Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Thomas Mulvihill King was not the first Jesuit I ever met, but he was the first Jesuit I really got to know as a person. He was also the first Jesuit - as well as the first priest - whom I ever had as a teacher. He was my guide on my first visit to the Holy Land and on several student retreats at Georgetown. When Tom King died suddenly of a heart attack last Tuesday, I lost a mentor, friend and spiritual father. To say that Tom was my spiritual father is to say that he was like a Russian starets, a venerable and wise guide to the Christian life. Spiritual directors come and go, but I would argue that you can only have one spiritual father. For me and for many others, the death of Father Tom King leaves a void that will always remain unfilled. In some sense, Tom King was the soul of Georgetown, though it would be just as fair to say that for many Hoyas he was Georgetown - one could not encounter him as a priest, teacher or friend without being changed in some way, and that change touched the essence of one's experience of Georgetown.

Despite my sadness at Tom's passing, I found much consolation attending his wake and funeral this past weekend at Georgetown. The assembled mourners included many whom I count as old friends, including some I hadn't seen since my college graduation. Sharing our memories of Tom provided a means of affirming his continued presence among us in spite of the pain that we felt at his apparent absence. Having frequently enjoyed Father King's company at the "soirées" that often followed his 11:15 pm Mass, we expressed our confident hope that our dear friend now shares the company of the saints as a participant in what one eulogist at Saturday's funeral Mass called "the eternal soirée."

Of the various tributes to Tom King that have been published online in the last few days, two carry particular meaning for me. The first comes from Brenner Fissell, a 2009 graduate of Georgetown College, who offers some poignant reflections on Father King's life and death on his blog. Though I don't know Brenner personally, I share many of the sentiments that he expresses in this post, which I suggest you read in its entirety. Here's an excerpt:
[Father King] was a theologian, a man who spent his entire life plumbing the "same great depths" that the philosophers long had plumbed, a man who dealt constantly with those who doubted God's existence and yet maintained his strong faith. Now, this true lover of wisdom—this true philosopher—is united with wisdom itself, and his faith is confirmed. Knowing how Father King loved Teilhard's thought, I am sure that he viewed death as the ultimate communion, a privileged moment of man surmounting himself. Who could forget those memorable passages in [Teilhard's] Divine Milieu, passages King had ingrained in his own heart and mind. I wonder if he thought of them during those last moments.

I remember walking by him in the commencement procession and waving. He did not take part in all the pomp: he was just standing alone, watching from the main gates, a sincere smile on his face (one that we all remember well). Uncommon humility for Georgetown's "Man of the Millenium." The next day was the Baccalaureate mass, and Father King was just concelebrating on this occasion. Watching him walk down from the stage, the words of Ubi Caritas resounded in the background: "Where true love abides, God Himself is there."

A few days later, I had lunch with Father King at the Jesuit Residence. During most of the lunch, we discussed Plato and his own interpretations—Plato was, next to Teilhard, King’s favorite. As I turned to say goodbye at the door, he handed me a prayer card he had made up for his 40th anniversary at Georgetown. I said to him, “I hope to see you again,” and that was the last time I saw him alive (about one month ago). Father King always recognized the significance of the present moment, and I have no doubt that he viewed those words as much more than a mundane expression one might vomit out unthinkingly as he says goodbye. Hope. Resurrection. All these subconsciously permeated such words. I hope to see you again.
I believe that all who gathered in Dahlgren Chapel last Saturday to remember Tom King shared in this hope. I can affirm that I found the funeral liturgy to be, as Brenner Fissell describes it, "real, genuine, sincere. All of us were together as humans and as Georgetown. Everyone, even if just for that moment, was imbued with King’s humility. I have never before felt as strong a sense of community at this university as I did on that morning." Though I wouldn't have thought to put it that way myself, I completely agree.

