Friday, April 5, 2013


An American Jesuit explaining to men of Ulithi the repairs needed on the chapel roof, 1945

I have known many Jesuits since I became connected with the Capuchin Order in 1981.  The Jesuits were the missionaries in the many islands to the south of us : Palau, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and the Marshalls.

They would often come up to Guam and many would stay at our Friary, some for many days as they shopped for things they needed or go for medical appointments.

I have made several eight-day Ignatian retreats under them, and a good dose of classes with them in Berkeley when I was studying theology.

So I chuckled when one of their own, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said of the Society of Jesus, "nec rubricat, nec cantat."  Jesuits aren't into liturgical rubrics (rules), nor chant.

It's true that, in my experience, most Jesuits I have met don't pay much attention to liturgy or music.  Preaching in the Mass seems to have been their chief concern.

For all that, the best-known Catholic liturgy professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley when I was studying there was, in fact, a Jesuit; Father Jake Empereur.  He was a liturgical progressive; creativity was the catch-word then.

And who could forget the Saint Louis Jesuits, who dominated contemporary church music in the 70s with songs like Be Not Afraid, Here I Am Lord and Glory and Praise to our God.  I was raised on this stuff, to the point where I didn't need a book to read the lines.

As I got to know these Jesuit missionaries, several things about them started to stand out.  One of them was simplicity.

By the 1980s, they wore secular clothes, but stuff from the bargain basement.  When they would wear a cassock (usually put on just before Mass), the cassock would be clean but aged, with maybe a stain or two of paint or varnish.  And, almost always, the Jesuits wore zori, the Japanese rubber slipper that you could buy for $2.00.

Jesuit Brother Gregorio Oroquieta and his zori

One elder Jesuit, he must have been in his 70s, arrived at Guam's airport past midnight.  He probably took a taxi to the Friary, where somehow no one was advised of his arrival.  He found a door unlocked and walked in.  Not finding his name on any bedroom, he laid down on the bare floor in the living room till sunrise.

On their little islands and tiny atolls, these Jesuits lacked electricity, telephones, running water.  They gathered rain water in tanks, communicated via ham radio, cranked up a generator when needed.  They waited months before taking a boat to a population center.  Rugged men.

Nec rubricat, nec cantat.  But I still admired a thing or two about these austere missionaries.  Building chapels and churches; setting up schools when possible; learning the local languages to the point of becoming experts in them at times; visiting isolated and thinly-populated atolls; teaching people the ABCs of the Catholic faith - this is what mattered to the Jesuits of that generation.  And their personal comfort was not even a consideration; even when they managed to visit more westernized Guam from time to time.  I was a witness to that.

An Example of Jesuit Liturgical Practicality

Years ago I house-sat a Jesuit house of formation on Guam and noticed these fiddle-back chasubles in a closet.  The Jesuit priest in charge said they were leftovers from the missions.  They made excellent vestments for the tropical weather.  They were light-weight and could thus be easily packed for trips to outlying villages and distant islands.  And they were reversible, so you could have two chasubles in one.  The one below in white, or purple, whichever color you needed at the time.

The chasuble lacked a stole or maniple; the burse and chalice veil were missing.  But I asked if I could take it, stains and all, rather than have it hang in a closet.  Now it hangs in my closet.  But, maybe, just maybe, I can make use of it somehow.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A great post, Pale'. I developed a great affection for a longtime Jesuit missionary to Micronesia, the late Fr. Bill Suchan SJ. I was reminded of him today when reading this post, and also because I saw him on the front cover of Fr. Fran Hezel SJ's new book, "Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture." Fr. Fran, of course, is also another longtime Jesuit missionary to Micronesia. His book can be ordered from the University of Hawaii Press at