The Jesuits 2017: A Year in Review

December 28, 2017 — In the early days of 2017, the newly elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Father Arturo Sosa, SJ, helped set the stage for a year that will be very much remembered for the Jesuits’ care for people at the margins. Speaking at the Jesuits’ Church of the Gesù in Rome, Fr. Sosa said, “This moment presents an important invitation to the Society of Jesus to accompany … and to share in the anxieties and hopes of the refugees here in Italy and everywhere in the world.”

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Jesuits mobilized to denounce a plan by the Trump Administration to increase detention and deportations and the Administration’s Executive Order suspending and barring refugees and banning nationals of seven countries, calling both “an affront to our mission and an assault on American and Christian values.”

Throughout the year, Father Sean Carroll, SJ, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative has been an outspoken critic of the Trump Administration’s immigration actions and an ardent champion for migrants. Since its founding in 2009, the Kino Border Initiative has been working to provide “a humanizing presence on the border,” as Fr. Carroll described it.

In late January, Jesuit students celebrated life, coming together in Washington, D.C., for the Jesuit Mass for Life. The students illustrated the younger generation’s commitment to ending abortion, while a profile of Father Tony Van Hee, SJ, highlighted his dedication to the cause in Canada for the past 25 years.

Reconciliation with the environment was also a priority for the Jesuits this year. The U.S. Jesuits, together with the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation and St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation, called the Dakota Access Pipeline decision “morally unacceptable.”

Father Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference, said, “Jesuits have been working beside and ministering to native peoples for centuries. We stand in solidarity with native peoples in Standing Rock and around the world who are advocating for environmental and human rights in the face of extractive industry projects. Like Pope Francis, we recognize that water is a fundamental human right.” 

In March, the Jesuits celebrated National Catholic Sisters Week by sharing their thoughts about the sisters who have made a difference in their lives.

In April, U.S. Jesuits took steps to atone for the tragic sin of Jesuit slaveholding. A Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition, and Hope was held at Georgetown and brought together descendants of the 272 men, women and children who Jesuits enslaved and then sold in 1838, an effort to pay off debts and keep the nation’s first Catholic university afloat. 

Father Timothy Kesicki, SJ, publicly apologized on behalf of the Jesuits, to nearly 100 descendants of slaves who were in attendance: “Today the Society of Jesus, which helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say:  We have greatly sinned, in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do. The Society of Jesus prays with you today because we have greatly sinned, and because we are profoundly sorry.”

The public apology was just one of the recommendations in a September 2016 report from Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation — and the reconciliation work with descendants continues.  

During the spring graduation season, Father Greg Boyle, SJ, was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s 2017 Laetare Medal — the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics — at the university’s commencement ceremony. Fr. Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles in 1988, and it is now the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

One of Fr. Boyle’s “homies,” Jose Osuna, shared his journey from gang member to the director of external affairs at Homeboy Industries.

During the summer, the Society celebrated the ordination of 29 new priests in the U.S., Canada and Haiti. “I’d like to share people’s stories and give voice to people who don’t have a voice,” says newly ordained Father Brendan Busse, SJ, who now serves on the pastoral team at Dolores Mission Parish in Los Angeles.

The Campaign for Hospitality was launched in July. The Jesuits of Canada and the U.S. partnered with the Ignatian Solidarity Network for the campaign that aims to create a culture of hospitality for migrants by reaching out and attempting to engage Jesuit universities, schools, parishes, social ministries, retreat centers, Jesuit communities and other ministries.

Participants at the World Union of Jesuit Alumni International Congress at John Carroll University.

Over 500 “men and women for others” representing Jesuit schools, parishes and ministries from around the globe gathered at John Carroll University in July for the World Union of Jesuit Alumni International Congress, the first one held in North America. The theme was “Uniting Our Jesuit Frontiers,” and participants hailed from 27 countries.

Another summer highlight was the Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage, a 500-mile canoe pilgrimage to promote reconciliation in Canada. The journey, which included Jesuits and indigenous people, coincided with the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday and aimed to promote deeper intercultural dialogue and understanding. "Our desire is true and real about helping to claim what we've been part of — the good and some of the very bad," said Kevin Kelly, SJ, a Jesuit scholastic who participated.

As summer ended, the Jesuit network mobilized in defense of DACA and Dreamers with the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind DACA. Fr. Kesicki wrote a letter to Dreamers, telling them, “Today and in the challenging weeks and months to come, we will continue to strive toward a fuller realization of your rights.” 

Father Michael Sheeran, SJ, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, made a
direct plea to Jesuit-educated members of Congress to be men and women for others and save DACA.

The Society welcomed 38 new novices in the U.S., Canada and Haiti this fall. They’ll spend two years at the novitiate completing a series of “experiments” designed to test the men’s vocations and help the men discern the specific ways each Jesuit is called to serve the church.

On October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Jesuit Conference and the Ignatian Solidarity Network launched an Ecological Examen, a reflection tool to heed Pope Francis’ call in Laudato Si’ to care for creation and to reconcile our relationship with God, creation and one another.

In honor of November’s Jesuit Vocations Month, Jesuits across the U.S. and Canada reflected on what they love about their Jesuit vocations in videos shared throughout the month.

Jesuits ended the year by celebrating Pope Francis’ 81st birthday, sharing 81 things they love about the first Jesuit pope.


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