Moving from Jesuit Hall to St. Ignatius Hall
By Fr. Michael Harter, SJ
In January 2023, 66 Jesuits made the move from Jesuit Hall, near the campus of Saint Louis University, to the new St. Ignatius Hall at Garden Villas North in St. Louis County. Father Michael Harter, SJ, shares this reflection on what the move means to the men.
The best journeys are not trips to exotic places but inner movements that can deepen our response to an assignment and help us live more fully in the present moment. I call such a movement a “Journey into Yes.”
When a Jesuit pronounces his vows after completing the novitiate (the first stage of his initial formation), he takes a vow of obedience to accept whatever mission his provincial determines for him. Often a man receives an assignment to a school, parish or retreat house. Over the years, those missions have taken some of us all over the world to serve and collaborate with the people to whom we have been sent.
But there comes a time when we can be asked to step back, to move at a slower pace, to let others assist us in the challenges of daily living. Saying “yes” to that reality can be the most challenging assignment we have ever received. At such moments, we must be honest with ourselves and admit that we still have things to learn and attitudes to adjust as we age. Such a “Yes” can be transformative.
Many of us are now facing such a moment as we move into the new St. Ignatius Hall – a senior residential community that has been remodeled with a chapel, library, dining area and other spaces that will support our living together as a Jesuit community. Each man will have a bedroom, sitting room and personal bathroom. Additionally, each room will have a balcony or patio where the resident can take in the fresh air. Even with such comfortable accommodations, Jesuits can still find change and transition difficult.
The word “retire” does not enter into a Jesuit’s customary thinking. We like to be engaged in teaching or helping others; but we are not particularly good at imagining what life in a slower lane could be like. While our legs might not be as steady as they once were, or our vision might be dim, or our hearing less acute, we might still be able to get to a nearby parish to celebrate Mass or hear confessions.
In our new home, we’ll also be able to engage in spiritual conversations with other residents. Some of us might be able to give talks in our academic specialty – or learn from the experiences of our new neighbors. Over and above such ministries, every Jesuit is given a mission: to pray for the Church and for our fellow Jesuits. It is a mission we take seriously.
Interestingly, many of us who are making the move to St. Ignatius Hall will be returning to a place just a little over five miles from the novitiate where we began our lives as Jesuits – a place we often referred to as “Dear Old Florissant” (occasionally said with a slight touch of sarcasm!).
A few years back when I had been missioned to Portland, Ore., I was walking through a neighborhood near the Japanese Garden, and I noticed a clever advertisement for a real estate company. The creative typography of a single word in the ad provided me with an insight into a Jesuit’s vow of obedience. That word was W(here). It struck me that every “where” I have ever been sent, contains a “here” that I need to embrace. And every time I paid attention and made the most of my being t(here), I received gifts I had not foreseen.
Often it takes time after we have moved on from an assignment we loved dearly before we can discover the gift our next assignment
has to offer. In his poem Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot says simply, “to make an end is to make a beginning.”
If we pay close attention to how we are being moved as we navigate this moment, a graced insight could be waiting for us.
So what are we looking for as we move into our new home? Each of us will have a unique response to that question. But each response will be done in a spirit of gratitude for benefactors who make it possible for us to continue to live our religious commitment with fidelity and dignity.
Please pray that we can do so humbly, gracefully and gratefully … as we continue to pray for you.