As I was eating my lunch Tuesday a knock upon my classroom door roused me from my usual noontime stupor. To my great surprise and pleasure the visitor was Fr. Paul Shelton, S.J., fresh from his year of Tertianship in Spain, the homeland of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Tertianship is the last part of Jesuit formation prior to taking Final Vows, and in many ways it mirrors the Novitiate, the two-year initial phase of life in the Society of Jesus. Just as a novice will study the foundational documents of the Society, experience the Spiritual Exercises on a 30-day retreat, and be assigned to a specific work of ministry, so does a tertian – often in a foreign country and involving work that differs from his previous endeavors.
During our visit Fr. Paul recounted to me his experience of celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at the Benedictine Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey in Catalonia. This monastery is not only known for the beauty of its location on the side of one of the Saw Mountains (Montserrat in Catalan – named for their jagged, saw-toothed peaks), but for being the place where Inigo Lopez de Loyola laid his sword on the altar dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat, the Black Madonna, Patroness of Catalan.
The journey that took Ignatius from the Battle of Pamplona all the way to Rome and the founding of the Society of Jesus began with what J.R.R. Tolkien would call a “eucatastrophe.” This a neologism created by the great Oxford philologist and author of the Lord of the Rings; a term meant to carry the feeling of something that has gone wrong (catastrophe) and yet is the catalyst for something very good (eu is a Greek prefix meaning good or happy). The eucatastrophe in the life of Ignatius was the unexpected meeting between a French cannonball and his left leg.
To quote the brilliant and moving valedictory speech of Molly Bosch at Gonzaga University in 2018, “Without that cannonball, there would be no Jesuit order, and therefore, no Society of Jesus. And without any Society of Jesus, there would be no St. Aloysius of Gonzaga. And without any St. Aloysius of Gonzaga, there would be no Gonzaga University. Are you with me yet?”
Very bright young women and men, like my nephew Marty Geiger (son of my brother-in-law Pete ’79) who graduated from Gonzaga earlier this month, were sure to get it immediately. No cannonball, no Gonzaga University. No cannonball, no Saint Ignatius High School or Welsh Academy either.
On Thursday our entire school community will walk from campus across the Hope Memorial Bridge (with its Tolkien-esque Guardians) and participate in a Mass of Celebration and Thanksgiving at Progressive Field presided over by the Most Reverend Edward C. Malesic, Bishop of Cleveland.
But beyond the obvious reality of “no cannonball, no Mass for Saint Ignatius and the Welsh Academy with the Bishop” is the more subtle fact that May 20, 2021 commemorates the 500th Anniversary of that eucatastrophe. It also signals the beginning of the Ignatian Year as declared by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J.
Much like the saw-toothed mountain range where Ignatius went to lay down his sword, the year will have several peaks that commemorate important events in the life of the founder of the Society of Jesus. In addition to May 20th, there will be two other highpoints of celebration throughout the Ignatian Year: March 12, 2022 (the 400th Anniversary of the canonization of Sts. Ignatius and Francis Xavier), and July 31, 2022 (the Feast of St. Ignatius and the closing of the Ignatian Year).
As the Jesuit Resource website run by Xavier University explains: “While the Ignatian Year honors the past, we are invited to be future-focused and attend to the Universal Apostolic Preferences.” These four focal points for Jesuit ministry in the 2020s are: to show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment; to walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice; to accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future; and to collaborate in the care of our Common Home.
Let us pray that these four goals, especially as they pertain to our young men at Saint Ignatius and the Welsh Academy, will guide our school not only in this Ignatian Year, but deep into the future so that future generations will still be able to say, “Without that cannonball…”