December 31, 2015 — While Pope Francis’ historic first visit to the U.S. was a highlight of 2015 for not only his brother Jesuits but also Catholics around the world, the year was marked by many other noteworthy moments.
In the early weeks of 2015, more than 500 students from Jesuit high schools, colleges and universities packed St. Aloysius Church in Washington, D.C., for the annual Jesuit Mass and Rally for Life, held each year in observation of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
In February, the U.S. and Canadian Jesuits launched their second digital Lenten prayer program, Igniting Our Values. A curated selection of music, video, art, prose and poetry enhanced the experience, with daily reflections from 47 Jesuit and lay contributors, available in both English and Spanish.
February also brought great joy, when Indian Jesuit Father Alexis Prem Kumar was released after eight months in captivity in Afghanistan. Fr. Prem was serving as country director in Afghanistan for Jesuit Refugee Service when he was abducted by a group of unidentified men on June 2, 2014.
That month Jesuit provincials from Canada and the U.S. visited the Jesuits’ Kino Border Initiative (KBI) at the U.S.-Mexico border. After walking across the border into Mexico from Nogales, Arizona, the provincials celebrated Mass with migrants at the KBI’s outreach center in Nogales, Mexico. “It was very moving to see firsthand this important ministry to those who have been deported,” said Jesuit Father Brian Paulson, provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits.
In March, Pope Francis beatified Archbishop Oscar Romero, moving the martyr a step closer to sainthood. In addition, the beatification process for his friend Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande was begun.
In June, Pope Francis released his widely anticipated encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si': On the Care for Our Common Home," calling on all people worldwide to act on climate change as a moral responsibility.
That same month, young Jesuits in formation met at Loyola Marymount University to discuss their role in the rapidly changing digital world. The nearly 300 attendees, all at different stages in their formation journey — from novices to those soon-to-be ordained — represented the nine separate Jesuit provinces across the U.S. and Canada, and marked the first time since 2006 that all the Jesuits in formation were together.
Over the summer, the Society also celebrated the ordination of 28 new Jesuit priests in Canada and the United States. Reflecting on his journey to ordination, Fr. Lukas Laniauskas, SJ, said, “Not that I haven’t been able to do that before, but I think formation has been about preparing me for availability and freedom, and now it’s like, here it is. I’m ready and excited — let’s go!”
At the summer’s end, the Jesuits welcomed 45 new novices at novitiates in Canada, the United States and Haiti for a rite of passage known as Entrance Day. Prior to entering the Society, the diverse group of men were musicians, teachers, military officers or scientists, and now they’ve come together in their commitment to love and serve the Lord as Jesuits.
While new Jesuits entered as novices, others professed their final vows in the Society and recalled their greatest blessings. Father Thomas Frink said his ministry among the poor in Kingston, Jamaica, filled him with new life. “Beginning with the children, I began seeing God at work in countless ways among these people for whom God is not only a presence, but is the true provider of what they need.”
The highlight of the year for the Jesuits was undoubtedly Pope Francis’ first trip to the United States in September. St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, the pope’s last stop, prepared by organizing a papal pilgrimage to their city so that students from 40 Jesuit high schools in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico could also experience the historic visit.
The pope’s whirlwind six-day trip met and exceeded all expectations, during which he roamed the corridors of power — meeting with President Obama and addressing Congress and the U.N. — and sought out ordinary Americans as well as those at the margins, from the homeless in D.C. to prisoners in Philadelphia.
He also made time for his Jesuit brothers. Before his historic address to Congress, he received a blessing from Jesuit Father Pat Conroy, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, and in Philadelphia, he made a stop at Saint Joseph’s University to visit a new campus statue.
In his first direct address to the United States on the White House lawn, Pope Francis described himself as “a son of an immigrant family … happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.” Throughout the year, the Society of Jesus continued to advocate for migrants and refugees. Jesuit law schools partnered with Jesuit Refugee Service to help unaccompanied Central American children and immigrant families seeking refuge in the U.S.
The Jesuits’ Kino Border Initiative (KBI) drew attention to migrant abuse at the U.S.-Mexico border with the release of a study, which was highlighted in a Politco op-ed by Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of KBI.
The Society of Jesus also called on the United States and Canada to continue to welcome refugees from Syria and elsewhere. Jesuit Conference president Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, said, "We can keep our borders open, particularly to those families fleeing oppression, using all of the proper screening and security checks that we use for anyone who is immigrating to the United States."
The Society also continued its work in education — often with a focus on those at the margins. This fall, the first Jesuit community college opened at Loyola University Chicago. Arrupe College provides students with the same liberal arts core curriculum classes offered at the university, but at a more affordable cost.
The Jesuit Refugee Service, which commemorated its 35th anniversary in 2015, is focusing on educating refugees with a new campaign, “Mercy in Motion,” which hopes to educate 100,000 more refugees within the next five years.
Stories throughout the year inspired readers, from Jesuits offering spiritual retreats to the homeless to Dallas Jesuit Prep School alum Jordan Spieth winning the Masters Tournament to University of Detroit Jesuit High School students serving as pallbearers at the funerals of homeless veterans.
The Jesuits also continued to highlight lay collaboration, including Yolanda Brown, Parish Life Director at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood, and Trena and Kevin Yonkers-Talz, who founded and run the Casa de la Solidaridad study abroad program in El Salvador through Santa Clara University.
Amid the good news there were also moments of sadness, which the Society responded to. A devastating earthquake hit Nepal in May and 68 Jesuits serving there began to help with relief efforts immediately, while also creating a plan for long-term efforts.
As 2015 ends, the Jesuits are looking ahead to General Congregation 36, which will begin in October 2016 and will elect a new superior general, as Father General Adolfo Nicolás has announced he intends to resign.
2016 also marks the Holy Year of Mercy, which Pope Francis opened in late 2015. The pope explained why he sees such an urgent need to highlight God's mercy. "The world needs to discover that God is father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the path, that condemnation is not the path.”
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