“Proceeding” after Jesuit Heritage Week


Students listen to Fr. Gonzalez, S.J., and learn Cyndy's Story.

Students listen to Fr. Gonzalez, S.J., and learn Cyndy’s Story.

“Ignatius and his followers began their preaching in poverty. They worked with the powerful and the powerless, with princes, kings and bishops, but also with the women of the street and the victims of the plague. They linked their ministry to the powerful with the needs of the powerless.

Today, whatever our ministry, we Jesuits enter into solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, and the voiceless, in order to enable their participation in the processes that shape the society in which we all live and work. They in turn, teach us about our own poverty…”

Our Way of Proceeding – General Congregation 34, Decree 26, n. 13, 14

The usual students took their seats in Healy Room 105 followed by a few of us new to the course and were welcomed by Fr. Charles Gonzalez, S.J. for the day’s topic on “Jesuits: History and Spirituality.”

Various titles and questions about God were written on the chalkboard but one intrigued me most, “Cyndy’s Story.” As with all good stories, Cyndy’s story was revelatory and illuminated the Jesuits’ almost five hundred year’s history of their distinct, “way of proceeding.”

Fr. Charles called us to imagine the “grimy streets” and “blistering, sticky heat,” depicting the day he drove to Camden to meet this young women, Cyndy, whom he found lying fragile and close to death.   The details of her and her grieving family who crowded around the door of the dilapidated house were as vivid as it happened yesterday, through this was a memory from perhaps decades ago — so we entered into Cyndy’s life with him.

As we learn, Cyndy was dying a torturous death from AIDS and had summoned Fr. Charles to receive God’s compassion and mercy. Fr. Charles recalled that, despite being filled with ill exhaustion, Cyndy had looked at him with such, “big and beautiful eyes.” This was a jarring but a significant and dignifying detail in the midst of her dire state and surroundings. The exchange between Cyndy and Fr. Charles was profoundly moving as he acknowledged her tiredness and assured her God was ready to receive her.

We thought this merciful visit was all that was required, but Cyndy had one more urgent request – to say good-bye to her imprisoned younger brother, Felix, whom “she loved so.” With all the logistical obstacles, this should have been impossible save the grace of God and Fr. Charles’ commitment to find a way.   In Fr. Charles’ eyes, it was a “biblical scene” to witness Felix kneeling at Cyndy’s bedside, both with tears streaming, both expressing unconditional love, both enveloped with God’s mercy and compassion, both completely free of death and incarceration in those brief moments. I looked around the classroom thinking all these students were about the same age as Cyndy and Felix would have been.

So what can we learn? I learned that the Jesuit “way of proceeding,” requires at first to name both the beauty and ugliness we encounter in our lives and in others, but then to proceed to seek and lift up the depths of God’s grace, compassion and mercy that are in the midst as did Fr. Charles with Cyndy and as did Cyndy with her brother, Felix. By the grace of God, if we dare, we can all, in solidarity, enter each day into the dilapidated houses of each other’s lives. With courage we may find within the beautiful possibility of God’s healing compassion and mercy.

Written by Lisa Directo Davis, Interim Catholic Chaplain.

Jesuit Heritage Week