Thursday, March 30, 2006

Historic New York Jesuit parish slated for closing.

Today's New York Times has an article on the expected closing of one of Manhattan's oldest parishes, Jesuit-run Nativity Church, as part of a sweeping parish reorganization plan announced earlier this week by the Archdiocese of New York. Founded in 1842 and staffed by Jesuit priests for nearly a century, Nativity has served successive waves of immigrants living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan - first the Irish, then the Italians, and most recently Hispanics from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. After weathering many decades of social and demographic change, Nativity has finally met a challenge it can't overcome: gentrification. As the NYT reports, Nativity's passing is part of a much larger phenomenon:

Manhattan, the archdiocese's historic heart, is among the hardest hit in the recommendations [for parish closings]. It has a quarter of all the churches in the archdiocese, which stretches to the Catskills in the north from Staten Island in the south, but only 17 percent of the average head count at weekend Masses.

Parishes that were created a century ago to serve booming immigrant neighborhoods now sit largely empty, while many, especially in the northern suburbs of the archdiocese, are overflowing.

Nativity is a clear example what has happened. According to the archdiocese's numbers, the church attracts fewer than 350 people for weekend Mass. The average crowd at a weekday Mass is five people, who worship in a tiny room that doubles as a chapel so the church does not have to heat the sanctuary. A staff of four has dwindled to one.

. . .

Nativity's demise has long been on the horizon, with rising rents and gentrification inexorably leaving its imprint.

"It used to be full, basically," said Roberto Rodriguez, 31, whose family moved to the neighborhood from the Dominican Republic nearly two decades ago. "Little by little the neighborhood kept changing and changing and the people kept disappearing."

. . .

Over the last decade, it has become increasingly clear . . . that the area was changing and that did not necessarily bode well for the church.

"Young people were moving in with good salaries," [Jesuit Father George Anderson] said. "Landlords began raising rents. We lost a lot of parishioners who were low income."

The circumstances that put Nativity on the closing list are hardly exceptional, but the parish can still claim a unique history. As the Times notes, Dorothy Day was a longtime parishioner at Nativity. Many generations of Jesuits have been nourished in their sense of vocation through experiences living and working at Nativity; for one example, read these reflections by the aforementioned Father Anderson, an associate editor at America who has been part of the Nativity community for the past decade. Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Nativity Parish is Nativity Mission Center, a Jesuit-sponsored middle school serving disadvantaged youth on the Lower East Side since 1971. The success of this school has led to the establishment of other Nativity Model schools throughout the United States. The Nativity Network currently includes 44 schools in 28 cities - there's even one in New Bedford. Paradoxically, the legacy of Nativity Church continues to spread even as the parish itself disappears. Sad as they must be, I hope that Nativity's parishioners can take pride in knowing that their church's name will live on. AMDG.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Adios, Padre Thul.

The St. Ignatius Jesuit community lost one of its most distinguished members yesterday when Father Bob Thul moved out to begin a new assignment working in Hispanic Ministry in Lexington, Kentucky. After teaching mathematics for fifty years - just over half of them spent at Ignatius - Bob retired from the classroom last year and has since kept busy doing pastoral ministry at a West Side Chicago parish and continuing his work on Math for a Change, a high school math curriculum that integrates a focus on social justice issues into lesson plans on algebra, statistics and so on. Loved and admired by Ignatius students and faculty alike, Bob has remained a visible presence in the school since his retirement by continuing to offer daily Mass there and attending Wolfpack basketball games and other athletic events. Bob easily could have remained here as long as he wished, but he quickly volunteered to go to Kentucky when he saw that his services were more urgently needed there. A fluent speaker of Spanish who spent several years teaching in Peru, Bob is following in the footsteps of a number of other Chicago Province Jesuits who have served Lexington's fast-growing Hispanic community in recent years. I'll miss Bob's presence at SICP and in the community here, but I admire his willingness to forego a quiet retirement for a new mission. I hope my readers will join me in praying for Father Bob Thul and wishing him well in his new ministry. AMDG.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Seen afar, in strange fulfillment.

