Friday, May 29, 2009

Rochester Center.

As I approach the end of a very enjoyable home visit, I wanted to post some photos of the Town of Rochester, where I grew up and where my parents still live. Settled in 1638 and incorporated in 1686, Rochester retains much of the rural character that it possessed in the 17th century. The above photos were taken in what passes as Rochester's 'downtown,' the focal point of which is a triangular green space described by one old guidebook as "a small but authentic New England town common."

As in many other New England communities, Rochester's town common is dominated by the parish church established by the town's founders. As the historical marker in the second photo indicates, the First Congregational Church of Rochester was first organized in 1703; the present building (photos three through six) dates from 1837. The church vestry (photo seven) began its existence in 1839 as 'Rochester Academy,' a church-sponsored school which offered classes in English, French, Greek and Latin for area youths who aspired to continue their education at Brown or Harvard. Though the Academy folded in the 1860s, the vestry still belongs to the Congregational Church and provides office space as well as classrooms for religious education.

Though I've gleaned some information about the history of Rochester's first church through sporadic reading in local history, my knowledge of the parish's present is quite limited: I have a dim recollection of attending a Sunday service there over twenty years ago with a childhood friend and his family, but I haven't set foot inside the building since. From what I've read in occasional news articles on the church, I can see that the spiritual descendants of Rochester's Puritan founders are proud of their heritage and committed to preserving the historic church building where they worship.

Rochester's current Town Hall (eighth photo) was built in 1893. The building is showing its age in some respects; for example, office space is at such a premium that some town departments are now located in rented premises down the road. However, the town clerk's office and other departments offer a level of personalized service that you're unlikely to encounter in larger municipalities. In front of Town Hall, Rochester's Civil War Memorial (ninth and tenth photos) bears old Yankee names like Theophilas Burgess, Pardon Gifford, Nehemiah Sherman and Handell J. Tripp, all "Men of Rochester [Who] Fought to Save the Union."

As I prepare to return to New York, I do so grateful for time spent with loved ones and time spent in my hometown. Though I enjoy living in the city, I also appreciate going back to the small town where I grew up. Looking forward to the next time that I return here, I'm consoled by the hope that Rochester will be much the same in the future as it has been in the past. AMDG.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Catholic supermajority on the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court of the United States has had a Catholic majority since January 2006, when Assoicate Justice Samuel Alito became the fifth Catholic serving simultaneously on the Court. While Alito was awaiting confirmation, I posted some thoughts on what a Catholic majority might mean (or might not mean) for the Court. Now that President Barack Obama has announced his intention to nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to succeed Associate Justice David Souter, the Supreme Court may soon possess a two-thirds Catholic membership.

Though I believe that this is a milestone worth noting, I don't expect this change to make much of a difference. As I wrote at the time of the Alito nomination, I think that the prospect that another Catholic could be added to the Supreme Court shows that the religious affiliation of judicial nominees does not matter as much as it may have in the past. The five Catholic justices currently on the Court are not a monolithic group; if they do vote in the same way in particular cases, they do so on the basis of shared jurisprudential principles and not because they believe that there is a "Catholic" position on a particular point of law. Whatever difference the Catholic faith has made in the life of Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor - and I hope that it has made a positive difference for both of them - from a jurisprudential perspective the fact that both are Catholic is about as significant as the fact that both went to Princeton and Yale.

For a somewhat provocative last word on the topic on Catholics and the judiciary, here are some remarks that Associate Justice Antonin Scalia made at Villanova Law School two years ago, relayed via David Gibson at Pontifications and Robert Miller at First Things:
There is no such thing as a 'Catholic judge.' The bottom line is that the Catholic faith seems to me to have little effect on my work as a judge . . . Just as there is no 'Catholic' way to cook a hamburger, I am hard pressed to tell you of a single opinion of mine that would have come out differently if I were not a Catholic.
If I may put my own gloss on Justice Scalia's words, I think the key point is that one should not expect Catholic judges to rule in particular ways simply because they are Catholic. Their Catholicism may inform their legal and political commitments, but any decisions that they hand down from the bench must have a solid legal basis and not simply reflect the judges' personal beliefs or opinions. This is an issue for any judge, Catholic or not, which I suppose simply proves Scalia's point. AMDG.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Vocations in the Bay State media.

