This week I have decided to take a break from the chronological order of my ministry history to compose an “overlay” letter which will attempt to explain my passion for social justice. This drive within me began even before I entered the Jesuits but, of course, the Jesuits had a hand in it.
I was a senior at St. Ignatius in San Francisco when I first read Dr. Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham Jail. Something about that testimony grabbed me and perhaps, for the first time in my life, gave me an insight that my world experience was not exactly like everyone else’s. My admiration for the letter was enhanced years later when I learned that Dr. King had written the letter on the blank white margins of newspapers and had it smuggled out of prison. During my Jesuit years of formation I moved to St. Louis to study philosophy which never made sense to this very practical person until my theology studies several years later. There in the Midwest I met many Jesuits who had cut their social justice teeth at the Indian reservations in South Dakota. Again, I encountered a world experience much different from my own.READ MORE
Blessed Sacrament Church (BSC) in Hollywood is similar to St. Francis Xavier. Both are large, beautiful churches right in the heart of town. Blessed Sacrament is located on Sunset Boulevard and is about 15 years older than SFX.
For many years BSC was known as the “Church of the Stars.” Such parishioner names as Irene Dunne, Ray Bolger, Loretta Young and Ricardo Montalban were often mentioned. Many famous celebrities were either married or buried from there.
By the time I arrived in 1988, much of that had changed. The area surrounding the church (the flat lands) were inhabited by immigrants from Central America and Mexico. Those who lived within our parish boundaries in the Hollywood Hills had begun to frequent the wealthier parishes to the west.
I became pastor in 1989, following Fr. Ed Callanan, S.J. To be honest, I do not remember much of the experience of my five years there except that there never seemed to be a dull moment. The economic contrast of the poor neighbors and the homeless who slept on the front steps of the church and the wealthy businesses surrounding us was stark.READ MORE
Some would describe the formation of a Jesuit with words such as “long”, “thorough,” even “different.” Truthfully, it is all of this. In my case it was quite long, twelve years from entrance right after high school to ordination. Jesuit formation is certainly thorough. There are certain stages we all must go through but within those stages, there can be much creativity. The formation is shaped toward what the individual Jesuit needs for his preparation. As I have described earlier, my formation was geared toward pastoral work. Jesuit formation is different in that it is quite unique. All religious orders require a year-long novitiate during which time the novice receives an education in the spirituality and charism of the particular congregation. The Jesuits have a two-year novitiate. To my knowledge, all male religious orders have their members pronounce their solemn vows before ordination. Not the Jesuits! I was ordained twelve years before I pronounced my final vows. I was not delayed for poor performance!READ MORE
During the summer of 1982 I packed my belongings and moved 90 miles south to a new parish in southeast San Diego. Christ the King parish was founded in the 1930s as the national parish for the African American Catholics of the diocese. Leading up to its founding, black Catholics had experienced much discrimination while attending Catholic churches closer to their homes. The congregation took great pride in their church and, although a small congregation, they were a model of hospitality. A nationally known priest who was involved with parishes throughout the country came one Sunday for the Gospel Mass in civilian attire and reported to the US bishops afterward that he was touched (welcomed physically) five times before he got to his seat.
In many ways when it came to liturgy, the place spoiled me for life. If you have ever been to a Gospel Mass, you know the spirit-filled experience. There is a definite cultural difference: by and large, in white and Hispanic congregations approval is measured by silence. In black congregations, approval is noise: proclamation and response. The presider gives half of the sermon and those gathered give the rest.READ MORE
My father was born in San Francisco, a first generation American of Italian parents. He was an only child of a demanding father who forced him to play the accordion. His mother (my grandmother), who suffered from alcoholism, died of a heart attack two weeks before my parents got married in 1947. His father (my grandfather) who suffered from depression, took his own life when I was 15.
My parents were high school sweethearts but my father’s religious education was limited to the basic sacraments. My mother, on the other hand, came from a very religious family and she made it clear to my father that marriage would include Mass together every Sunday. And, so it was.
My father’s education was limited to high school but throughout his life he was curious about many things. One of my clearest childhood memories was of his getting up off the couch to look up something in the World Book Encyclopedia (our prized possession) which he had just seen on TV. He died too young; he would have fallen in love with the Internet.READ MORE