My weekend away at Notre Dame was unexpectedly - but very happily - much busier than I anticipated. At the invitation of my Jesuit hosts, on Friday night I attended the Notre Dame Glee Club's Spring Concert at ND's spiffy new DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. (This is, I believe, at least the third post in which I've raved about the new Performing Arts Center, which goes to show how eye-poppingly impressive the place is.) The eclectic program included selections from Mozart and Rachmaninoff, a few traditional African tunes, the obligatory Notre Dame, Our Mother and Notre Dame Victory March and surprises like Somewhere Over the Rainbow (offered partly as an oblique commentary on recent campus controversies). The Glee Club showed great mastery and impressive range in performing the various pieces, making for a highly enjoyable evening.

Like Friday, Saturday turned out much differently and in a sense much better than I expected. Attending Mass at Alumni Hall in the morning, I ran into a friend (and reader of this blog) I had not seen since graduation. We caught up over lunch and afterward wandered over to Hesburgh Library, which runs a kind of perpetual book sale that I always enjoy checking out when I'm on campus. The book sale at Hesburgh is no more than a table of assorted books - mainly academic and special interest titles, some old and quite rare - which may be purchased for the uniform price of one dollar each. The book sale is run on the honor system, with a lock box placed on the table in which patrons can make payment for any books they choose to take away (exact change only, please). Perusing the day's selection of books, I came across a copy of the Manual for Courts-Martial of the United States printed in 1951. As one who loves old books, I take great pleasure in perusing the yellowed pages of ancient tomes, trying to decode annotations scribbed in the margins by previous owners and examining the note cards and stray slips of paper which the same owners often leave in their books. The owner of this Manual for Courts-Martial had taken particular care in marking important pages with hand-made plastic tabs bearing carefully typed labels. Flipping back to the first page of the manual, I found that the original owner had written his name: Conrad Kellenberg. The owner of the book, it turned out, was someone I knew. A former legal officer in the United States Air Force, Conrad Kellenberg joined the law faculty at Notre Dame in 1955 and was still teaching when I arrived on campus in 2001. After completing his fiftieth year of teaching, Professor Kellenberg retired - and, apparently, he donated some or perhaps much of his personal library to the university. Always smiling and upbeat, Professor Kellenberg had the good habit of greeting every person he passed in the hallway. At opportune moments, he would also take care to ask students - even some who, like myself, never took one of his classes - how they were doing. I don't have a pressing need to know the procedures governing courts martial in the 1950's, but I nonetheless decided to purchase Professor Kellenberg's book as a souvenir of one of Notre Dame Law School's most beloved figures.

Taking my discovery of Professor Kellenberg's Manual for Courts-Martial as a plausible omen, on Saturday night I dropped plans to see the latest (and last) Merchant Ivory film The White Countess at the Vickers Theatre in order to attend an on-campus production of A Few Good Men put on by the St. Edward's Hall Players, one of Notre Dame's innumerable student theater groups. The production was favorably reviewed in Friday's Observer, though as a student theater afficionado I didn't need much convincing. Faced with the challenge of offering a fresh interpretation of a play known to most only through Rob Reiner's 1992 film adaptation, the cast rose to the occasion with convincingly original and generally excellent performances. The play itself is perhaps more timely today than when it was written nearly two decades ago. A defiant Cold Warrior, Colonel Nathan "You Can't Handle the Truth" Jessep articulates views one can easily imagine hearing spoken by some warriors engaged in the War on Terror. "We live in a world that has walls," Jessep says, "and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns... deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall... I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said thank you and went on your way."

I had a unique worship experience Sunday morning, attending the Divine Liturgy at St. John of Damascus Melkite Greek Catholic Church in South Bend. Somewhat in the manner of early Christian worshipping communities, St. John of Damascus is quite literally a house-church. The parish meets for liturgy and fellowship in a small green house on a corner lot, a house that still has the external appearance of the single-family dwelling it once was. Entering inside, one discovers that this is truly a church after all - the front door opens into a small, icon-filled chapel with seating for perhaps thirty people. About twenty were present for yesterday's liturgy, representing a vivid cross-section of Eastern Catholic Christianity: some were lifelong Melkites, some were members of other Eastern churches and some belonged to the Roman Rite. Surprisingly, I wasn't the only novice - a couple guys from the Conventual Franciscan novitiate in nearby Mishawaka were there as well. After the liturgy, I had a chance to chat with longtime pastor Father Bob Kerby, who is a delightful raconteur as well as a fine homilist. Beyond that, few priests - East or West, Catholic or Orthodox - can match Father Kerby for breadth of life experience. A graduate of Fordham Prep and Notre Dame, Kerby flew cargo planes for the U.S. Air Force and earned a doctorate in American history at Columbia before being ordained a Melkite Catholic priest in 1970. Like many Melkite priests in the church's Middle Eastern heartland but unlike most in the United States, Father Kerby is married. When Kerby moved to South Bend to join the faculty at his alma mater, he also became pastor at St. John of Damascus. Now retired from teaching, Kerby continues to run his parish with the help of his wife Mary - a true 'mom and pop' operation, one might say. I enjoyed speaking with Father Kerby and some of his parishioners on Sunday, and I hope to return next time I'm in South Bend. AMDG.