This morning I came across a couple of impressively positive stories on priestly vocations in the Bay State media. The Boston Globe has a brief item on Cardinal Seán O'Malley's ordination of six new priests for the Archdiocese of Boston, highlighting the diversity of the group as well as the fact that ordinand Shawn Carey is one of only a handful of deaf priests in the United States. My hometown newspaper, the New Bedford Standard-Times, has a much longer story on vocations in the local Diocese of Fall River. The Standard-Times article is well worth reading, as it is probably the first piece that I've ever come across in my hometown paper that speaks about vocations to the priesthood in concrete and serious terms.

While the Standard-Times acknowledges the challenges facing the local church - the Fall River Diocese currently has eight seminarians compared with 112 active priests, many close to retirement - the newspaper deserves credit for focusing on some of the youngest priests in the diocese and giving them a chance to speak about their own calling as well as the factors that prevent many young men from considering a priestly vocation. Here is some of what the Standard-Times article has to say:
The morning bell rang and students walked to their next class at Bishop Stang High School [in Dartmouth, Mass.]. The Rev. Jay Mello stood outside the campus ministry office, nodding hello to students passing by in the hall.

"The greatest job in the world is to be a high school chaplain," said Mello, 29, who was ordained a priest in July 2007.

. . .

Mello was ordained a priest after years of study and formation at the North American College in Rome. He remembers being 7 or 8 years old when he first heard the call.

"After high school, I came to terms with the fact that this was something God was calling me to," Mello said. "It's a question every young man needs to ask: Is Jesus Christ calling me to become a priest?"

That is a question that dioceses across the country — particularly the Fall River Diocese — hope and pray that more men consider, given the fact that the ranks of ordained priests have been falling for the past 40 years.

. . .

The Revs. Karl Bissinger and Kevin Cook run the Vocations Office for the diocese. Bissinger, 39, helps men apply for the seminary. Cook, 37, speaks about vocations and organizes events at schools in the diocese. They attribute the shortage of vocations mainly to cultural factors, saying the culture today is more materialistic, individualistic and concerned with secular goals than seeking God's will.

"So many young men and women today are afraid of commitment," Cook said. "That goes not only [for] the priesthood, but [for] marriage."

"There is not as strong an emphasis on regular Mass attendance and religion being at the center of people's lives," Bissinger said. "The family has also gone through some profound changes. I think all of that has had an effect on vocations."
To read the rest of the article, click here. Though the Standard-Times piece is far from perfect, I found it refreshing in two ways. For one thing, this is the first time that I've seen the option of becoming a priest presented so forthrightly in the local media. Beyond that, it's good to see the Standard-Times draw attention to the work of young priests who seem to be happy, level-headed and sociable. (It makes a difference that today's article was not written by the newspaper's regular religion reporter, who often describes priests as "otherworldly" and writes about them as if they were exotic animals in a zoo.)

As I've written before, I never thought of becoming a priest while I was growing up in part because the priesthood was never really presented as a viable option. I hope that today's Standard-Times article leads a few young men in Southeastern Massachusetts who would not otherwise have considered a vocation to priestly life to at least consider the possibility. AMDG.

Parishes to Bay State Catholics: "Go to UMass!"

Here is an announcement that I was somewhat surprised to read in my home parish's weekly bulletin:

Newman Catholic Center
UMass Amherst
Attention graduating high school students!

Interested in attending a college where you can continue practicing your faith with other students? Consider the University of Massachusetts Amherst where the Newman Catholic Center is active in offering social activities, events, community outreach and the opportunity to grow spiritually. Feel free to contact us for more information at or visit us online at

Having taken a look at other parish bulletins online, I gather that this notice has been widely circulated. I'm impressed to see a Newman Center at a state university reach out to students before they apply, but I'm also struck by the cultural shift reflected by announcements like this one. For much of the 20th century, the American Catholic hierarchy and many parish priests routinely warned the faithful against attending state universities; in the eyes of some, secular institutions were a hostile environment for young Catholics seeking to practice their faith. Indeed, some priests - including a few Jesuits - initially opposed the establishment of Newman Centers on secular campuses because they feared that the programs offered there would give young Catholics added incentive to attend state universities instead of Catholic ones.

