Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Notes on the Memorial of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez.

Today is the Memorial of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, a Jesuit brother who worked for over forty years as porter at the Society's college on the island of Mallorca. Though his major duty was watching the door at the college, St. Alphonsus also served generations of students and brother Jesuits (including St. Peter Claver) as an insightful spiritual companion and counselor. I wrote a lot about today's saint (and a couple other Jesuits bearing the same name) in a post from last year. I'm not going to repeat those reflections, but just as I did last year I'd like to complete this post with a poem that Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote about today's saint:

In honour of Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, laybrother of the Society of Jesus.

Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic beast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hustle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alonso watched the door.
St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, pray for us. AMDG.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Plato on a rainy afternoon.

We're a little more than halfway through Fordham's fall semester, so many of the men of Ciszek Hall are the midst of midterms. I don't have any midterm exams, but three of my classes require equivalent papers - I turned in one of these last Tuesday, I'm writing the second right now, and I hope to begin the third tomorrow. The paper I'm currently working on deals with Plato's Crito, a relatively short dialogue between Socrates and a friend (the Crito of the title) who visits him in prison shortly before his death. Crito tries to persuade Socrates to escape and offers to help him do so. Socrates refuses to follow Crito's advice, suggesting that it would be unjust for him to try to evade the fate assigned him by the city of Athens. Even though he himself has been the victim of an apparent injustice at the hands of an Athenian court, Socrates argues that as a citizen he is bound to obey the laws of the state. This argument, by which Socrates provides something akin to a social contract (though he never calls it that), is the subject of the paper I'm writing right now. Given today's cold, rainy weather, I don't expect to face the temptation to leave the house and do something other than write my paper. However, I know that I can find more than enough ways to procrastinate without even leaving my room - checking e-mail, reading books, listening to music, even updating this blog. I pray that I may be gifted with the discipline to overcome ever-present distractions and remain focused on my work. If you're so inclined, please join me in praying for this intention - but as you do so, don't forget to set your clocks back an hour before you go to bed, even if you live in Indiana. AMDG.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A new Jesuit blog.

Father Ben Hawley, a Jesuit of the Chicago Province, has started a new blog called The Good News. Ben recently completed a six-year assignment as president of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis and is now on sabbatical at Boston College. Ben is currently engaged in tertianship, a stage of formation that Jesuits typically undertake after several years of ordained ministry in preparation for final vows in the Society. On his blog, Ben shares some of his own spiritual journey as a way of helping others reflect upon the presence of God in their own lives. Ben's blog is off to a fine start, and I hope he keeps up the good work. I also hope that you will take the time to check it out. AMDG.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Alexander Nevsky.

This past Saturday I joined three other Ciszekians for a night at Lincoln Center, where we saw and heard the New York Philharmonic perform Sergei Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky - not Prokofiev's cantata of that name, but the seldom-performed film score that Prokofiev wrote for Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 movie about the legendary 13th-century battle between Russian forces commanded by Prince Alexander Nevsky and the invading knights of the Teutonic Order (an order that exists to this very day). So that the audience could see the visuals meant to accompany Prokofiev's music, Eisenstein's film was projected in Avery Fisher Hall during the Philharmonic's performance.

Having the chance to see Alexander Nevsky at the same time as I heard the score was a great treat for me. Prokofiev is one of my favorite composers, and I love his cantata "Alexander Nevsky." Before Saturday evening, I hadn't heard the longer score on which the cantata is based, nor had I seen Eisenstein's film. My reaction to the music was positive - compared with the cantata, the score of Alexander Nevsky only offers more of a good thing. I had a mixed reaction to the film itself. On the positive side, Eisenstein's thrilling visuals are a great match for Prokofiev's music. Nonetheless, in some ways the film hasn't aged well. Despite impressive production values and fine editing, the film's stilted dialogue and blatantly obvious intent as a work of Stalinist propaganda are a bit hard to take.

