Classroom and praxis brought together in Jesuit formation

William Sheahan, SJ - Ciszek Hall First Studies Program, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States (JCCU)
[From “Jesuits 2023 - The Society of Jesus in the world”]

The Ciszek Hall Jesuit Residential College: a “living-learning community,” where Jesuits in formation integrate their academic, ministerial, social and spiritual lives within the context of the Bronx.

The Ciszek Hall Jesuit Residential College in the Bronx borough of New York City accompanies young Jesuits in their formation through a program that integrates traditional academic learning, praxis education and community living.

The interdisciplinary academic program focuses on the newly articulated aim of First Studies: the effective and sensitive evaluation of the contexts of ministries is interdisciplinary. Most of the Jesuits in formation complete a newly created Master of Arts in Philosophy and Society (MAPS) through nearby Jesuit-sponsored Fordham University. In addition to completing philosophy coursework as required by the Church for all pursuing eventual ordination to the priesthood, Jesuit students take coursework in pastoral theology, social sciences, and the humanities. Moreover, to prepare them to minister effectively to a rapidly growing Spanish speaking population within the U.S. Catholic Church, as well as to prepare them for a six-month exchange program with the ITESO in Guadalajara, Mexico, young Jesuits complete coursework each semester in Spanish language and culture.


Praxis sites

Traditional academic study is complemented each week by praxis education. Every Wednesday, the young Jesuits spend their days ministering with marginalized and at-risk persons in-and-around the impoverished Bronx region. Praxis sites include:

• a Jesuit-sponsored, Nativity-style, middle school;

• Part Of The Solution (POTS), a multi-service agency that ministers to homeless and indigent persons near the Fordham campus;

• a neighborhood parish where they work to empower Latina immigrant women in various ways, including through offering English language classes;

• an innovative program that works with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men at Rikers Island jail.

Bi-weekly, praxis reflection classes provide further opportunity for the Jesuits in formation to examine their praxis work in light of their academic coursework, the Society’s recent documents and the Spiritual Exercises.

The community living experience at Ciszek Hall complements the young Jesuits’ experience in the classroom and at their praxis sites. The residence, for a long time the site of the former Ciszek program, has been newly renovated. The updated design offers exciting opportunities for the Jesuits in formation to not only deepen their experience of Jesuit community living, but also explore possibilities for the ways that a Jesuit community might facilitate relationships with lay partners. Bright, expansive, gathering spaces allow them to host both their academic instructors and neighborhood praxis partners. As the name suggests, more than just a place to live, the Ciszek Hall Jesuit Residential College has become a “living-learning community,” where Jesuits in formation can integrate their academic, ministerial, social, and spiritual lives within the context of the Bronx.


Testimony of Jesuits in formation

My first year has sparked explorations of what it means to be human, illuminating the meaning of our vocation to accompany others - whether the youth, excluded, or spiritual seeker. From delving into Latin American history to reading the pre-Socratics, from my encounters in the Bronx to class visits to New York’s museums, I have learned how humanity’s struggles have both remained constant and have evolved in different contexts. The classroom, praxis sites, and community life all have investigated questions about our shared humanity’s condition, origins, and values. Our study of Greek tragedy conjured questions about the nature of justice, culpability, and responsibility that would be explored further in my philosophy classes. But the integrative nature of this program expands this conversation to the realities that I witness at my praxis site, Pots. From these diverse perspectives, I have garnered an appreciation of how we are not alone across time in our search for meaning amidst daily struggles. Yet, my most important takeaway, inspired by praxis clients spontaneously praising God for small graces and my study of early Christian spirituality, is that God has always - and will always - remain present and active in the world.

Ty Wahlbrink, SJ (USA Midwest Province)

In order for one to be accompanied, barriers must first be torn down. That is precisely what my experience has been at the new Ciszek Hall - one of preexisting barriers being shattered. I am not in a setting where my apostolic, academic, and community lives exist as discrete entities. Rather, when I sit in the classroom, I sit beside one of my coworkers at Thrive for Life Prison Project. When I walk into the jails on Rikers Island, it is after academic research that allows me to understand the history that underlies their walls. Most of all, whenever I am in Ciszek Hall, whether I am studying Plato’s Republic or writing a reflection for brothers and sisters behind prison walls, I know that I am surrounded by a community of fellow Jesuits who seek the same thing I do. We want to learn how to be part of any context in which we might find ourselves in order to more effectively walk with people and help them. Help them to discover where God has been at work in their lives. Is this program perfect? No. But does it call me, a sinner loved by God, to be more faithful to the Gospel? Every day.

Luke Lapean, SJ (USA East Province)
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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles media relations.

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