By allowing the Newman Catholic Center at UMass Amherst to advertise in their bulletins, Bay State parishes are acknowledging some important realities. Catholics have long flocked to state universities, with Newman Centers providing spiritual support to those who seek it; the "those who seek it" element is important, as many cradle Catholics start to drift away from religious practice after confirmation, particularly if they're away from home for the first time. Religious programming is seldom much of a consideration for Catholic high school students looking at colleges, regardless of whether they're looking at secular schools or Catholic ones (in my case, Georgetown's location was initially a more important factor than its Catholic and Jesuit identity). Thus, Newman Centers (and, for that matter, campus ministry offices at Catholic colleges and universities) need to make a positive effort to reach out to students. Giving Newman Centers an opportunity to reach out to prospective college applicants at the parish level could support their efforts to help young Catholics remain active in the Church once they get to campus.

On reflection, I wonder whether the role of Newman Centers on secular campuses may mirror to some degree the position of Catholic parishes in an increasingly secular society. For better or worse, we've moved beyond the point when most Catholics can simply be expected to show up on Sundays without any particular prompting or incentives from their parishes. With declining rates of Mass attendance and a larger dip in community involvement and civic engagement, parishes need to find effective ways to market themselves in order to survive. There is no single best way to do this - on the contrary, the really vibrant parishes that I've encountered fall into a number of different niches, suggesting that a variety of approaches may be taken. In all cases, though, outreach is critically important. The Newman Catholic Center at UMass Amherst is taking a proactive approach on this, and I wonder whether their example could be imitated elsewhere. AMDG.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Home visit.

I'm currently at home with my folks in Massachusetts, enjoying a bit of a break before returning to New York to pack up my things and move on to my regency assignment (details to follow, I promise; my apologies to any who feel that they've been kept in undue suspense). As you can see above, on Tuesday I watched as the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays 2-1 at Fenway. This was my first time sitting in Fenway's sought-after "Green Monster seats," which offer an awesome view at the risk of full exposure to the elements; the cup in my hands and the one to the left of me contain hot chocolate which my dad and I were drinking to help keep warm.

The chilly weather that we experienced Friday night at Fenway was only part of what has been a somewhat erratic week in terms of temperatures: lows in the thirties earlier in the week have bounced to a high near ninety today, with another dip expected tomorrow. All in all, though, I'm enjoying my time at home and look forward to the next few days. Hopefully, I'll be able to put in a word here and there as I did in the posts that I produced today. In the meantime, my prayers and good wishes to readers who are celebrating the Memorial Day holiday this weekend. AMDG.

Marc Gervais et moi.

With the 62nd annual Cannes Film Festival entering its final weekend, this seems like an appropriate time to pay tribute to Marc Gervais, the Canadian Jesuit film scholar who is said to have attended the festival "more often than any other priest" and probably more often than many other academics or journalists. A longtime professor of film studies at Concordia University and an acknowledged authority on the work of Ingmar Bergman, Gervais attended the Cannes Film Festival annually for nearly forty years. Retired from Concordia and with his days on the festival circuit behind him, Gervais now lives at a Jesuit infirmary in Ontario. Marc is surely missed by his colleagues, students and friends in Montreal, where he spent the greater part of his professional and religious life. I hope those of his friends who read this will join me in praying for a great Jesuit, a fine priest and an exceptional gentleman.

I've written before about the influence that Marc Gervais had on my own vocation, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to get to know him somewhat over the course of several visits to Montreal. The above photos were taken during our first meeting, which came about quite unexpectedly. Passing through Montreal with another scholastic, I was staying in a community of francophone Jesuits on the other side of town (culturally as well as geographically) from the residence of English-speaking Jesuits where Gervais then lived. (I should probably point out that Canada has two Jesuit provinces - one French, the other English - and both have residences in Montreal.) A chance meeting with a Jesuit from the English province led to an invitation to dinner with his community, which is how I finally met Marc Gervais.