Friday, March 24, 2006

In South Bend.

As soon as I post this, I'll be heading out for a weekend visit to South Bend. I've deliberately kept a light schedule for the trip, which I'm looking at more as a semi-retreat than as an opportunity for reunion with old friends. That said, I will be staying at the Jesuit community in Granger and thus will have an opportunity to catch up with friends in the Society whom I may not see again before I finish my experiment in Chicago. Other than that, the weekend will probably consist of a lot of reading, relaxation and visits to old haunts like the Vickers Theatre. I'll be back in Chicago on Sunday afternoon, and I'll post an update early next week. AMDG.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Pope no longer "Patriarch of the West."

In a move rumored for the past month, Pope Benedict XVI has decided to renounce the title "Patriarch of the West." In a communiqué issued yesterday, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity explains that the Pontiff's decision was motivated by concerns about the ambiguity of the patriarchial title as well as hopes that dropping it from the list of papal titles will improve relations between the Holy See and the Orthodox churches.

At least so far, the change seems not to have opened new doors to ecumenical dialogue. Speaking on behalf of the Patriarch of Moscow, Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev stated that the move would not improve Catholic-Orthodox relations. In essence, Bishop Hilarion argued that dropping the 'Patriarch of the West' title doesn't get to the heart of Orthodox concerns about the papacy and may in fact introduce new barriers to dialogue. This statement is about par for the course considering the recent state of relations between Rome and Moscow. Given that the Vatican enjoys relatively cordial relations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, I'd be curious to see what, if anything, Patriarch Bartholomew or his representatives have to say about Benedict's decision.

Personally, prior to reading the Vatican statement I never realized there was anything ambiguous about the Pope's patriarchal title. As I've understood it, describing the Bishop of Rome as Patriarch of the West simply reflects the fact that he is not simply the Universal Pontiff but also the head of a particular church within the Catholic communion, namely the Latin or Roman Church. Thinking in these terms helps one understand that the Roman Catholic Church is one among many churches of equal dignity that are in communion with the See of Rome and with one another. Given that several of the Eastern Catholic churches are led by bishops who hold the title of patriarch, identifying the Pope as a patriarch emphasizes that the Latin Church is one among many churches in the Catholic communion. Even so, as the Vatican communiqué point out, the historical pedigree of the title 'Patriarch of the West' isn't quite as strong as those of other patriarchal sees. Vesting the head of the Latin Church with the patriarchial title may also create a problem inasmuch as there are other Roman Catholic bishops with the title of patriarch, though their titles are purely honorary - the best known is the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, though there are also Latin Patriarchs of Lisbon, Venice and the East Indies (this last title belongs to the Archbishop of Goa and Daman in India). Though Pope Benedict XVI may have had good reasons for dropping the 'Patriarch of the West' title, I can't help but feel that something rich and resonant has been lost in the process. The Pope's decision changes nothing about the Church's self-understanding, so I hope new ways can be found to symbolically express the same concepts that were conveyed by the now-extinct title 'Patriarch of the West.' AMDG.

18th century empire builder's pet tortoise dies in India zoo.

Adwaitya, believed to the world's oldest tortoise and a mute witness to the dawn as well as the twilight of the British Empire, died yesterday at the reputed age of 255 at a zoo in Calcutta. Adwaitya was born in the Seychelles Islands and brought to India in 1775 with three other tortoises as a gift to Robert Clive, the British statesman who laid the foundations of British dominion over India. Clive (the subject of an excellent paper my sister wrote in high school) actually died in 1774 and thus never saw the tortoise, but since news traveled fairly slowly in the 18th century it seems likely that the British sailors who brought him to India had no idea that the intended recipient of their gift was deceased. Though his four companions died soon after their arrival in India, Adwaitya (whose name means "The Only One" in Bengali) resided at the Clive estate for a full century before moving to Calcutta's Alipore Zoo in 1875. Adwaitya was 125 at the time of the move and was thought to be in the twilight of his years. Instead, the taciturn tortoise survived for well over a century, living to see an independent India and winning the hearts of generations of zoo visitors.

