Friday, February 10, 2006

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.


At February 11, 2006 10:37 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

Did I tell you that our fellow blogger, Sister Lorraine , made the same 30 day Ignatian Retreat as our fellow blogger Richard, nSJ? What a God-incidence!

At February 13, 2006 8:52 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Lisa -
Yes, I heard about Sister Lorraine making the retreat with the novices in Gloucester. Richard told me how much he and the other novices enjoyed her company. It's a small world indeed.

At July 23, 2006 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

may I offer a minor correction. while our center at Techny was until the late '60's our largest house of formation in the USA, it was never known as Divine Word Seminary, its original, historic title was St. Mary's Mission House.the chapel, as you note is truly magnificent.
Brendan Kelleher, svd,Japan


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