The second tribute that I'd like to share comes from Tim Kelleher, an actor and screenwriter who also serves as new media editor for First Things. I first met Tim nine years ago, when we were fellow pilgrims on the King-directed tour of the Holy Land referenced at the start of this post. I had the opportunity to catch up with Tim this weekend at Georgetown, though I did not become aware of his reflections on the First Things website until after I returned to Philadelphia. Writing about his three-decade-long friendship with Tom King, Tim Kelleher offers some thoughts that many of Tom's friends would surely affirm:
It’s amazing that he is no longer with us in the way we’ve known and loved him. What’s almost as amazing is that this isn’t the lead headline of every newspaper. I wish everyone had the chance to know him. I want to shout to the world—this is how we’re meant to live!

He was eighty years old but what a lie that feels. Tom was a rare bird in every way, including his genuine timelessness. In his eyes one could see a soul of perpetual youth—alive and ignited by unquenchable whimsy, intelligence and enchantment. I think if I had to name the single characteristic I found most appealing in him, it was his enchantment with existence and the divinity he saw shimmering within it.

. . .

Whatever good has become of me, were you to go to the heart of it, you’d glimpse Thomas Mulvihill King. Teacher, brother, precious friend, be with us in prayer and pray for us in God’s Kingdom, that we may all be united with you there.
As fine as these words are, the most moving tribute that I've seen paid to Tom King in the past week didn't involve words at all. On Saturday, Tom's coffin was carried into Dahlgren Chapel and later borne to the grave by several current Georgetown undergraduates. I can't imagine a more heartfelt gesture of thanks from the last group of Hoyas to have known this dearly beloved and truly legendary Georgetown Jesuit. As one who is deeply grateful to have known Tom King, I can only regret that future generations of Hoyas will not have the same pleasure. Goodbye, Tom. I hope to see you again. AMDG.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ave atque vale.

It was with great shock and sadness that I learned, just two hours ago, of the death this evening of Father Thomas Mulvihill King. In his forty-one years on the Hilltop, Father King had an incalculable influence on several generations of Georgetown students. I owe my own vocation to the Society of Jesus to his influence and example, and I will miss him dearly as a priest, teacher, mentor and friend. I will probably post more detailed reflections on his passing later, but for now I'll simply ask you to join me in praying for the repose of his soul and for the consolation of his family and friends.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Jesuit astronomer in the NYT.

Today's New York Times has a short article on the work of the Vatican Observatory, which has been closely associated with the Society of Jesus since the 19th century. Here's an excerpt:
Fauré’s "Requiem" is playing in the background, followed by the Kronos Quartet. Every so often the music is interrupted by an electromechanical arpeggio — like a jazz riff on a clarinet — as the motors guiding the telescope spin up and down. A night of galaxy gazing is about to begin at the Vatican's observatory on Mount Graham [in Arizona].

"Got it. O.K., it’s happy," says Christopher J. Corbally, the Jesuit priest who is vice director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group, as he sits in the control room making adjustments. The idea is not to watch for omens or angels but to do workmanlike astronomy that fights the perception that science and Catholicism necessarily conflict.

Last year, in an opening address at a conference in Rome, called "Science 400 Years After Galileo Galilei," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state of the Vatican, praised the church’s old antagonist as "a man of faith who saw nature as a book written by God." In May, as part of the International Year of Astronomy, a Jesuit cultural center in Florence conducted “a historical, philosophical and theological re-examination” of the Galileo affair. But in the effort to rehabilitate the church’s image, nothing speaks louder than a paper by a Vatican astronomer in, say, The Astrophysical Journal or The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
To read the rest, click here. To learn much more about the work that Jesuits are doing to show that faith and science can harmoniously coexist, take a look at the Vatican Observatory website. AMDG.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iran's "Twitter Revolution."

Over the past few days, I've been paying close attention to media reports of what some are calling the "Twitter Revolution" in Iran. At this point, it seems to be too soon to tell whether the ongoing protests by supporters of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi will bring political change in Iran or whether the country will endure a military crackdown like the one that flattened the "Saffron Revolution" in Myanmar. At the very least, the events in Iran remind us that new technologies have made it harder for governments to try to control their people by limiting their ability to communicate with one another and with the outside world. For an expert perspective on the Twitter Revolution and related phenomena, the online edition of the Washington Post turned to Evgeny Morozov, an Open Society Institute fellow who has been studying the impact that the Internet has had on totalitarian societies. As Morozov points out, protest movements have always used cutting-edge technologies to help their causes - but, then again, totalitarian regimes have done the same thing.

