By Mike Benigno
As Jesuit provinces explore new partnerships and shift their boundaries, the international apostolate continues to evolve.
International ministry is among the most recognizable traits of the Society of Jesus, and just as they did centuries ago, men continue to join the Jesuits eager to serve abroad. The roots of going to different lands date back to St. Ignatius and the early Jesuits, who wanted to spread the Gospel in places where others had not gone.
Many, but not all, present-day Jesuit provinces include sponsored apostolates outside of their traditional regional boundaries. At the same time, it still remains commonplace for Jesuits in nearly every province— including the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces—to be assigned to missions in parts of the world beyond their own native regions. The Jesuits aren’t just the largest men’s religious order in the Church; they also send more individuals to foreign ministry than any other religious order.
The international ministries of both the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces have, for the better part of a century, led to new vocations and substantial contributions in service to overseas peoples.
In 1947, Maryland Province Jesuits embarked on a call to Jamshedpur, India, accepting a mission to help those in need, especially the indigenous tribal people. They started schools, cared for the sick, ministered the Gospel and, most importantly, recruited other Jesuits from all over the world to come join them. What started with a small group of Jesuit priests from the United States became the Jamshedpur Province, a thriving province of its own with more than 200 Jesuits.
The ministries that flourished under former New York Province Jesuits in the Philippines led to the formation of a new province there in 1958, one that went on to provide one of the largest sources of vocations among the global Jesuits.
Echoing the Philippines, Loyola Jesuit College in Nigeria, also founded by New York Jesuits, and other works such as retreat centers and parishes officially formed the North West Africa Province in 2005. These works continue to flourish.
“Many of the places where American Jesuits have worked have been areas that were initially part of the colonial expansion of other nations,” said Fr. James Croghan, SJ, provincial assistant for international ministries for the USA Northeast Province. “What we find is that, in time, these places are becoming much more able to stand on their own, and we are recognizing that.”
When circumstances allow, Jesuit superiors from a province that borders on a ministry of another province may officially adopt the ministry and administer it as one of its own. A school run by the Maryland Province Jesuits in Chile was grafted onto the Chilean Province, and such is the case with the Jesuit Center and other affiliated works in Amman, Jordan, which were established by Jesuits of the former New England Province.
In October 2017, at the request of the Jesuit provincial of the Near East Province, Sacred Heart Parish, which serves a community comprising mostly expatriates from surrounding nations, was officially added to the Near East Province. Fr. John Sheehan, SJ, serves as pastor of the parish, and the nearby Jesuit Center has welcomed some 13,000 Christians of all denominations annually. In accordance with the convenio agreement renewed in 2016, financial support for this region— and the assignment of Jesuits—will continue. Ongoing partnerships with organizations such as Jesuit Refugee Service will also enable Ignatian ministries to have an even greater impact.
Finally, in 2014, instead of becoming a new province or being added to another, the Jesuit works in Micronesia that were founded by Jesuits of the former New York Province were among those that became an official Jesuit community of the USA Northeast Province. The main community is based in Chuuk and houses those serving at Xavier High School. Two other Jesuits live in a community on Yap, while staffing Yap Catholic High School. Still others serve in Guam, Saipan, Palau and Pohnpei, and an additional community was recently established some 2,500 miles away, in Fiji—the first new foreign initiative of the Northeast Jesuits. Since June of this year, three Jesuits there have served the Pacific Regional Seminary, broadening the tradition of helping to educate and form leaders who are grounded in Ignatian spirituality.
Despite the distance separating them, the Jesuits in these communities remain united under one superior, Fr. Thomas Benz, SJ, who has established solid communication and regional cohesiveness through regular visits and widely circulated newsletters.
Many of these changes have coincided with the global restructuring of Jesuit provinces, and the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces are set to unite in 2020. “Consistent with the vision of our Superior General, Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, and the recent General Congregation 36, Jesuits worldwide are pushing themselves to continue to look deeply at ministries beyond their local boundaries and to be even more invested globally,” Fr. Cecero said.
The uniquely Ignatian principles of growth, expansion and empowering those in need are even part of the bedrock of the Jesuit presence in the United States and Canada. St. Isaac Jogues was among the first Jesuits from France who traveled to the New World in the 1600s to live and work with the native populations of North America. In the late 1800s, when German Jesuits were forced to leave ministries in their country, some came to Buffalo, N.Y., and eventually spread westward.
“When we meet Christ the King in the Spiritual Exercises, he is on a mission, and he’s inviting us to join him,” said Fr. Benz. “Our readiness to go to whatever frontiers we’re missioned to—geographic or otherwise—continues to be a challenging and energizing feature of Jesuit companionship with Jesus.”
Mike Benigno serves as director of communications for the USA Northeast Province.