By: Russell Thoulag
The Fourth Branch reached out to Rev. David S. Ciancimino for a response regarding the petition to keep Rev. Francis X. Hezel in Micronesia.
Ciancimino responded via email. His response calls to attention the fact the New York Province (which Hezel is a part of) has seen a decline in membership, and many are over the age of 70. Notably, he expressed the Jesuit’s mobility, stating they “go to where the need is great, to do what we can, and then to move on to meet the next challenge, the next need.”
This response adds a wrinkle to the discourse following the petition. As of this writing, the petition has gathered 1,183 signatures.
Full letter is below.
In the past few years, a number of Jesuits have returned to the New York Province for various reasons. Some of them have come home so that they might receive proper care in their waning years. Some of these changes have been years in the planning. I have visited Micronesia, the Jesuits and ministries there regularly. The Regional Superior of Micronesia keeps me well informed and I have prayed over my decisions and those of our Regional Superior again and again. And I stand by the decisions that have been made as the result of good and careful discernment. While these Jesuits have come home, I have missioned other Jesuits to work in Micronesia, and in a short time they have done tremendous work.
In the past few years, the assistance of Jesuits from other provinces has been sought to assist with our commitment to Micronesia. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps remains an essential component of our ministry in Micronesia. We would be able to do little in Micronesia if not for the support of the local church and the women and men of Micronesia with whom we share our ministry. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with our ministries to see that it is not, and never has been, the intention of the Society of Jesus to compromise our commitment to Micronesia.
In 2008, when I began my service as provincial, there were 416 Jesuit members of the New York Province. Today, there are 310. About 50% of these 310 Jesuits in the province are over 70 and 26% are over 80 years of age. 81 of our 310 members continue to work outside the territorial New York Province. With regard to our ministries, the province has embraced collaboration with our partners in ministry as an effective and grace-filled way of proceeding: three of our four colleges and universities, all of our middle schools; two of our secondary schools, our retreat house, and the social center we sponsor for recent immigrants, all have non-Jesuit leadership.
We Jesuits have worked diligently to attract and provide formation and training for women and men to care for our ministries. Our partners in ministry continue the good works of the Society of Jesus. We simply do not have the Jesuit personnel that we once had. And one of the tremendous graces we have experienced is that there are women and men of faith who joyfully and competently take responsibility for roles once held by Jesuits…and they and the ministries they care for are thriving. The Society of Jesus continues to accompany our companions in ministry through local, regional, national and international gatherings so the relationship with the Society remains strong and sure.
Our recent 35th General Congregation reminds us that it is our charism as Jesuits to be mobile, to go where the need is great, to do what we can, and then to move on to meet the next challenge, the next need. While some religious orders/congregations make a commitment to one work or one abbey, ours is to move. The world is to be our home. Indeed, recent experience teaches us that Jesuits are often at their best when they are on mission, rejuvenated by the next mission. Some Jesuits move with hesitancy only to find new life in their ministry in a new situation.
Father General Nicolás and our recent general congregations urge us toward this kind of flexibility. While it may be true that in recent decades that some Jesuits have stayed so long in a particular work that they have been practically identified with it, this is far from the ideal of our Institute. As our numbers diminish, this ideal becomes all the more crucial. Ultimately, the success of a work cannot depend on any particular Jesuit, but upon the people to whom the work is entrusted.
Our former Father General, Peter Hans Kolvenbach, wisely said “a missionary gives two gifts to his people; the first is his envoi, the second his renvoi.” This spirit of sending or being sent and returning is often a challenge for a Jesuit and for those whom he serves. We Jesuits lend our hearts freely and lovingly and we do so with such a generous spirit and desire to serve that leaving is sometimes hard and especially after we have been some place for many years. But, for us, these two gifts lie at the heart of mission and who we are as Jesuits. Finally, when our mission draws to a close, it is the responsibility of each Jesuit to help those whom he serves to understand these two gifts and our Jesuit charism.
I pray what I have written here helps to understand better the Society of Jesus, our charism, mission and ministries today.
Thank you for your care and concern. Please pray for the Society of Jesus and for those Jesuits who continue to labor generously and faithfully in Micronesia.
Be assured of my prayers and best wishes.
David S. Ciancimino, S.J.