Learning of Adwaitya's death, I instantly recalled the story of Charlie, a parrot alleged to have been the wartime pet of Winston Churchill and reported in January 2004 to be alive and well at the age of 104. Churchill daughter Mary Soames quickly denied that Charlie had belonged to her father, but as far as I know the bird's age has never been questioned. Officials at the Alipore Zoo claim they have documentation that establishes Adwaitya's age, so I suppose the old gent had a much firmer claim to fame than poor Charlie did. With Adwaitya's death, an important if unusual link to a vanished world has been lost. Adwaitya's devoted caretakers and his many fans will miss him. Even though I never heard of Adwaitya before I learned of his death, as one who loves animals and ancient things I'll miss him too. AMDG.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

One Year Later.

Given that the post marking the beginning of my Short Experiment a year ago yesterday borrowed its title from a New Amsterdams song, perhaps it's appropriate that the title of this post is early Get Up Kids, though I wouldn't read too much into this. Sometimes, I go to great lengths for the sake of symmetry - or simply for the sake of a title. Anyhow, it's hard to believe it's been a year since I started my Short Experiment. Newer readers or those with short memories may appreciate an explanation of what I did on Short Experiment. In short, I spent two months in the spring of 2005 working for the Refugee Resettlement Program at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County while living with the Jesuit community at Santa Clara University. Looking back, the time I spent at Santa Clara wasn't simply a highpoint of my novitiate but one of the greatest experiences of my life. I could say much more about this, but I might do better to simply point readers to the posts of March to May of last year in which I described my experiences in California as I lived them. My prayers for the next few days will be for the friends I made on Short Experiment and for the refugees I served in my ministry. As I pray for them, I'll also be praying in gratitude for the time I shared with them. AMDG.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A tale of two feasts, St. Joseph's and St. Patrick's.

March 19th is one of two days on which the Roman Catholic Church typically remembers St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father of Jesus (the other day honoring Joseph, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, falls on May 1st). I say "typically" because this year St. Joseph's Day is being transferred to Monday in deference to today's celebration of the Third Sunday in Lent. Though I accept the principle of Lenten Sundays taking precedence over popular feast days, I'm a little confused that the same principle is not extended to feasts that fall on Lenten Fridays, as St. Patrick's Day often seems to do - it seems a bit strange to me that so many bishops freely dispense the faithful of their dioceses from the Lenten obligation to abstain from meat when St. Patrick's Day falls on a Friday during Lent. I'll explain my objections to this pastoral practice a bit later.

Given that today is my name day (as well as the name day of my father and of my late grandfather - Joseph is a common name in my family), I felt I should do something special to celebrate St. Joseph's Day. Knowing that La Festa di San Giuseppe is a major event for many Italian parishes, I attended Mass this morning at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii around the corner from St. Ignatius in the confidence that this church wouldn't let the technicality of a transferred observance get in the way of a beloved feast day. I had this confidence in part because I attend Mass regularly at Our Lady of Pompeii and had seen several weeks' worth of bulletin announcements noting that today's feast would be celebrated with a traditional "St. Joseph's Table" banquet of Italian dishes prepared by parishioners. Though the readings and proper parts of the liturgy were from the Third Sunday of Lent, none could deny that today's Mass was in celebration of St. Joseph's Day - the church was unusually crowded (packed to the gills, in fact), the liturgy was celebrated in both English and Italian, and the homily wove together themes from both the Lenten readings and the feast day. The season and the feast were even better woven together at the banquet: longstanding tradition dictates that none of dishes served at St. Joseph's Table contain meat. This banquet in honor of St. Joseph is meatless in deference to the practice of Lenten abstinence, regardless of whether St. Joseph's Day falls on a Friday and even when the feast falls on a Sunday - normally the day of the week on which Lenten discipline is deliberately relaxed.

