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.


Post a Comment

<< Home