The portrayal of religion in the film Alexander Nevsky is as interesting as its as problematic. The Orthodox faith of Nevsky and his compatriots is never mentioned in the dialogue and is represented visually by a single brief shot near the end of the film. The shot in question (which is so brief that you'll miss it if you blink) shows a group of Orthodox clergy waiting to welcome the victorious Alexander as he arrives in the newly-liberated city of Pskov. By contrast, the Catholicism of the Teutonic Order is emphasized by the crosses that cover their garb and by the presence of as a menacing German bishop who regularly blesses and prays over the assembled knights. The cartoonish bishop also presides over an auto-da-fé of Russian women and children and utters lines like, "All must submit to Rome or be destroyed." This kind of selective blindness, by which only the negative aspects of faith are portrayed, is perhaps unsurprising in a film produced under Soviet auspices. However, the film's effort to divorce Russian nationalism from Orthodox Christianity must be deemed a failure when contrasted with Stalin's decision to ease restrictions on religious practice during World War II in a bid to boost morale.

Considered apart from the complex politics of the film bearing the same name, Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky is a masterpiece. I'm glad I had a chance to hear the score as ably performed by the New York Philharmonic in the fine setting of Avery Fisher Hall, and I hope to visit Lincoln Center again during my time in New York. AMDG.

The Museum of the Portuguese Language.

I don't want to get into the habit of constantly posting articles from the New York Times, but here's an item that I couldn't resist:
More people speak Portuguese as their native language than French, German, Italian or Japanese. So it can rankle the 230 million Portuguese speakers that the rest of the world often views their mother tongue as a minor language and that their novelists, poets and songwriters tend to be overlooked.

An effort is being made here in the world's largest Portuguese-speaking country [Brazil] to remedy that situation. The Museum of the Portuguese Language, with multimedia displays and interactive technology, recently opened here [in São Paulo], dedicated to the proposition that Portuguese speakers and their language can benefit from a bit of self-affirmation and self-advertisement.

"We hope this museum is the first step to showing ourselves, our culture and its importance to the world," said Antônio Carlos Sartini, the museum director. "A strategy to promote the Portuguese language has always been lacking, but from now on, maybe things can take another path."

The museum, which opened in March, has already become the most widely-visited in Brazil, drawing schoolchildren and scholars as well as tourists from Brazil and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.
In addition to discussing the new museum, the NYT article also touches upon the extensive differences between continental Portuguese and "the slangy, colorfully casual version of the language" spoken in Brazil as well as the foundation of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, an organization somewhat like La Francophonie in scope and intent. As a person of Portuguese heritage, I'm pleased that efforts are being made to promote and protect the language of my ancestors on a global level. I've often regretted the fact that I can't speak Portuguese, and someday I'd like to learn it - preferably first in the continental variety, though I'm not adverse to studying Brazilian Portuguese as well. When (God willing) I've picked up enough Portuguese to appreciate the exhibits at the Museu da Língua Portuguesa, hopefully I'll have the opportunity to go to São Paulo and check it out. AMDG.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Gods of Chinatown.

In today's New York Times:
Tucked between a bodega and a fish market on Broome Street sits Fulai Temple, one of Chinatown's many storefront temples displaying large golden buddhas shrouded in mysterious chants and clouds of incense. Unknown to most people are the dreams and desires in these buildings, along with the gold statues, golden paper and rainbow colors.

Looking for love, marriage, happiness? Fertility? Those precious things are promised in large red Chinese characters over traditional imperial yellow on plastic awnings, much like those over the front of a deli or a cellphone store. Open to the public, the temples provide a gateway to answers, but negotiating the terrain can be difficult.

That is why Isabel Chang, 31, a Web designer, decided to demystify the experience. Ms. Chang spent the last year studying these places of worship, intent on showing how they place ancient Chinese beliefs in the contemporary landscape.

Her work has been turned into a public Web project that was opened yesterday on the Web (http://gods.tenement.org/), sponsored by the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where Ms. Chang is the digital artist in residence.