Considering the way in which Italian Catholics manage to balance their celebration of St. Joseph's Day with the spirit of a penitential season, the widespread practice of the St. Patrick's Day dispensation from Lenten abstinence for the sake of being able to eat corned beef strikes me as rather strange. Personally, it's hard for me to imagine that anyone would actually want to eat corned beef so badly as to seek a dispensation to do so. To go to such lengths just to licitly consume such bland fare strikes me as a tad excessive, especially when one considers the shallow roots of the tradition in question. Far from being an ancient Irish custom, the tradition of eating corned beef on St. Patrick's Day originated in late-19th century New York. However, even if corned beef were authentic Irish fare I don't see how it could be rated more important than the venerable tradition of Lenten abstinence. There's a dualistic sensibility about corned beef dispensationalism that I just can't abide. Granting a dispensation from the obligation of Lenten abstinence so the faithful can eat corned beef on St. Patrick's Day seems to send a negative message about Lent, suggesting that the penitential character of the season is so onerous that Catholics can't have any fun at all without a temporary relaxation of Lenten discipline. The tradition of St. Joseph's Table sends a different and much more positive message, suggesting that it is possible to have a joyful celebration of faith, family and tradition while still remaining mindful of our Lenten obligations. At least that's my read on things - readers who disagree are welcome to express their views in the comment box. My prayers and best wishes go out to you, whether you celebrate St. Joseph's Day, St. Patrick's Day, or both. AMDG.

There is no joy in Rockford . . .

. . . for Auburn High finished third at the state Scholastic Bowl championship yesterday in Peoria. The kids from Rockford went to the state championship with high hopes, boosted by a glowing profile in Friday's Chicago Tribune. However, in the end the top spot went to Palatine's Fremd High School. Though winning isn't everything ( it's the only thing, Vince Lombardi would've said) the Auburn High Scholastic Bowl team can still take great consolation in an eminently respectable third-place finish at a statewide competition. I won't be around to see it, but I would be thrilled to see the St. Ignatius Scholastic Bowl team do as well in their next season. I also hope that Auburn takes heart and makes a go for first in 2007. Wait 'til next year. AMDG.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Bound for the Bronx.

Yesterday I received formal notification from the Chicago Province formation director that - pending my petition and approval for vows - I will be headed to the Bronx this fall to enter the Jesuit First Studies Program at Fordham University. I got informal word that I would probably be assigned to Fordham over a week ago, but I waited for the official decision from the provincial before posting the news here. For a number of reasons, I'm very happy to be going to Fordham. Considering my different options for First Studies, I was very impressed by the academic strengths of the Fordham program and by the opportunity to take courses at Union Theological Seminary, NYU and other area institutions. The unparalleled range of apostolic and extracurricular opportunities available in New York also attracted me to Fordham. Family geography was also a very important factor: being in New York, I'll be relatively close to home - four hours by car - and will be able to see my family more often than I can in Chicago. All in all, I'm excited about First Studies and I'm looking forward to the fall. Please pray for me and my classmates as we prepare to apply for vows and to take an important new step in our Jesuit lives. AMDG.

Scholastic Bowl in the news.

No, it's not the St. Ignatius team - our squad was mustered out in the regionals - but the Scholastic Bowl team from Auburn High School in Rockford is on its way to tomorrow's state championship in Peoria. Today's Chicago Tribune has a front page story profiling the team and looking at the combination of individual talent and teamwork that account for Auburn's success. For the uninitiated, the basic mechanics of Scholastic Bowl are explained as follows:

Scholastic Bowl is like "Jeopardy" on steroids.

Unlike other popular high school academic competitions, such as the Science Olympiad or the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering challenge, which focus on specific subjects, the Scholastic Bowl forces students to master many topics.

Contestants face questions in calculus, astronomy, home economics, European history, classical music, agriculture and even driver's ed.

In some cases, competitors must know recondite information. (Give the more common name of Bach's Six Concerti Grossi, BMV 1046-51, 1717-1721. Answer: Brandenburg Concertos.) But most questions focus on material that well-studied honors students should know.

During a recent competition, students were quizzed on linear functions and the theory of relativity. And they had to know the differences between fascism and mercantilism, and between Hinduism and Buddhism.

Scholastic Bowl is reminiscent of "College Bowl," the popular 1960s TV program. Teams of five students sit at facing tables. A moderator asks a "tossup" question and any student can ring in. If the student answers correctly, her--or more likely--his team (boys significantly outnumber girls) earns 10 points.

That team gets first crack at the "bonus question," a multi- part question worth 20 points. Teams have 30 seconds to huddle and come up with the "bonus" answers. If they do not, the other team gets a shot. The top-scoring school wins.
Given that Ignatius is long out of the running, I wish the Rockford Auburn kids well in Peoria. I also commend the Tribune for giving a group of smart and studious high school students the recognition they deserve and don't always get. Bravo! AMDG.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Vocation Tour 2006.

