January 1, 2015 — Even before 2014 started, all signs pointed to an auspicious beginning as Time Magazine named the first Jesuit Pope, Francis, its “Person of the Year” in the waning days of 2013.
Early in the New Year, on Jan. 3, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Church of the Gesù in Rome, kicking off the start of the yearlong commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus. In 1773, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society, causing Jesuits throughout the world to renounce their vows and go into exile until the restoration 41 years later on August 7, 1814.
Also in January, the Society celebrated life as students from U.S. Jesuit high schools, colleges and universities gathered for the annual Jesuit Mass and Rally for Life, held each year in observation of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The Society of Jesus also celebrated life through its work in other ministries, including accompanying immigrants and caring for the elderly.
In the early spring, the U.S. Jesuits also debuted their first-ever digital, communal Lenten/Easter prayer experience, Moved to Greater Love. The program’s success — over 17,000 people from around the world joined — has led to the 2015 Igniting Our Values Lenten digital prayer program, which begins Feb. 18, 2015.
The prayer program ran concurrently with a series of website profiles on Jesuits in athletics, timed for March Madness. The series featured Jesuit Father Jack Bentz, then-chaplain of the Gonzaga University men’s basketball team, who viewed his position on the bench as a high-profile way to promote vocations to the Society of Jesus.
“We need to promote vocations to the Jesuits because people can’t choose what they don’t know. Five hundred years ago, Jesuit vocations were promoted by students passing around a letter from Francis Xavier, one of the early Jesuits. These days, the eyes of the nation are on the NCAA tournament, and that’s where we need to be,” Fr. Bentz said. Building on that desire to promote vocations to the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits of the U.S. launched a new, interactive national vocations website, jesuitvocations.org, in April.
Over the summer, the Society celebrated the ordination of 19 new Jesuit priests in the United States. Reflecting on his ordination, Jesuit Father Michael Rozier said, “I can’t imagine being happier than I am today. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 11 years, what I imagined doing pales in comparison to what I’m asked to do.”
On July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius, Jesuit Father Timothy P. Kesicki was welcomed as the new president of the Jesuit Conference; he succeeded Jesuit Father Thomas H. Smolich, SJ, who will become the International Director of Jesuit Refugee Service on Nov. 1, 2015. Additionally, five new U.S. Jesuit provincials took office this summer: Jesuit Fathers Scott Santarosa, Ron Mercier, Robert Hussey, John Cecero and Brian Paulson all shared their stories of their calling to the Society.
At the summer’s end, the Jesuits welcomed new novices at novitiates in California, New York, Louisiana, Minnesota and Montreal for a rite of passage known as Entrance Day. A diverse group, this year’s novice class ranges from newly graduated students to seasoned professionals, who hail from Canada, Taiwan and across the U.S.
Other memorable events, in a year full of them, included the appointment of the first female lay president in U.S. Jesuit higher education, Dr. Linda LeMura at Le Moyne College, and the canonization of St. José de Anchieta, a 16th-century Jesuit known as the “Apostle of Brazil.”
But amid the good news there were also moments of great sadness, including the murder of Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt, 75, who worked in Syria since 1966 and was beaten and shot by armed men on April 7. The Society also continues to pray for Jesuit Father Alexis Prem Kumar, Jesuit Refugee Service country director in Afghanistan, who was abducted by a group of unidentified men in western Afghanistan on June 2.
The Society mourned a number of Jesuits and members of the Jesuit family who passed away in 2014. Jesuit Father Daniel Harrington, a renowned New Testament scholar at Boston College, died on Feb. 9 at age 73, and Jesuit Father William B. Neenan, a beloved Boston College administrator, passed away on June 24 at age 85.
Some left us too early. Jesuit Father TJ Martinez, a charismatic priest and founder of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston, died on November 28 at age 44 from cancer, and Jesuit Father Patrick J. Malone died on July 22 at age 55, a gifted pastor who spent six weeks ministering to recovery workers at ground zero after 9/11.
In November, Jesuits commemorated the 25th anniversary of the murders of six Jesuits and two lay women at the University of Central America in El Salvador by an elite battalion of El Salvador’s military. Today, Jesuits and their lay colleagues continued to be inspired by the martyrs. Maura Toomb, a campus minister at Saint Peter's Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, wrote, “The Jesuits, Elba, and Celina were martyrs because of the way they lived, the ways they dedicated their lives and careers to the poor. If we remember the way that they lived, rather than how they died, it will become easier for us to live as they live and to give our lives to the crucified people in our own midst.”
The Society continued advocating for the poor in this country in 2014, especially through its immigration advocacy. The Society of Jesus in the United States, along with 300 other faith-based organizations, delivered a letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress urging them to protect Central American children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Additionally, more than 1,200 graduates of Jesuit schools called on fellow alumni in the U.S. House of Representatives to act on fair immigration reform.
Stories throughout the year inspired readers, from a 90-year-old World War II veteran who graduated from Xavier University 70 years after starting his degree to Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland’s student pallbearer ministry to Loyola University Chicago’s Medical School welcoming its first class of DREAMers.
The year ended with an eye toward the future. On Dec. 8, Father General Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Jesuits, convoked the 36th General Congregation, to be held in 2016. Fr. Nicolás has announced his intention to resign, making a General Congregation necessary to elect a new Superior General.
As 2014 concludes and 2015 begins, many of us will spend time reflecting on the year’s highs and lows. But there’s a way to add an Ignatian perspective to that annual review — the Ignatian Annual Examen. The Examen, a prayer of awareness that St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, taught in his Spiritual Exercises, provides an opportunity to recognize the movement of God in all the people and events of our day. What better way to start 2015 than by reflecting on the events of 2014 and asking for God’s presence and grace in the New Year?
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.