U.S. and Canadian Jesuits gathered for Mass in LMU's Sacred Heart Chapel. (Photo by Jon Rou)
By Tracey Primrose
Nearly 300 Jesuits met recently at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles to discuss their role in the rapidly changing digital world. The men, all training in Canada and the U.S. to be priests and brothers in the Society of Jesus, considered the ways that technology is essential to their global mission, with an unexpected twist: what happens when hundreds of young tech adherents unplug.
David Romero, SJ, from California attended the meeting. Just back from a year in the Philippines where he worked on an immersion program sponsored by the University of San Francisco, Romero says that meeting fellow Jesuits was the best part of the five-day conference. “Spending time with my Jesuit brothers is really food for the journey.”
Brad Held, SJ, has been a Jesuit for nine years and is a theology student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. “It was good to be together in session and in prayer and to have the opportunity to socialize. But the best part for me was having a chance to talk about how to reach people that we’re ministering to and, even more importantly, figuring out how to reach those who are not connected because they’re somehow at the margins.”
The attendees, all at different stages in their formation journey — from novices to those soon-to-be ordained — represent the nine separate Jesuit provinces across the U.S. and Canada. This is the first time since 2006 that all the Jesuits in formation have been together, and in addition to panel discussions and keynote speeches, the conference provided opportunities for talking, meeting and connecting in a low-tech way.
Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, addressed the gathering. He spoke about the 1540 founding of the Jesuits, which began with St. Ignatius of Loyola and a group of his college classmates and friends, and is now the largest order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church. “Now as then, we are a company of men, not a network of institutions, and how we make ourselves available to be at home in the world is our legacy — it is that gift that has been handed down to us to this day.”
The last time all the Jesuits in formation met, Twitter was in its infancy, but today even Pope Francis is a digital advocate, saying that the Internet offers “immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity.” The theme of the LMU conference, “Global Mission in a Digital Age,” was chosen to reflect the growing importance of the Jesuits’ commitment to digital communications.
Fr. Matt Malone, editor-in-chief of the Jesuit’s America Media, spoke to the group about the need to engage audiences across multiple platforms. Fr. Tom Rosica, C.S.B., CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, echoed that message, reminding the attendees, “It’s not enough to be digital passersby … Social networks offer us unprecedented evangelizing opportunities. We have the opportunity to connect with young Catholics, to create relationships that might last for their entire lives.”
A prominent theme of the meeting was the global nature of the Society of Jesus and the need for today’s young Jesuits to be ready and available to work anywhere in the world, emulating the spirit of the first Jesuits who helped St. Ignatius found the Society of Jesus more than five centuries ago. That message was the focus of a panel discussion with the nine Jesuit provincials from the U.S. and Canada and in remarks from Fr. Peter Balleis, SJ, international director of Jesuit Refugee Service, which serves refugees in more than 50 countries.
At liturgy each day, Loyola Marymount’s Sacred Heart Chapel was filled with the voices of 300 men, an unforgettable moment for Suzanne Krudys, one of the few women to attend the event. Krudys, who helped conference organizer Fr. Dave Godleski, SJ, with many of the details to orchestrate a meeting of this size, says, “It’s hard to describe how beautiful it is to hear hundreds of male voices singing. It just filled the space of the church. It was an overwhelming experience, and I feel blessed to have been part of it.”
Despite the full schedule, there was time to relax on LMU’s beautiful campus and to tour Los Angeles. And what meeting would be complete without the obligatory group photo? That job was handled by LMU’s staff photographer, Jon Rou, who stood on a ladder and somehow corralled the group of 300 until he had everyone in range. Incredibly, the entire exercise took less than 45 minutes under a sunny California sky. The Jesuits also used the occasion to record a video greeting to their Jesuit brother, Pope Francis, in advance of the pontiff’s historic visit to the U.S. this fall.
Imagine having 300 guests for five days; Fr. Godleski, who, along with the Planning Committee, spent the last several years orchestrating every detail of the meeting’s complicated logistics, was pleased with the outcome. “The guys were great, people were happy, and I’m glad it’s over.”