Yesterday, St. Ignatius College Prep was honored with a visit by first-year novices Richard Beebe, Tim McCabe and Chris Staab, who gave eight periods' worth of vocation talks as part of their tour of Chicagoland's three Jesuit high schools. As Rich anticipated in this pre-vocation tour post, the three primi found the experience physically exhausting. However, I'm pleased to report that my brother novices showed impressive stamina in making it through the day and did a fine job telling their stories. After giving the primi a chance to rest for a bit, the St. Ignatius Jesuit community hosted the newest members of the Chicago and Detroit provinces for Mass and dinner before bidding them Godspeed as they headed up to Loyola Academy in Wilmette for their next round of talks. Though I didn't get to spend as much time with Chris, Rich and Tim as I would have liked, I appreciated the opportunity to catch up with them briefly and to introduce them to SICP. Please pray for the first-year men as they begin their Short Experiments: Chris will be working with Mexican migrants and living with the Jesuits at Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas; Rich will be working at a Jesuit-sponsored think-tank called the Center of Concern and will be living with the Jesuit community at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.; Tim will be working with people with AIDS and living with the Jesuits at St. Agnes Church in San Francisco, California. I'm sure each of the primi will render great service to the people of God they encounter on their experiments, and I look forward to hearing about their experiences when we're reunited in May. AMDG.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Portuguese pilgrims carry on Lenten tradition.

Yesterday’s New Bedford Standard-Times has a couple articles reporting on the Romaria, a Lenten pilgrimage undertaken annually since the 16th century by men on the island of São Miguel in the Azores. One article reports on a group of romeiros (pilgrims) making the pilgrimage this year and relates some of the history of the Romaria, a tradition that is also carried out in an adapted form in some Portuguese communities in the United States (see this 1999 Standard-Times article for more information). As they work to keep the tradition of the Romaria alive in the United States, some Portuguese-Americans also return to São Miguel to experience the real thing. Making the week-long Romaria on São Miguel is much more bit more demanding than completing the one-day American version, as the Standard-Times reports:

In Massachusetts, the pilgrims stop to eat in churches; on the island, they can rest at parks on cliffs overlooking the Azorean beaches, where dark volcanic sand stretches to the ocean. The men stop in every village to pray. Before the pilgrimage begins, they make arrangements to stay in homes along the route. At night, they go into a church to pray, and villagers meet them and invite them into their homes.

All the pilgrims, men and boys as young as 9, wear symbolic items. The shawl represents Jesus' cloak, the scarf his crown of thorns, and the backpack his cross. The backpack also holds enough underwear and socks for the week. When the pilgrims stop to rest, they sometimes take off their shawls to cool off, but they keep the scarves on to show their membership in the group. They call themselves brothers, and when people ask how many are walking they always add three - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who they say are with them on the journey. . .

As a descendant of immigrants from São Miguel, someday I would like to become a romeiro myself. Learning to speak Portuguese will be a necessary first step. God willing, I'd also like to make the Romaria as a priest so I could offer Mass for other pilgrims along the route. Assuming I'm able to do both these things - learn Portuguese and be ordained - it'll be a while before I become a romeiro. All the more reason to look forward to the experience. AMDG.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A day in the life.

Yesterday I attended the St. Ignatius Law Alumni Luncheon in the posh digs of the Chicago Athletic Association, a private club on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. An annual event, yesterday's luncheon gathers some of the many St. Ignatius alumni who have gone on to become practicing attorneys and judges in Chicago. As the newest Jesuit at SICP and as a law school graduate to boot, I struck the staff of the development office as a good person to represent the school at the luncheon. Unsurprisingly, the alumni I spoke with at the luncheon all expressed great curiosity regarding my work at the school, my vocation and the mechanics of my formation as a Jesuit. For my part, I enjoyed hearing the attorneys I met at the luncheon speak about how their experience of Jesuit education had positively influenced the course of their personal and professional lives. I also appreciated the opportunity to be of service to SICP by helping provide a Jesuit presence at an event where such a presence was deeply appreciated.