On the occasion of our first meeting as well as at other times, Marc Gervais proved an unfailingly gracious host. While he had stacks of papers to grade - he was still teaching, even though he had officially retired - Marc was happy to drop everything for a lengthy after-dinner chat with two visiting scholastics. Though we spoke a bit about our common interest in the films of Ingmar Bergman, our conversation touched on other topics as well. Marc spoke about his passion for Westerns (one of the pictures on his wall was a Monument Valley landscape, a still from a John Ford film) as well as the controversy that had erupted when a film festival jury that he led awarded a prize to Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema (a decision which some Vatican officials criticized as much for Pasolini's atheism as for the film's racy content). We also spoke more generally about faith and culture and about the role that the Society of Jesus has played in trying to bring the two together. At the end of that first meeting, Marc gave me a copy of his book Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet, which you can see him signing in one of the above photos.

I hope that the above account proves an enjoyable one for the various friends and fans of Marc Gervais in the blogosphere. If any of said friends and fans come across this blog and would like to share their own memories and reflections, I would enjoy reading them. More importantly, I hope that you will join me in praying for Marc Gervais as he confronts the challenges of aging and diminishment. AMDG.

ADDENDUM (3/27/12): This post is getting some new hits following media reports of Marc Gervais' death, so visitors looking for more information on Marc's passing - or wanting to leave some memories or condolences, should read my most recent post.

Jake Martin assesses "30 Rock" in "America."

The online edition of America has a piece by my friend and housemate Jake Martin on the sadly underrated sitcom 30 Rock, which has drawn a a fairly small audience despite numerous awards and praise from critics. As Jake observes, what makes 30 Rock special is its care for the humanity of its characters:
30 Rock seems to revel in pilfering from a multiplicity of pop culture sources and turning them on their heads.... However, [30 Rock's] deconstructive irony is only a veneer: the true beauty of the show lies in its fierce commitment to authentic characterizations. Unlike such structurally innovative shows as Seinfeld, which never let its audience forget that it was in on the joke and consequently seemed to prohibit any significant emotional investment, 30 Rock never gets bogged down in its own slickness. The writers and performers have a concern for the humanity of their characters that overrides the show’s formal conceits.

All the standard character types are present: the narcissistic boss, the blonde bimbo, the Bible-belt cracker, yet the actors and writers of 30 Rock are not satisfied with mere caricatures, as is often the case for TV comedies. Instead, the show does it the hard way, presenting a collection of fully realized personalities, who never lose an ounce of their comedic edge by virtue of their humanity.

Alec Baldwin’s adroit portrayal of network executive Jack Donaghy illustrates the show's commitment to authenticity. Jack Donaghy is a role that, at first glance, doesn’t need to be any more than the typical high-status buffoon on the order of the incompetent middle-manager Michael Scott of The Office. Yet Baldwin and the writers have created a character with nuance--one who is both competent in his job (something verboten in television comedy characters in positions of leadership) and concerned about his colleagues; all the while never losing his searing wit and enormous ego. 30 Rock finds its comedy in the truth of its characters' humanity rather than trying to create humor out of stereotypes and clichés.
For the rest, click here. While 30 Rock hasn't done spectacularly well by the standards of the Nielsen ratings, regular viewings of episodes of the show on DVD have created a loyal 30 Rock fanbase at Ciszek Hall. Counting myself among the show's fans, I concur with Jake's view of its strengths. Looking forward to 30 Rock's fourth season, I hope that we can also look forward to more articles in America from Jake Martin. AMDG.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Congratulations, Liz!

Today my sister Elizabeth will graduate from Stonehill College with a bachelor's degree in English. Though the weather is being less than cooperative - it's supposed to rain for most of the day - I look forward to watching Liz receive her diploma and to celebrating this important event with our family. Please join me in praying for Liz and all her classmates, as well as for all others who are graduating from colleges and universities in this commencement season. AMDG.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Melkite Jerusalem.