Reading about the Twitter Revolution in Iran, I can't help but think of a superb documentary that I saw in Chile entitled La ciudad de los fotógrafos ("The City of Photographers"). La ciudad de los fotógrafos tells the story of a group of photojournalists whose work captured the gritty reality of life under Pinochet, providing evidence of human rights abuses as well as depicting the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people trying to survive in the face of economic hardship and political repression. At a time when the Chilean media operated under restrictions intended to silence opponents of the regime, press photographers created a visual record of stories that otherwise wouldn't have been told. As La ciudad de los fotógrafos beautifully recounts, the efforts of a few brave photographers in Chile lent crucial momentum to the movement that ultimately restored democracy to the country; hopefully something similar will ultimately be said of Iran's Twitter Revolution, even if real change is slow in coming. In this dangerous and exciting time, I hope that you will join me in praying for the people of Iran. AMDG.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Many years to Archbishop Cyril Vasil'!

Last month, I mentioned the appointment of Jesuit Father Cyril Vasil' as secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for the Eastern Churches. On Sunday afternoon, the 44-year-old Father Vasil' was raised to the episcopate during a celebration of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Above are some images of the liturgy taken from the website of the Slovak Province of the Society of Jesus ; you can find many more photos of the event in this online gallery (h/t to Josephus Flavius of Byzantine, Texas). May God grant Archbishop Cyril many years. Mnohaja lita! AMDG.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bloomsday in Philadelphia.

Devoted fans of James Joyce's Ulysses know that June 16th is Bloomsday, the anniversary of the date in 1904 when the novel's fictional action unfolds in Dublin. Joyce enthusiasts in Dublin and elsewhere mark Bloomsday in various ways, notably by reenacting or reading part or all of the action of the novel. For the last seventeen years, the Rosenbach Museum and Library here in Philadelphia has celebrated Bloomsday with an outdoor reading of portions of the novel as well as with special displays including Joyce's own handwritten manuscript copy of Ulysses, which is part of the Rosenbach collection. I haven't had much experience with Joyce's Ulysses - I've read the novel only once, though I'd like to read it again - but I really enjoy literary events like Bloomsday. Having long savored New Bedford's annual Moby-Dick Reading Marathon, I heartily support the idea of gathering each year for a public reading of Ulysses.

Today I attended the last couple hours of the afternoon-long Philadelphia celebration of Bloomsday with my housemate Father Joe Feeney, a Joyce enthusiast and Bloomsday veteran who regularly teaches Ulysses in his English courses at SJU. The above photos offer some sense of what Bloomsday in Philadelphia is like. I was impressed by the size and diversity of the crowd (second photo), which included some families with children and more young adults than I would have expected at a celebration of a notoriously long and difficult novel. One of the most memorable readings was given by blind brothers David and Daniel Simpson (third photo), who delivered a finely polished rendering of the last part of Joyce's "Ithaca" episode. Even so, the real highlight of the afternoon was local actress Drucie McDaniel's reading of Molly Bloom's Soliloquy from the "Penelope" episode that concludes the novel (fourth photo). I'm told that McDaniel has taken this part in all of the Rosenbach's previous Bloomsday celebrations, and she brought Molly to zesty, irrepressible life. All in all, I had a wonderful time and hope to celebrate Bloomsday again at the Rosenbach. Should you ever find yourself in Philadelphia on this date, you may want to follow suit. AMDG.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Odds and ends.

I apologize for the sparseness of posting over the last several weeks; the onslaught of finals, De U prep, a relaxing home visit and the various tasks associated with moving and getting acclimated to a new place have kept me from giving this blog much attention. I'm happy to report that I've made it to Philadelphia in one piece and have (mostly) moved into my new digs at Saint Joseph's University. Over the past week, I've been occupied with numerous administrative details related to my regency assignment - getting my university e-mail account set up, moving into my office, choosing books for my fall courses - as well as the more general task of starting to get to know my new Jesuit community at SJU. I've had a very good experience so far - the community and campus have both been very hospitable, and I've enjoyed the generous assistance of many good people. Saint Joseph's is a very fine place and I'm very happy to be here.