On my way back to school after an enjoyable hour at the luncheon, I ran into someone I didn't expect to see - or, to put it better, I ran into 100,000 people I didn't expect to see. I'd gotten a ride to the luncheon from another Jesuit working in the school; considering the impossibility of finding parking on the Magnificent Mile, we had opted to park several blocks west of Michigan Avenue. Walking back to the car, we came face-to-face with a massive demonstration in favor of immigrants' rights. A predominantly Mexican crowd that the Chicago Tribune estimated (conservatively, I would say) at about 100,000 had descended on the Loop to protest H.R. 4437, a bill recently approved by the U.S. House that threatens stricter enforcement of immigration laws and tougher penalties for those who knowingly assist undocumented immigrants. I knew about the rally ahead of time - and even knew Jesuits who planned to attend - but I was still bowled over by its massive scale. I can't recall ever seeing such a large crowd - the march of demonstrators literally went on as far as the eye could see. The marchers maintained an impresively peaceful tone - I saw no clenched fists and heard no angry shouts, only earnest and serious individuals committed to a justice issue that touches them personally.

My experiences as a guest at the luncheon and a witness to the demonstration reminded of the Jesuit's responsibility to make himself at home in two worlds. This is a topic I've written about before and one worth returning to as I begin to prepare my petition for vows. Promoting justice and acting in solidarity with the marginalized are key elements of the Jesuits' contemporary mission, but they don't represent the totality of our endeavors. Spending time among and working with the economically poor is an important part of the promotion of justice to which we are called. However, this does not mean that Jesuits should work exclusively with the poor and scorn the rich. On the contrary, maintaining relationships with affluent and influential people - including the lawyers and judges I had lunch with yesterday - is as critical to the Society's promotion of justice as direct ministry to the marginalized. Ideally, our relationships with the movers and shakers of the secular world - relationships forged most especially through educational institutions sponsored by the Society - give Jesuits an opportunity to promote a social order more in line with Gospel values. By going through the doors of the rich and powerful, Jesuits have always hoped that the rich might be brought out our door. Though these hopes have been unevenly realized, our obligation to work with people at all levels of society remains strong. It's good to be reminded of this - particularly in situations like the one I found myself in yesterday. AMDG.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Chi Prov tertians at Loyola House.

Loyola House has, I suspect, been a much quieter place over the past couple months that I and my nine fellow secundi have been away on Long Experiment. From what I can tell, the resident formatores and our three brave primi have been doing a commendable job of holding down the fort in a large building that can feel eerily empty when its rate of occupancy is more than halved. After a few lean weeks, Loyola House's population has enjoyed a sudden and remarkable increase. Over the next couple months, Loyola House will be home to six Chicago Province Jesuits in the phase of formation known as tertianship - a period during which Jesuits renew their acquaintance with the Society's founding documents and repeat the full thirty-day Spiritual Exercises to make themselves ready to take the final vows that mark their full incorporation into the Society of Jesus. To learn more about tertianship and the six Chi Prov tertians currently at Loyola House - Pat Fairbanks, Bob Finn, Bob Flack, Tim Howe, Dave Meconi and Rick Millbourn - read this article from the Fall 2005 issue of Partners. If you want an update on what the tertians are doing, be sure to check out Pat Fairbanks' blog. Pat has a new post up today reporting on the end of the Long Retreat, his studies in the Jesuit Constitutions and the ministry he will soon begin at the Oakland County Jail. Watch Pat's blog for further reflections on his experience of tertianship. More importantly, pray for our tertians and for all Jesuits in formation. AMDG.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Novice in the news.

On the night of the Oscars, it's fitting that I acknowledge the recent media attention accorded to Loyola House's foremost film maven, my classmate and good friend Jake Martin. Currently on Long Experiment at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis, Jake is the subject of a glowing profile in the most recent issue of the local diocesan newspaper The Criterion. The article briefly recounts Jake's journey from stand-up comic to Jesuit novice and looks at a student improv group Jake has started at Brebeuf. In sharing his gifts with his students, Jake is helping the kids at Brebeuf develop their own talents and, in the process, helping them grow closer to God. I'm glad to see Jake get some public recognition for the strong mark he has made during his Long Experiment - the good press is richly deserved and will surely be of benefit to the Society of Jesus. Congratulations, Jake! AMDG.

Friday, March 03, 2006

All good things must end . . .