Her project, called Gods of Chinatown, consists of a map and visual tour of the temples. Ms. Chang, who lives in an apartment building on Essex Street with two storefront temples, sees them as "windows of insight into the hopes, dreams and longings of immigrant lives."
To learn more about Ms. Chang's project, read the rest of the NYT article or check out the Gods of Chinatown website. Though I had some difficulty navigating Ms. Chang's site - the left-to-right scrolling feature on the temple profiles is a bit tricky - I was impressed with what I found. As an exercise in sociological fieldwork produced by a cultural insider, Gods of Chinatown illuminates a facet of neighborhood life that remains hidden to most visitors. Ms. Chang's project is worth a look, especially if you - like me - enjoy exploring immigrant enclaves like New York's Chinatown. AMDG.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Notes on the Feast of the North American Martyrs.

Today is the Feast of the North American Martyrs, six Jesuit priests (Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, Noel Chabanel, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier and Gabriel Lalemant) and two Jesuit donnés (René Goupil and Jean de la Lande) who labored heroically to evangelize the Native peoples of North America and ultimately died for their faith. This feast day has a special place in my heart, and I've written a lot about it before - two years ago I did a series of three posts (one, two, three) on the North American Martyrs, and last year I posted a brief reflection on the Martyrs as brother Jesuits and pioneers in the field of inculturation. This year, I'd simply like to acknowledge yet again the influence that the North American Martyrs have had on my own vocation (for more about this, read this post from two years ago). Wishing to honor the Martyrs and recall their role in my life, I took Isaac Jogues as my patron when I pronounced First Vows in the Society this past August. On this Feast of the North American Martyrs, please join me in praying for vocations to the Society of Jesus. May the example of Saints Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues and their Companions continue to inspire men to serve the Lord in the Society that bears his name. AMDG.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

365 days of St. Ignatius.

If you've ever browsed through the religion section of a large bookstore, you've probably encountered numerous books that fall into what I call the "daily meditation" genre - short volumes that provide selections from the writings of some great spiritual master, organized according to the days of the year (or some fraction thereof, like Advent or Lent). Such a book fell into my hands today, and I mention it here because it may be of interest to the readers of this blog. The book is called Thoughts of St. Ignatius Loyola for Every Day of the Year, a title that explains the book's contents very well. While most other "daily meditation" books are modern compilations, Thoughts of St. Ignatius was put together by a Hungarian Jesuit named Gabriel Hevenesi in the early 18th century. First published in English translation in 1928, the book was long out of print when Fordham University Press issued a new edition last month. Thoughts of St. Ignatius is a nifty little book, and I'm thinking I might place my copy on my bedside table as a prayer companion for the coming calendar year. When you start doing your Christmas shopping for this year, you may want to consider ordering Thoughts of St. Ignatius Loyola for Every Day of the Year as a stocking stuffer for your favorite Jesuit or Ignaciophile. AMDG.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Iraq's Christians flee as extremist threat worsens.

The precipitous decline of Iraq's ancient Christian community has finally received front-page treatment in the New York Times:

Christianity took root here near the dawn of the faith 2,000 years ago, making Iraq home to one of the world's oldest Christian communities. The country is rich in biblical significance: scholars believe the Garden of Eden described in Genesis was in Iraq; Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees, a city in Iraq; the city of Nineveh that the prophet Jonah visited after being spit out by a giant fish was in Iraq.

Both Chaldean Catholics and Assyrian Christians, the country's largest Christian sects, still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

They have long been a tiny minority amid a sea of Islamic faith. But under Saddam Hussein, Iraq's million or so Christians for the most part coexisted peacefully with Muslims, both the dominant Sunnis and the majority Shiites.

But since Mr. Hussein's ouster, their status here has become increasingly uncertain, first because many Muslim Iraqis framed the American-led invasion as a modern crusade against Islam, and second because Christians traditionally run the country's liquor stores, anathema to many religious Muslims.

Over the past three and a half years, Christians have been subjected to a steady stream of church bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and threatening letters slipped under their doors.

Estimates of the resulting Christian exodus vary from the tens of thousands to more than 100,000, with most heading for Syria, Jordan and Turkey.