This weekend, I participated in a couple of celebratory events which I would like to record. On Friday morning, I flew to Cleveland for Bi-Province Days at John Carroll University. I was pleased to join over two hundred other Jesuits from the Chicago and Detroit Provinces in honoring members of our two provinces who this year celebrate major anniversaries of their entrance into the novitiate or ordination to the priesthood (up to and including 75 years since entering the Society in the case of the great Walt Farrell) as well as witnessing the priestly ordination of Martin Schreiber and Cyril Whitaker on Saturday afternoon. Flying back to Philadelphia later that night, I was able to join other Jesuits from the SJU community on Sunday for a Golden Jubilee Mass honoring our own Father Jim Moore on the 50th anniversary of his ordination. Before retiring last spring, Father Moore spent a record 45 years as an administrator at Saint Joseph's University, first as director of admissions and then as associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. For another perspective on Father Moore's jubilee and some pictures of the Mass, check out this blog post by a loyal alumnus of SJU who was also in attendance.

For my part, I was very deeply moved by the jubilee and ordination celebrations that I attended this weekend in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Watching as two of my Jesuit brothers were ordained to the priesthood and giving thanks for the many years of priestly and religious service offered by many other Jesuits gave me yet another opportunity to reflect on the tremendous gift of this vocation as well as the responsibilities that it includes. I hope that you'll join me in praying for Cy and Marty and all others who have recently been ordained to the priesthood as well as for Father Jim Moore and for all his fellow jubilarians. May the good work that God has done through them continue to bear great fruit. AMDG.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Bound for Philadelphia.

For the past week, I've been occupied with the task of packing up all my personal effects and preparing for my imminent departure from Ciszek Hall. I wish I had some spiritually profound words about the experience of moving, but I really don't; for me, moving is always an arduous, montonous and generally unpleasant experience. Even so, I'm excited about my destination and the task that awaits me in regency: for the next three years, I will be teaching philosophy and political science at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. After I arrive at SJU on Monday, I hope that I will have the opportunity to post some more detailed reflections on the transition to regency. In the meantime, I ask for your prayers as I prepare to begin a new stage in my life and formation as a Jesuit. AMDG.

Prayer and service.

Readers who find themselves in Europe (or live elsewhere but have the means of getting there) may be interested to learn of current retreat offerings at the Cova de Sant Ignasi, a Jesuit spirituality center located at the site of the cave near the Catalonian village of Manresa where Ignatius lived for a period of eleven months in 1522 and 1523. During his time at Manresa, Ignatius underwent a series of profound spiritual experiences which culminated in the mystical illumination he felt by the banks of the River Cardoner. Manresa is also the place where Ignatius began to compose the Spiritual Exercises, so it is with some justification that the Jesuits at the Cova de Sant Ignasi describe this site as "the birthplace of Ignatian spirituality." The Jesuits at Manresa are currently offering the complete, thirty-day Exercises with individual direction available in several languages; upcoming dates and other details are available here. For those who would like to make an Ignatian retreat at Manresa but don't have a month to spare, eight-day and five-day retreats are also being offered. If you've always wanted to go to Manresa, this may be a good opportunity for you to do so.

On a somewhat different vein, I've been asked to call your attention to the work of the Fresh Air Fund. Founded in 1877, the Fresh Air Fund is an independent non-profit agency that provides free summer vacations to low-income children from New York City. The basic idea behind the Fresh Air Fund's work is that kids who have spent their entire lives in the inner city should have the opportunity to spend some time in the countryside. The Fresh Air Fund relies on the generosity of many people to do its work, from donors who provide financial assistance to families who agree to host children enrolled in the program. If you'd like to learn more, visit the Fresh Air Fund website to find out how you can get involved. AMDG.