What the Jesuits Have Meant to Me

As many know I attended Fordham for both undergraduate and grad school. I was always very impressed by the Jesuits and they helped me form an adult faith that I treasure today. Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius Loyola and so, I thought I’d tell a few quick Jesuit stories of how they saved, changed and continue to renew my faith over these past 25 years.

I’m 18 years old about to head to college. I go to my parent’s church and meet with a few of the priests there. I tell them I’m going to Fordham and they roundly object. They suggest transferring to St. John’s or to some other non-Jesuit school. Later the same day, a homeless man comes to the church steps while I’m sweeping rice off of the steps after a wedding. One of the associate pastors comes out and shoos him away. I’m embarrassed by this, but thought that he might have had a history with the priest. But as we enter the church, the priest tells me the following words:

“I can’t stand these blacks always looking for something. Now I’m no racist, I just don’t like blacks.”

I think at that moment, I decided that Catholicism was no longer going to be for me. I would head to Fordham, (especially since this horrible man thought that was such a bad idea) but I pretty much thought it was impossible for me to live the gospel if these priests couldn’t even get it right.

Then my freshman year at Fordham, I was asked by not only one but a number of priests to help out at POTS (Part of the Solution) soup kitchen. I saw their dedication to the poor, to those who had nobody. It renewed my faith and made me begin to admire many of these Jesuits who truly lived the gospel message.

Fast forward a year later and the Jesuits were murdered in El Salvador. I remember Fr. Jim Keenan, SJ who lived in the dorms with us, speaking candidly about it. By now, I had become an acolyte at the 10PM mass and often would see the University President, Fr. Joseph A. O’Hare, SJ there. He would be a frequent presider at our late night mass and he had gotten back from El Salvador and was visibly shaken.

“It was horrible” he told me when I asked about his trip there. “We know who did this, but there’s not much we can do about it.”

I remember asking him one further question, “So are the Jesuits just leaving El Salvador now?”

His response was so inspiring. “Not a chance. We’ll have guys lined up around the block volunteering to go. We can’t afford to leave there now. We HAVE to stay there and show them that evil will never have the final word.”

I remember being a lot more engaged with mass that night. I don’t remember much more than that, but I do remember how dedicated they were to the people of El Salvador. I started reading about Ignatius more that year and took a few theology and philosophy courses with some great Jesuits. Bill Dych, SJ introduced me to Karl Rahner and Eschatology. Gerry McCool, SJ taught me Plato and Aristotle with great enthusiasm. Norris Clark, SJ taught a wonderful class on the human person. I remember writing an autobiographical style paper for the final stating how I was much more than my broadcasting skills and that my work with campus ministry taught me much about that. It was clearly the beginning of God’s prodding me towards ministry (it only took me 12 more years to respond to that call!).

But mostly, it was the retreats that I attended with John Mullin, SJ that made the biggest difference. Padre, as we called him, was very tender in his care of the students. He mentored me well and often allowed me to think of myself as someone who could really serve God simply by being present to another. He introduced me to one of Anthony DeMello’s guided meditations that led me to really consider whether I was following my true calling. I continue to do it today now and again. We had a wonderful retreat team experience my senior year. And many of those folks I still consider treasured friends today.

Jesuits have been my spiritual directors for years. Jim McDermott, SJ was serving as an editor at America and he gave me lots to think about. Rocco Danzi, SJ later would get me to discern what I really wanted in ministry and where I might have wanted to do that. Today Br. Chris Derby, SJ keeps me honest to that calling here in Buffalo and the Jesuit community at St. Michael’s led me through the 19th Annotation last year, deepening my experiences of the exercises.

I’ve continued doing Ignatian based retreats since those college days and Charis Ministries in Chicago has been a great partnership for me. We worked with them at Busted Halo and have now brought them to Buffalo where the students and young adults have responded well to the initiative.

So today, Jesuit friends and collaborators, I know that I have a lot to thank the Jesuits for. And so do many more. For Jim Martin’s, great books and Rick Curry’s dedication to the handicapped. For those who gave their lives for justice in Central America and Africa. For Jesuits like Tom Reese, SJ who always makes people think and Mark Mossa, SJ and Mark Massa, SJ two great scholars who enjoy a great meal and a great debate and often are confused for each other. For Campus Ministers, like John Bucki, SJ here in Buffalo and especially those who run retreat houses and retreat ministries. Thank you for all you do.

Most especially, thank you for your great spirit of collaboration with the laity. For bringing Lauren Gaffey, Becky Eldridge and Pam Coster at Charis Ministries and Jenene Francis with the Midwestern Province into my life as friends and colleagues. I could not be more grateful for these women, women who do much to spread the message of Ignatius and of Jesus Christ.

Gratitude is one of Ignatius’ central tenets. He even starts his great prayer the Examen with it. So today friends, thank a Jesuit on their great feast day and bring with that gratitude a dedication to seeking God in all things as Ignatius would say.

May our great saint, Ignatius of Loyola and all the Jesuits continue to pray for us. Amen.

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4 Comments

  1. Mike,
    Thank you for this wonderful reflection on the many contributions of the Jesuits and their co-workers. Those of us from an older generation will remember the contribution of a Joseph Fitzpatrick to Hispanic ministry in New York and the leadership of Vin & Joe Novak, Jim DiGiacomo and Jack Nelson in bringing the modern catechetical movement from Louvain to the US. I especially appreciated your reminiscence of Fr. O’Hare. It is so fitting that both you and he will be honored on the same evening at Fordham’s Sapientia et Doctrina Celebration this October 21.

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  2. Great Fordham reflections! I too had Fr. McCool as my philosophy teacher and list him today as one of my favorite professors, including Fr. Hedja who was a wonderful and inspiring theology professor.

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  3. Mike, I too am very grateful to the Jesuits for their contributions to my spiritual journey. I converted to Catholicism in 2004; however, I have attended Silent Retreats at a Jesuit Retreat Centre for over 35 years and I believe that this laid the foundation for my desire to become Catholic. More recently, I have been blessed with a Jesuit Spiritual Director and will begin the 19th Annotation this autumn. I thank God for the presence of the Jesuits in my faith journey. Thank you for sharing your gratitude with the readers.

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