. . . including the Wolfpack basketball season, which concluded tonight with a 35-39 loss to the Lincoln Park Lions in an IHSA Regional Championship game held at St. Ignatius. The regionals started out well for the Wolfpack with a 78-37 win over Dunbar on Ash Wednesday. Those in the know warned me ahead of time that tonight's game against Lincoln Park would be much more challenging, and so it was. The Wolfpack trailed badly through much of the game, and a 4th Quarter comeback that left us within four points of the Lions came too late. Though I'm sad to see the season end, I'll retain fond memories of the games I attended. Now that I won't have Wolfpack basketball to root for anymore, it's time I started to take a look at some of St. Ignatius' spring athletic teams. In the near future, perhaps, this space will carry updates on the progress of Wolfpack baseball or track and field. Go Wolfpack, AMDG.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday.

A bit like the young Henry Adams, I've been known to attend church twice on Sunday. Perhaps it is fitting that I would do the same on a day such as Ash Wednesday. Though Ash Wednesday is not canonically recognized as a holy day of obligation, many Roman Catholics feel both a desire and obligation to mark the start of their Lenten pilgrimage by attending Mass today. Ash Wednesday is also a day on which Catholics bear witness to their faith in a poignant and profound way, bearing on their foreheads a mark of their status as loved and redeemed sinners. I was obliged to attend Mass today not merely by faith or desire, but by responsibilities to the school in which I work and the community in which I live - it was out of loyalty to both that I ended up attending two Ash Wednesday liturgies.

This morning, the students, faculty and staff of St. Ignatius College Prep observed Ash Wednesday with an all-school Mass at Holy Family Church, a Victorian Gothic gem next door to the school. As I did last year in another locale, I helped distribute ashes at the school liturgy. Again and again I rubbed my right thumb in a bowl of ashes and made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of a procession of students and faculty, some of whom I knew fairly well, some of whom I knew simply by name, and others I knew not at all. Each time, I recited the familiar and consoling yet still rather jarring words, "Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return." As I did this, I thought of the Meditation on the Incarnation in the Spiritual Exercises, in which Saint Ignatius invites the exercitant to imagine the three persons of the Trinity looking down upon the mass of human beings "in all their diversity of dress and appearance, some white and some black, some in peace and others at war, some weeping and others laughing, some healthy, others sick . . ." Granted, the crowd before me at Holy Family didn't exactly match Ignatius' description; this being a dress-up day (ties for boys, skirts for girls), there was less diversity in student attire than might be seen otherwise, and given the preponderance of students the group was much less diverse in age than Ignatius' meditation would have us imagine. Nonetheless, I could see the reality of Christ's Incarnation and Redemption in the face of every person who came before me. I could see that each person before me was a unique individual made in the image and likeness of God, and I could see that God came into the world for the sake of each and every one of them. By attending this Ash Wednesday liturgy and choosing to be marked with ashes, every student and teacher before me acknowledged - some more consciously than others, no doubt - both their own need for a redeemer and their need to live up to their identity as redeemed sinners. None of these thoughts are terribly new, but my experiences at this morning's liturgy brought them back to me in a particularly vivid way.

The second Ash Wednesday Mass I attended was a late-afternoon liturgy at the Jesuit residence in which I live. Though we celebrate Mass as a community every Wednesday afternoon, it seems particularly apt that we should do so on a day such as this one. Five of the eleven Jesuits in our community work at St. Ignatius and were present at the all-school Mass at Holy Family earlier in the day, but the other six men who live here and work in diverse ministries (hospital chaplaincy, parish ministry and community service) were not. In many cases, the Jesuits who weren't at today's school Mass celebrated Ash Wednesday liturgies in the different places in which they work. To be a Jesuit today, as our 32nd General Congregation reminded us, "is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a Companion of Jesus as Ignatius was." Thus it is highly appropriate that, after observing Ash Wednesday with their larger communities to which we belong, that members of a particular Jesuit community should come together as brothers and friends in the Lord to acknowledge our own sinfulness and need for redemption. This afternoon's community liturgy at St. Ignatius was as simple as the morning Mass at Holy Family was elaborate. We had no music and a very short homily, and in a place of a complex, carefully diagrammed plan for the distribution of communion we had only a single paten and chalice passed among ourselves. We came together not as a diverse group of students and educators but as a small group of celibate, white and mostly gray-haired men. As professional Christians, all but one of whom having made public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (and that one hopes to profess said vows in August), we spend much of our time seeking to bring God's saving love to others. Coming together to pray as a community, we remind ourselves that we also stand in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. This thought, like the ones that came to me this morning at Holy Family, is not terribly new. Nonetheless, it stands as a salutary reminder of what Ash Wednesday is all about. AMDG.