The number of Christians who remain is also uncertain. The last Iraqi census, in 1987, counted 1.4 million Christians, but many left during the 1990's when sanctions squeezed the country. Yonadam Kanna, the lone Christian member of the Iraqi Parliament, estimated the current Christian population at roughly 800,000, or about 3 percent of the population. A Chaldean Catholic auxiliary bishop, Andreos Abouna, told a British charity over the summer that there were just 600,000 Christians left, according to the Catholic News Service. [Click here to read the CNS article in which Bishop Abouna's comments appeared.]
One of my greatest fears at the start of the present war in Iraq was that the conflict would have a disastrous impact on the country's venerable Christian churches. In some sense, my concern for the fate of Iraq's Christians reflects my broader interest in Eastern Christianity. Those of us whose roots are in the Christian West can be forgetful of Christianity's Middle Eastern roots. We often fail to recognize that the ritual practice and spirituality of Christian churches rooted in the Mideast - including the Chaldean and Assyrian churches of Iraq - have more in common with the earliest Christian communities than Western churches do. Over the past few years, I've been blessed to have contact with Middle Eastern Christians - first on a trip I made to Israel and Palestine as an undergraduate, and more recently during my time in the novitiate. Metro Detroit is home to one of the largest Chaldean Catholic communities outside Iraq, and as a novice I occasionally worshipped in Chaldean parishes. On rare but memorable Sundays, I found myself drawn to the Chaldean liturgy, not just by the beauty of the ritual and the haunting Aramaic chants but also by the desire to stand in solidarity with the Church suffering.

Over the past three years I've closely followed reports on the state of Iraq's churches, and I worry that my fears about a mass exodus of Iraqi Christians are being realized. Though today's NYT article paints a fairly bleak picture of the situation, other media reports are even more pessimistic. Chaldean bishop Andreos Abouna offers some grim statistics in a CNS report from early August, claiming that half of the Christians in the country have left since 2003 and doubting whether many will return. A recent article in the Guardian reports on the worsening situation of Christians in provincial cities like Mosul and notes that Christians make up a large proportion of Iraqis seeking asylum in neighboring countries. Unlike the NYT, the Guardian assigns some of the blame for the Christians' plight to U.S.-led coalition forces, which have apparently done little to protect Iraqi Christians from growing intolerance and the constant threat of sectarian violence. On a broader level, I believe that Iraqi Christians have suffered through the indifference (or perhaps simply ignorance) of American policymakers. The government seems to view Iraq simply as a patchwork of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis; always left unmentioned by U.S. officials, Iraq's ancient Christian community is apparently regarded as irrelevant to the country's future or perhaps simply too small to merit notice. At times, I wonder whether the Bush administration's desire to make Iraq a laboratory for a specifically Islamic brand of democracy has helped worsen sectarian conflict in the country. By raising the public profile of religion in a previously secular state, the administration may have jeopardized the fragile position of a small religious minority.

Up to now, the news media haven't done much to educate the public about the abysmal situation of Christians in Iraq. Outside of occasional articles in Catholic publications, I've seen almost no reporting of the plight of Iraqi's Christian population - or even much acknowledgment that Iraq has an indigenous Christian population. Today's front-page story in the New York Times represents a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. What can we - you and I - do to change things? We can tell others - friends, reporters, politicians - what's going on. We can support relief organizations like Aid to the Church in Need and CNEWA, which are working to help Iraq's embattled Christian population. Above all, we can pray for the Christians of Iraq. Let us dare to hope that one of the first countries to hear the Gospel will have a living Christian presence for centuries to come. AMDG.

Monday, October 16, 2006

First Hoosier saint canonized.

19th-century Indiana nun Mother Théodore Guérin yesterday became the first resident of the Hoosier State to be canonized. Born Anne-Thérèse Guerin in Brittany in 1798, the future saint spent much of her youth helping her widowed mother care for their family. Guérin entered the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé-sur-Loir at age 24, taking Théodore as her religious name. After spending nearly twenty years teaching in her congregation's schools in France, Sister Théodore was appointed superior of a new mission in the frontier diocese of Vincennes, Indiana. Mother Théodore and five companion sisters established the mission of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute in October 1840. In time, this small foundation matured into a new congregation of religious women, the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, with Mother Théodore Guérin as the first superior general. Mother Guérin and her sisters founded and staffed a number of Catholic schools throughout Indiana, including Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Mother Guérin died in 1856, and the proceedings leading to her ultimate canonization began fifty-three years later. Understandably, Indiana news outlets are making much of the Hoosier State's first canonized saint. The Indianapolis Star has extensive coverage of the story, including eyewitness reports from Indiana residents who traveled to Rome to take part in the canonization liturgy. The saint's local paper, the Tribune Star of Terre Haute, has even more to say with a special webpage including numerous articles and photos on Mother Guérin's elevation to sainthood. Not to be outdone by the secular media, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has its own canonization webpage as well as a Mother Théodore blog.