In a post last June, I mentioned that one of the first things I did when arriving in Jerusalem was to attend the early morning liturgy at the Melkite Greek-Catholic Patriarchate near the Jaffa Gate in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. I returned to participate in the Divine Liturgy at the Melkite Patriarchate most of the mornings of my retreat; though I certainly stood out among the handful of communicants (who were mostly Arab women), I felt very welcome among the Melkites. The above photos offer a sense of what I saw each morning as I turned down Greek Catholic Patriarchate Road, entered the patriarchal church through its rather unassuming main entrance, and joined a small but faithful group for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Grateful for the hospitable reception that I received from the Melkites of Jerusalem, my prayers today are for the prosperity and safety of the Greek Catholics of the Holy Land. AMDG.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

NYT: Mideast Christians losing numbers, influence.

As Pope Benedict XVI continues his visit to the Holy Land, the New York Times casts one of its infrequent glimpses at the Christians of the Middle East. Here are a few paragraphs of the article:
Christians used to be a vital force in the Middle East. They dominated Lebanon and filled top jobs in the Palestinian movement. In Egypt, they were wealthy beyond their number. In Iraq, they packed the universities and professions. Across the region, their orientation was a vital link to the West, a counterpoint to prevailing trends.

But as Pope Benedict XVI wends his way across the Holy Land this week, he is addressing a dwindling and threatened Christian population driven to emigration by political violence, lack of economic opportunity and the rise of radical Islam. A region that a century ago was 20 percent Christian is about 5 percent today and dropping.

. . .

The pope, in a Mass on Tuesday at the foot of the Mount of Olives, addressed "the tragic reality" of the "departure of so many members of the Christian community in recent years."

He said: "While understandable reasons lead many, especially the young, to emigrate, this decision brings in its wake a great cultural and spiritual impoverishment to the city [of Jerusalem]. Today I wish to repeat what I have said on other occasions: in the Holy Land there is room for everyone!"

On Sunday in Jordan the pope argued that Christians had a role here in reconciliation, that their very presence eased the strife, and that the decline of that presence could help to increase extremism. When the mix of beliefs and lifestyles goes down, orthodoxy rises, he implied, as does uniformity of the cultural landscape in a region where tolerance is not an outstanding virtue.
To read the rest, click here. Except for the papal quotes, there's really nothing new in the NYT article. Even so, as I've written before, the beleaguered Christians of the Middle East need all the attention from the Western media (and from Western policymakers) as they can get. They also need your prayers, so I hope that you'll join me in continuing to pray for them. AMDG.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

David Neuhaus: An Israeli Jesuit in profile.

In my previous post, I made mention of Jesuit Father David Neuhaus, who serves the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem as Vicar for the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Vicariate in Israel. Of course, that's only one of the many ways that Father Neuhaus keeps busy. With a doctorate in political science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a licentiate in sacred scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, he also teaches in two Palestinian educational institutions - Bethlehem University and the Latin Patriarchal Seminary. Having been involved in the struggle against apartheid as a teenager in South Africa, Neuhaus has kept up his commitment to human rights as an active supporter of organizations like B'Tselem and Women in Black. He's also been very busy over the past few days, as he is one of fifteen members of the planning committee for the papal visit to the Holy Land. The son of German Jews who fled from Hitler in 1936, Neuhaus is also an adult convert to Catholicism and the only Israeli citizen in the Society of Jesus.

Father David Neuhaus shares a bit about his life in an excellent profile published today in Le Monde. Arriving in Israel from his native South Africa at the age of 15, Neuhaus was a secular Jew who had never taken religious practice seriously. An unexpected friendship with an elderly Russian Orthodox nun from the Convent of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives changed Neuhaus' outlook. "She never wanted me to be a Christian," Neuhaus recalls, "only a believer and a good Jew. But the figure of Christ fascinated me." Promising his parents that he would wait ten years before making a decision about whether or not to become Christian, Neuhaus studied the Talmud as well as the Gospels as part of his discernment. Over time, "the call of Christ became stronger and stronger. It wasn't a revelation, but a discovery." In 1988, at the age of 26, Neuhaus was baptized.

