Encountering Ignatius in the City

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ignatius of Loyola was a compelling man. A small group of the best, brightest, and in some cases, the wealthiest young men of his day left the comfort and promise of their secular lives behind and joined him in Rome to discern a new spirituality and theology – while living amidst and caring for the city's poor, sick and disenfranchised.

"Ignatius and his early followers lived in the underbelly of Rome, where they heard confession, preached in the streets and tended to the weak and vulnerable living in wretched circumstances," said Daniel Joyce, S.J., assistant to the Vice President for Mission. "At the same time, he charged his followers to discuss theology at the highest levels of society, and they were often called to debate at the papal court. Out of this experience, a new missiology – particular to the Jesuits – was born."

This semester, Saint Joseph's students who are enrolled in the upper level theology course "Ignatius and the City: An Introduction to Jesuit Urban Missiology," which is taught by Fr. Joyce, will discover how Jesuit missiology was established by studying its history, as well as by engaging in service in and around Philadelphia's inner city.

"Service learning is critical to the course. Placements are possible at Summerbridge, The Welcome Center and Old St. Joseph's Church Outreach program, among other sites. At Old St. Joseph's, they may even engage in The Spiritual Exercises with men and women who spend some of their life on the streets," said Joyce. "But the focus of the course is academic. Students will examine the Jesuit theory of mission by encountering it in 21st century Jesuit urban missions and will ask hard questions. Does this approach to ministry make sense, or is Ignatius' spin more of the same?"

"This class was extremely interesting," said Allison Reamy, a senior psychology major and faith-justice minor, who was enrolled in the class spring semester '07. Her service placement was a second grade classroom at St. Martin de Poores, a North Philadelphia elementary school run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. "It put it all together for me. I gained a better understanding of what the Ignatian ideals are, and how best to implement them."

Heinz Schaldenbrand '07 also took the class last spring. "From Fr. Joyce's class, I got a good, pragmatic understanding of what solidarity means – that there is reciprocity between two people; it's not one person giving and another taking. After all was said and done, I felt I got closer to the children I was working with than I had during other service."

Schaldenbrand was also placed at Saint Martin de Poores, and has written about his experiences there in an essay for course work at Emerson College in Boston, where he is enrolled in the M.F.A. program in creative writing for creative non-fiction.

During the course, Fr. Joyce hopes students will continue to clarify or identify their own thinking on issues related to theology and spirituality. Four texts are used for the course: Ignatian Humanism: A Dynamic Spirituality for the 21st Century by Ronald Modras; Landmarking: City, Church and Jesuit Urban Strategy by Thomas M. Lucas; A Faith that Frees Catholic Matters for the 21st Century by SJU assistant professor of sociology Richard G. Malloy, S.J., and Ignatius Loyola: Spiritual Exercises by Joseph A. Tetlow.

Students are not required to do The Spiritual Exercises for the course, but the study of the exercises is important to gain an understanding of Jesuit missiology. "Ignatius created a way in which people can notice their own unique experience of grace and called it The Spiritual Exercises," said Fr. Joyce. "In the course, we study how this method of spirituality has become increasingly relevant in the modern world, and how it offers them the tools to perform service with a deep and abiding respect for the people with whom they interact." 

--Patricia Allen

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