As a former Indiana resident - albeit a transient one - I take pride in Mother Guérin's canonization. I'm also happy to congratulate two authentic Hoosier Jesuits - my classmate Mike Singhurse and first-year novice Christopher Gagnon, both of whom come from Terre Haute - on this great occasion. Finally, I pray that Mother Guérin's example will inspire future generations of Hoosier Catholics to answer the call to service in the Church. AMDG.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Notes on the Memorial of Bl. Jan Beyzym.

Today the Society of Jesus remembers Bl. Jan Beyzym, a Polish Jesuit known as "the Servant of Lepers" on account of the many years he spent working in a leprosarium in Madagascar. Born into the provincial gentry, Jan nonetheless knew hardship during his youth; dedicated to the cause of Polish independence, the Beyzym family were dispossessed of their ancestral estate following their participation in a failed revolt against Russian rule. Jan entered the Society of Jesus in 1872 at the age of twenty-two. As a novice, he joined other Jesuits in caring for the victims of a cholera epidemic. This early experience may have planted the seed of Jan's desire to work with lepers. Ordained to the priesthood in 1881, Jan spent the next seventeen years teaching in Jesuit schools in Poland. During his years as a teacher, Jan repeatedly requested assignment to the missions to work with lepers. In 1898, Jan's wishes were fulfilled when he was assigned to work at a leprosarium in Ambahivuraka, Madagascar. Arriving at Ambahivuraka, Jan found 150 patients living in deplorable conditions, lacking adequate shelter, nutrition or medical treatment. The Polish Jesuit immediately began working to improve the quality of food, medical care and housing available at the leprosarium, all the while laying plans for a new hospital that would better serve the needs of people suffering from leprosy. Jan also worked to change social attitudes toward leprosy, seeking the overcome the widespread stigma attached to the disease. As a sign of his own acceptance of people with leprosy, Jan Beyzym broke with convention and chose to live among the patients he served. In a letter to his provincial, Jan had this to say about the conditions he faced and the spiritual attitude he had to cultivate in order to persevere in his work: "One must be in constant union with God and pray without respite. One must get used little by little to the stench, for here we don't breathe the scent of flowers but the putrefaction of bodies generated by leprosy." In 1911, a year before his death, Father Jan Beyzym inaugurated a new hospital for people with leprosy at Marana, 180 miles from Ambahivuraka. The patients who resided at Ambahivuraka moved with Father Beyzym to the new hospital, not simply because it was a better facility but also out of devotion to the priest who had served them with great care and devotion.

Father Jan Beyzym was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Though he is comparatively little known outside of the countries where he lived, Father Beyzym offers all Jesuits an inspiring example of dedication to the mission of the Society. As a missionary, Father Beyzym was conscious of both the global dimension of the Society's work and the importance of working on a local level to meet the most pressing of human needs. These words of Father Beyzym are worthy of reflection: "One's country is where the greater service of God and help of souls is found. It does not matter where you live, at the Equator or the North Pole. What really matters is to die in the service of the Lord Jesus as a member of our holy Society." AMDG.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A weekend away.