Four years after his baptism, David Neuhaus entered the Society of Jesus. Neuhaus tells Le Monde that he was drawn to the Jesuits, "these Jews of the Church" ("ces juifs de l'Église"), because they allowed "more room for the individual, for the critical spirit, for the intellect." Since being ordained nine years ago and completing scripture studies in Rome, Neuhaus has devoted himself to academic and pastoral work among Israeli and Palestinian Catholics. Neuhaus sees his most important task as promoting mutual understanding and reconciliation in a divided land. Commenting that people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "live in their fear, in convictions that are based on stereotypes and a victim complex," Neuhaus seeks to "pass from one side to the other to say to Israelis that the Arabs are not monsters and to say to Arabs that the Israelis are not monsters either." While he admits that efforts at bridge-building have "failed" for the time being, Neuhaus sees parallels between his present work and his youthful anti-apartheid activism in South Africa. As he recalls, "1985 was a particularly dramatic year in South Africa. Who would have thought that, less than ten years later, apartheid would have been abolished? It was unthinkable!"

Though I've summarized much of its content above, I invite those who read French to take a look at the rest of Le Monde's profile of David Neuhaus in order to get a fuller picture (and, if you wish, to check the accuracy of my translations of the quotations offered above). I got a chuckle out of Neuhaus' description of the Jesuits as "juifs de l'Église," but on a much deeper level I wholeheartedly concur in his view of the Society's respect for the individuality of its members, for critical thinking and for the intellectual life. Indeed, I was attracted to the Society of Jesus for much the same reasons. Moreover, I was attracted to the Society by the tremendous variety of its members - both among the Jesuits I knew before I entered and among those I did not know but had heard about, such as my "triptych" of Guy Consolmagno, Marc Gervais and Robert Taft.

Though the three Jesuits just mentioned and others who inspired me were all engaged in what may broadly be described as "the intellectual apostolate," the diversity of their gifts and interests and the fact that they all found God in work that they saw as part of the universal mission of the Society has always deeply moved me. I'm equally moved by the life and example of David Neuhaus, and for the very same reasons. I'm also grateful that I had the chance to meet Neuhaus when I was in Jerusalem last year; I hope to meet him again, but until I do I will be praying for him and for all Jesuits who, in so many different ways, are serving Christ "on the frontiers." AMDG.

Israel's Hebrew-speaking Catholics.

Reading news reports this week on the pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Land, my thoughts unsurprisingly turn to my retreat in Jerusalem last June. I've written about various aspects of my retreat experience in previous posts, and in light of the Pope's visit (and with the free time that I now have following the completion of the academic year) I hope to share a bit more about my time in Jerusalem over the next few days.

Some of the news stories leading up to the papal visit have made reference to the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Vicariate in Israel. Though the vast majority of the estimated 130,000 Catholics in Israel and Palestine are Palestinian Arabs, several hundred are Hebrew-speakers integrated into Israeli society. Though small in size, the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community is very diverse, including some who were born Jewish and were baptized as adults, foreign-born Catholics who are married to Israeli Jews, a few expatriate Catholic priests and religious, and immigrants from various parts of the world (particularly former Soviet states). You can read more about this unique community and the challenges that it faces in recent stories from the AFP and the BBC as well as in a 2008 Zenit interview with Israeli Jesuit David Neuhaus, who was recently named the Latin Patriarch's vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel.

Having been aware of Israel's Hebrew-speaking Catholics for several years, I made a point of seeking them out while I was in Jerusalem last June. Though I had visited Israel for the first time in 2000, I hadn't known that there were Hebrew-speaking Catholics until Pope John Paul II appointed a bishop for the community in 2003. After entering the Society, I heard about David Neuhaus, an Israeli Jew who had converted to Catholicism in his twenties and later joined the Jesuits. Making my retreat at the Jesuit residence where David lives, I asked if I could join him when he went to celebrate Mass with the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Jerusalem. David readily agreed, and I ended up attending evening Mass in Hebrew several times during my stay.

The photos above were taken at the House of SS. Simeon and Anne, where Jerusalem's Hebrew-speaking Catholics gather for Mass and various community activities. Located in an unassuming villa on a quiet side street in West Jerusalem (first photo), the House of SS. Simeon and Anna includes a simple but prayerful chapel (third photo) with two striking and unique icons (second and fourth photos). I'm rather fond of the icon of the encounter between the infant Christ and Simeon and Anna (second photo), partly because I found great consolation praying about that event during the Exercises and have often reflected on it since. The icon of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (fourth photo) is striking for its mix of Hebrew and Latin script and its vivid colors (which sadly did not photograph particularly well).

