this point, a couple other students indicated that they also recalled Gray's portrayal of Blofeld. Like these SICP students, I'm sure some readers will remember Gray's turn as an effeminate, petulant Blofeld who had a microchip implanted in his voicebox so he could sound like Jimmy Dean on the phone. Readers may also remember Gray as the Criminologist in The Rocky Horror Picture Show or as Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft in the 1980's TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Anyway, the fact that several contemporary high schoolers would recognize the admittedly obscure Gray was a pleasant surprise. On reflection, it occurs to me that I shouldn't have been so surprised given that Diamonds Are Forever and the rest of the James Bond canon are rerun almost constantly on Spike TV. Even so, I'm pleased to discover that kids born around 1990 are interested in Sean Connery-era Bond movies. There's hope for this generation yet. AMDG.

Mr. Koczera teaches gym.

This week I started substitute teaching at SICP. Substituting is something I've wanted to do since I got here, figuring that sitting in for absent teachers would broaden my exposure to the life of the school and bring me to parts of the building I wouldn't otherwise see. Accordingly, this week I ventured into Spanish and biology classrooms and even taught gym. Yes, gym. My family and friends will no doubt be shocked and perhaps amused by the idea of me as a PE teacher. As it turns out, it was fairly easy. The substitution form read that the students were to do weight training for the entire period, and the class had the routine down well enough that no instruction on my part was needed. All I had to do was take attendance, hand out forms on which the students were to report to the teacher what they had done, supervise throughout the period and finally collect the completed forms at the end of class. I was pleased to see that some of the students read for class or completed homework while lifting weights, multitasking much as I did when I was in high school. Belying concerns I had at the start of this experiment, I'm finding that this generation of high schoolers isn't much different from my own. A fairly simple and even obvious lesson, perhaps, but one I'm learning as a sub. AMDG.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Of that hallowed Hilltop.

For the edification of Hoya basketball fans everywhere, here's a recap of Georgetown's 64-44 win over DePaul last night. I attended the game with SICP President Brian Paulson, a fellow Hoya, and while it was good to see the team win I can't say there was much suspense. Continuing a mediocre season, the DePaul Blue Demons played the role of sacrificial lamb. The Hoyas almost seemed to be going through the motions, plodding to a comfortable win without much energy or enthusiasm. That said, I should emphasize once again that it was good to see the Hoyas win, and I'm thankful to Brian for giving me the chance to attend the game.

In other news, yesterday's issue of The Hoya reports that longtime student eatery Sugar's will close in May after 89 years in operation at the corner of 35th and O Streets in Georgetown. Formally known as Sugar's Campus Store, this neighborhood lunch counter started life as a pharmacy and evolved over time into a fairly typical greasy spoon. As far as I can recall, during my time at Georgetown I ate at Sugar's exactly twice. There was nothing on the Sugar's menu that you couldn't also get at student favorite Wisemiller's, and Wisey's had the advantages of being cheaper and closer to campus. Sugar's also lacked the character of my favorite neighborhood place, the Georgetown Dinette near the corner of Wisconsin and O. Also known as Harry and Emmy's after the Korean couple that ran the place, the Georgetown Dinette was as cheap as Wisey's and offered what might be described as psychic service. The first time visitor to Harry and Emmy's would do well to choose a menu item they really liked, because Emmy would remember what you ordered and start making it every subsequent time you came into the restaurant - once you placed your first order at Harry and Emmy's, you were good for life. I realized this when I returned to Harry and Emmy's in the summer of 2003 after two years away and Emmy produced my usual order (a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onions and mayo with a side of fries) without having to be reminded what it was.

Though Sugar's never had the place in my heart that Harry and Emmy's won, I still mourn the impending loss of a Georgetown institution. Sugar's will soon join the sainted ranks of such beloved neighborhood institutions as the Georgetown branch of Olsson's Books and the lovably sleazy 24-hour French diner Au Pied de Cochon by closing its doors forever. Though Georgetown is still one of my favorite places in the world, each time I return there the loss of a few familiar haunts keeps the neighborhood from being quite the place I remembered. Goodbye, Sugar's - I'll always have my memories, even if I hardly knew ye. AMDG.