Joining a veritable exodus of New York residents who chose to spend Columbus Day weekend in New England, two carloads of Jesuit scholastics took to the highway on Friday afternoon for a two-hundred mile drive to Boston. Despite heavy traffic all along the route, my group reached our destination (Boston College) in time for dinner. Leaving only a couple hours after the first group, the second carload of Ciszek Hall residents faced considerably heavier traffic and didn't reach Boston until midnight. We all enjoyed the gracious hospitality of the Jesuit community at Boston College, who are lucky to live in what easily rates as the most architecturally appealing Jesuit residence I've visited. On Saturday morning, we witnessed the diaconal ordination of several of our Jesuit brothers and two Capuchins during a Mass held at St. Peter's Church. The diversity of the ordination class was reflected by the music used in the liturgy. An energetic Kenyan church choir sang rousing African hymns in honor of a couple of Kenyan Jesuits who were being ordained. Another of the ordinands was a Chilean Jesuit who writes liturgical music, so one of his compositions was performed, in Spanish, as a communion meditation. Also included were selections of Gregorian chant performed by a choir of Weston students. For the most part, the disparate mix of musical styles featured on the program hung together surprisingly well. In a larger way, the ordination Mass was both reverent and moving, a fitting commemoration of the solemn commitment the newly ordained have undertaken.

On the way of St. Peter's Church after the Mass, I was surprised to run into none other than Father Ron Murphy, a friend and a mentor of mine at Georgetown. Father Murphy is a man of diverse interests and commitments: a professor of German at Georgetown for the past three decades, he is also (among other things) a sailing enthusiast, a Knight of Malta, and a bi-ritual priest (click here for a photo of him celebrating the Byzantine Divine Liturgy in Georgetown's Dahlgren Chapel). He was also the first Jesuit to tell me, while I was a student at Georgetown, that I ought to think about becoming a Jesuit myself. Having come to Saturday's ordination to represent the Georgetown Jesuit community, Ron had to catch an early-afternoon flight back to Washington and thus couldn't stick around long after the Mass. Though we were only able to chat briefly, I was still happy to see Ron Murphy in Cambridge, particularly since I hadn't expected to see him there at all.

Following the post-ordination luncheon, I drove down to Rochester to see my folks. At my mother's suggestion, we had dinner at Adega, a new Portuguese restaurant in the South End of New Bedford. Though we had to wait a long time to be seated and found the dining room rather noisy, the quality of the cuisine more than made up for any discomfort. I would happily eat at Adega again, and I'm pleased to recommend the place to any readers who might find themselves in the New Bedford area. The one night I spent at home was all too brief, but being based in New York I hope I'll be able to get back to Southeastern Massachusetts more often than I could during the previous five years in the Midwest. Whenever I next return to the SouthCoast, you'll surely see something about it on this blog. AMDG.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ordination weekend at Weston.

Tomorrow I'll be heading out for a weekend away in Massachusetts. On Saturday morning I and several other scholastics from Ciszek will witness the ordination to the transitional diaconate of nine Jesuits and two Capuchins who are studying at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. Though I only know one of the ordinandi (Michael Simone of the Detroit Province, who once had a fan club), I'm looking forward to a prayerful experience of fellowship with my brother Jesuits. After the Mass on Saturday, I'll be driving down to Rochester to spend the night at home with my family. I'll be back in the Bronx - and back to blogging - on Sunday. AMDG.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Vianney relic at heart of vocation pitch.

The Boston Globe reports today on an interesting new venture in vocation promotion:

The heart of a revered 19th-century clergyman is being brought to New York and Boston from its resting place in Ars, France, in hopes that veneration of the relic will inspire more men to join the depleted ranks of the Roman Catholic priesthood.

St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, died in 1859. His heart, enclosed in a glass case, is being brought to the United States by Bishop Guy Bagnard of the Diocese of Belley-Ars. After five days at a church on Long Island, it will be brought to the Archdiocese of Boston for veneration and prayer at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, St. Mary's Parish in Waltham, and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End. Many of the events will be open to the public.

. . .

"We bring him to Boston in the hope that his life and deeds will be an inspiration to our parish priests and an inspiration to others to consider whether they are being called to serve as priests in our parishes," Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said Friday in a telephone interview from Rome. "The heart of St. John Vianney is a symbol of his great love for God and the people he served."