As self-identified Israelis in a Christian community that is overwhelmingly Palestinian and as Christians in a Jewish state, the Hebrew-speaking Catholics of Israel are a decidedly marginal group. Though few in number, Israel's Hebrew Catholics seek to make a positive contribution to their society by working for reconciliation and understanding in a divided land. At the same time, they provide the universal Church with a necessary reminder of its Jewish heritage. I hope and pray that the pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI will be a source of consolation and grace for the Hebrew-speaking Catholics and for all the Christians of the Holy Land. AMDG.

Father Robert J. Cornell, O.Praem., 1919-2009.

One of two Roman Catholic priests to serve in the United States Congress in the 20th century, Norbertine Father Robert Cornell died on Sunday at the age of 89. Though he never attracted the kind of national attention that his legislative colleague Father Robert Drinan received, Father Cornell served as U.S. Representative from the 8th District of Wisconsin from 1975 to 1979. A member of St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin and a longtime professor of government and history at St. Norbert College, Father Cornell defeated a Republican incumbent in 1974 to become the first Democrat elected to serve his northeastern Wisconsin district since the end of World War II. Defeated after two terms by Republican Toby Roth, Cornell was preparing for a 1980 rematch with Roth when he bowed out in obedience to a papal directive barring priests from seeking elective office. Returning to academia, Father Cornell continued to teach and to advise students at St. Norbert College until ill health forced his retirement in 2001.

To learn more about Father Cornell, take a look at today's obituaries in the New York Times and in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Cornell's hometown newspaper; you may also want to read this 2007 profile in which Father Cornell reflects on his political career. I hope that you'll join me in praying for the repose of the soul of a devoted priest and public servant. Requiescat in Pace. AMDG.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Given that I added a post to this blog earlier today, some readers may have already surmised that I'm done with the work of the semester. Now that I've turned in all my papers, taken all my exams and passed the De U, I'm ready to make the transition from Fordham student to Fordham alumnus. I will officially receive my degree on Saturday, though I've decided to skip Fordham's commencement ceremony in order to go home to watch my sister Elizabeth graduate from Stonehill College. Liz has attended each of my previous graduations, so I felt that I ought to attend hers. This graduation will be a Koczera family milestone, so I look forward to being there.

In between now and this weekend, I'll have a number of things to keep me busy. At Ciszek Hall, the end of the academic year always includes a couple of 'evaluation days' where the members of the community gather to talk about house procedures and other details of our common life. As for the evenings, I'm looking forward to attending a couple of concerts in the chronological cycle of Mahler symphonies being performed this week at Carnegie Hall by the Staatskapelle Berlin. I also look forward to posting a bit more often than I have been able to do over the last month or so that I've been occupied with exams and the like. My prayers and best wishes are with all readers who live on academic calendars and are finishing up around this time, whichever side of the desk you may be on. AMDG.

Byzantine Jesuit becomes youngest Catholic archbishop.

Last Thursday, the Vatican announced the appointment of Jesuit Father Cyril Vasil' as secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, with the rank of archbishop. A Greek Catholic from Slovakia, Father Vasil' is currently rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. Born in 1965, the Archbishop-elect was ordained a priest of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Prešov at the age of 22 and entered the Slovak Province of the Society of Jesus three years later. At 37, Father Vasil' was named dean of the faculty of Eastern canon law and pro-rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Two years ago, at age 42, he was named rector. Now, at 44, Father Vasil' is poised to become the youngest serving archbishop in the Catholic Church. Though his youth may attract notice, Vasil' will not be the only Slovak Greek Catholic Jesuit in the Church's hierarchy: the Metropolitan Archbishop of Prešov, Ján Babjak, is also a Jesuit. I hope that you will join me in praying for Archbishop-elect Cyril Vasil' as he prepares to receive the omophorion and to begin his service at the Oriental Congregation. Eis polla eti, Despota! AMDG.