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1848 - 1998




The Australian Jesuits


Sesquicentenary Mass

John XXIII College, Perth,

22 June 1999

by Fr Kevin Long

It will not come as a surprise to you if I begin the homily this evening by restating something you already know. Jesuits are different from the rest of us. My first conscious recollection of the Society of Jesus was one of profound suspicion. I received my secondary education at Parade College, the first Christian Brothers Foundation in Australia. On very rare occasions we would encounter boys from Xavier College, Kew. The adjectives used to describe the education given by the Jesuits to these lads conjured up unpleasant images in my adolescent mind. Jesuit teaching methods were described as advanced by my more sympathetic teachers, but less sympathetic Brothers described Jesuit pedogogy as bohemian. What made Jesuit - educated boys even more removed from the rest of us was the fact that they only engaged in sporting and cultural activities with Protestants and Anglicans - boys from Wesley, Scotch or Melbourne Grammar. I wondered then in my youthful innocence - as some of our co-religionists are still tempted to wonder today - are Jesuits really Catholics?

The April 1839 edition of the Sydney Herald published a letter under the pseudonym Philanthropos. This anonymous writer, having perhaps received some divine premonition concerning the forthcoming arrival in Australia of two Austrian Jesuits, had no doubts concerning the catholicity of the Society of Jesus. He warned his readers that the cloven foot of Jesuitical cunning represented the worst excesses of Counter Reformation popery. The sons of St Ignatius had no place in a devout, Protestant and English Colony. In this winter's mind the Jesuit were so utterly and hopelessly Catholic, that unsuspecting and God fearing Protestants needed to be vigilantly alert least Jesuitical intrigues and errors crept unnoticed into Australia.

During our Eucharist this evening we give God hearty thanks for the fact that the Jesuits not only crept into this Great Southern Land of the Holy Spirit, but that their ministry has touched so many lives throughout Western Australia, and especially within this Archdioceses of Perth.

One of the Jesuits warned me against canonising the Society of Jesus, he further advised me not to mention by name individual Jesuits or their particular ministries. That advice was both appropriate and wise, for it gives each of us an opportunity to remember with immense gratitude those individual Jesuits who were there for us, and who are still here for us, with their wise, encouraging, forgiving and at times uncomfortable presence. How can we find adequate words to describe the secret ministry of these men, these companions of Jesus, who in the words of St Pauls,

have no other boast than the Cross.

It must be admitted that Jesuits have a particular charism for disturbing our complacent peace of mind. Their constant insistence that a faith that proclaims and does justice, is the only faith consistent with the Gospel of Jesus, has significantly contributed towards the intense involvement of the Australian Catholic community in social justice policy and practice. There would be few in this congregation, who, either to their annoyance or to their satisfaction, have not been moved by the Australian Jesuit commitment to Aboriginal people, to Refugees, to Prisoners, to those struggling with psychological and addictive issues, and to other marginalised groups within our church and society. The Jesuit presence and activity amongst us is an often uncomfortable sign of God's call to conform our own lives still more perfectly to the costly values of God's kingdom.

It is difficult to think of an area of human endeavour - spiritual, pastoral, theological, intellectual, scientific or cultural - not touched by Jesuit scholarship. As an order, the Jesuits respect and nurture the diverse giftedness of their brethren, and the countless possibilities these gifts offer for authentic apostolic labour. but there has been I suspect an unfortunate temptation to lionise them as the intellectual storm troopers of the Catholic Church. To a point of course this is true, but such a claim fails to see beyond the transitory nature of their academic brilliance and pastoral success. Behind such achievements lies the unbounded apostolic zeal of St Ignatius Loyola. What was achieved by Ignatius and his first companions, and is still achieved by Jesuits in Australia is always Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, for the greater glory of God. That little adjective Majorem - greater - should prevent Jesuits and we their families, friends, supporters and co-workers from ever getting too puffed up. Jesuits and non Jesuits alike can always do better. God's glory can never be domesticated, tamed or adequately worshipped.

To me one of the most amazing things about Jesuits is how they manage to survive at all. They don't say the office in common, each of them has a very distinctive liturgical style, they are usually involved in diverse ministries, they spend little time together, but one constantly detects, despite, their complete lack of traditional observance, a deep sense of belonging and commitment to the Society of Jesus. From close personal observation, I can say that Jesuits live in charity with each other. They can argue, disagree and have very strong opinions, but their personal charity towards each other is exemplary. This fact, and the obvious simplicity of their lifestyles, have confirmed for many of us their authenticity as sound spiritual guides.

Their reunion earlier this year for those who were once members of the Australian Province was a further sign of their earnest and self-engaged commitment to charity and reconciliation. Neither should we forget that the Jesuits have played an important, formative role in the early years of Catholic ecumenical involvement in this State. The daily example of their matter of fastness, in calmly living within the sacrament of the present moment, has been the door through which many have discovered a rule of spirituality that respects both sound tradition and contemporary demands.

So Fathers, this is your 150th Australian birthday. We are honoured and glad to share it with you. We rejoice at your presence in and gifts to the Church in Western Australian since 1938, but it would not be a real birthday party unless we also dreamed dreams for your future. hopefully some of these dreams will enrich your anniversary reflections.

May these celebrations give you a renewed confidence in what your Jesuit vocation contributes to the Church universal and local - according to St Ignatius you are God's soldiers working beneath the banner of Christ's Cross. Don't retreat! There is a lot of nonsense floating about today. We need your sanctity, wisdom and sanity. you have something significant to say about our contemporary crisis of faith. You boldly confront our culture when it attempts to marginalise the Christian Faith within the realms of the private and personal. you rightly remind us that we shall have nothing to say to the world, unless our Christian believing, our orthodoxy and our Christian living, our orthpraxis, distinctly differ from the values of secular modernity. (018). Keep on shouting at us and at God's World!

In Western Australia Jesuits are a small minority even within their own institutions and ministries. We hope that these celebrations will enable you to foster new and effective ways of assuring that the Ignatian charism is further nurtured and strengthened among us (343), why, so that a genuine partnership may develop between you, and we your lay, religious and clerical collaborators (354). This tradition has already been well established here by the many years of dedicated support for your Indian Missions. Invite us to continue to share further in your ministries.

Birthdays are also appropriate opportunities on which to remember our history. it is easy to forget those who once formed an important part of our story. in reaching out to the poor and the marginalised please don't forget the rest of us. The ordinary and borning, the influential and intellectual, the rich and powerful, also need redemption. Not all Catholics live on the Church's margins. In fact many of us are actually very happy living in the centre. We too are part of the culture, which you have traditionally evangelised, and our need for your continued pastoral ministry should remain a strong call on your apostolic charity. Please don't desert us.

Today many prominent Australians engaged in the fields of politics, medicine, the law, education, business and culture reflect Gospel values in their daily lives because of your Ignatian influence. Without your continuing presence amongst the rising generation of such women and men, Australian Society and our Church will be further impoverished (95 and 120).

Finally Fathers we send you our wishes of profound gratitude, respect and affection. There is an immense reservoir of genuine good will and love for the Jesuits here in Perth, and throughout Western Australia. May you the sons of St Ignatius draw fresh vision and consolation from this fact. Hopefully some of us may be here in 2048 to celebrate your bicentenary, then again we shall give thanks to God for what you have done, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, all for the Greater Glory of God.

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Last modified: 29 Sept 1999.