According to the Globe, this will be the first trip that Vianney's heart has taken outside of France since it was brought to Rome for the saint's canonization in 1925. Normally, the heart is preserved together with Vianney's incorrupt remains at the Sanctuaire d'Ars in the saint's hometown. Prior to reading the Globe article, I didn't know that Vianney was one of the incorruptible saints - a group that also includes such luminaries as St. Bernadette Soubirous, St. Francis Xavier, and Bl. John XXIII. Some readers may be bemused by the fact that Vianney's heart is preserved outside his body, but this has also been done in other cases. When I heard about Vianney's heart, I immediately thought of Bl. André Bessette, the Holy Cross Brother who was regarded as a living saint in early 2oth-century Québec on account of the miraculous cures and other fortuitous events said to have come about through his prayers. Brother André's heart is now on display at the Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, the Montreal shrine that the humble but determined brother built to honor his patron. Every time I've visited Montreal, I've stopped in at the Oratory, and I've always wondered how the decision was made to put Brother André's heart on display for the veneration of the faithful. Now I wonder whether this move was inspired by the example of Vianney and the other saints whose hearts have attracted particular devotion as relics. Though I won't be in Boston when Vianney's heart passes through, I may go to see the relic on Long Island. If I do so, I'll be motivated not simply by devotion but by curiosity as well. AMDG.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Venerable high school seminary set to close.

Though the announcement came two weeks ago, it wasn't until today that I learned that Chicago's Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, one of the United States' few remaining high school seminaries, will close at the end of this academic year. In an editorial dated September 23rd, the Chicago Tribune neatly summarizes Quigley's place in history as well as the reasons for its closing:
In 1905, when Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary was founded, its mission was to train future priests who would minister to the city as well as further the church's work in education, health care and social justice.

For years, the Catholic high school did just that, earning a reputation as an academic heavyweight that not only turned out priests and bishops, but also doctors, lawyers and politicians.

The archdiocese announced this week that the high school seminary would graduate its last class and close in June 2007. Quigley's enrollment has been shrinking, from a high of 1,300 students in the 1950's to an all-time low this year of 183 students. The school faces a deficit of $1 million.

Such a shame, but so understandable.

As with the 1990 decision to streamline Quigley's two campuses into one, the decision to close the school was not made lightly. To stave off closure nearly five years ago, Quigley hired recruiters who traveled to area elementary schools, public as well as Catholic, hoping to reel in new students. Fundraising stepped up. Alumni were asked to dig deeper to help their old school.

Those efforts weren't enough, in part because fewer young men feel called into the priesthood at a very young age. "You just don't have 13- to 14-year-old boys making that type of decision about the rest of their lives," said Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane, a 1961 Quigley graduate.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, nearly 16,000 students attended 171 such high schools across the country in the 1967-68 school year. Today, only five other high school seminaries remain, with a total enrollment of just 763 students. Those schools are struggling for their survival too.
Understandably, Quigley students and their parents are upset about the school's expected closure. Some of their opinions, as well as the Archdiocese's response, are reported in this article in the Chicago Sun-Times. How the Church should deal with high school-age boys who are considering the priesthood - few though they may be - is a genuine concern. The Archdiocese is apparently trying to respond to the needs of young men in this situation with a proposed program that would offer them scholarships to attend other Catholic high schools in Chicago as well as the opportunity to take part in a loosely-structured discernment program. It's unclear how well such a program would work in practice, given that any young man who tells his high school classmates (not to mention his family) that he's thinking of becoming a priest will probably encounter negative reactions. As one Quigley student quoted in the Sun-Times article says, "At other schools people will look at you funny if you even consider the priesthood, but at Quigley everyone is open to it."

Personally, I'm ambivalent about Quigley's imminent demise. I understand and accept that economic and social realities dictated the school's closure. I also tend toward the view that young men who are considering the priesthood should have as "normal" an experience of high school and college as possible, in the hope that their experiences will help them become emotionally mature, well-adjusted and well-integrated adults. At the same time, I wonder how many vocation-minded high schoolers have the strength to persevere in the face of peer pressure, assorted temptations and a culture that doesn't value permanent commitments (especially religious ones). Considerations such as these aside, the closing of Quigley also represents the loss of an institution that has made its mark on Chicago irrespective of how many of its alumni have chosen secular careers over religious ones. However I might feel about the place of high school seminaries today, as a person who loves ancient things I mourn the loss of an old and storied institution. Ave atque vale. AMDG.