The Jesuit community in the United States has kicked off the first of several consolidations. On Friday, Sept. 19, the New York Province announced it will begin a merger with the New England Province. Father John Cecero, SJ, the newly appointed provincial for New York, will lead the new Northeast Province.
"That new creation will enable more energy and commitment to mission and more creativity in the way we mission to works within the province and various places in the world," said Father Cecero, who was in Buffalo that day to celebrate Mass at Canisius High School.
The new Northeast Province will include eight states stretching from Maine to New Jersey, with missions in Micronesia, Jamaica and Jordan. The new province, which has been in the planning stages for years, will help the Jesuits meet the changing needs and demographics of the Church. The merger is just one of several to take place within the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits plan to consolidate their eight provinces into four by 2020. This will expand the number of high schools in Canisius' province to 11, and increase the number of Jesuit colleges from four to seven.
"It allows us to have even more interconnection and more conversations and sharing with another whole province," said Father Joseph S. Costantino, SJ, president of Canisius High School. "It will allow for more synergy."
Father Cecero, who was appointed head of the New York province of the Jesuits on July 31, spoke about the transforming power of a Jesuit education in his homily at Canisius' annual Mass of the Holy Spirit.
"That's what Jesuit education is all about - transforming lives. Not simply to prepare you for college or for a career. That's an honorable goal that we all want to do here. But, even more importantly to transform your lives. That's the reason why I, as provincial superior of the Jesuits, am here today celebrating this very special Mass of the Holy Spirit, to confirm that very special mission of this Jesuit school, to transform your lives," he said.
He has seen students from Jesuit educational institutions be set free from greed encouraged by society and popular culture.
"Free from the self-absorption and individualism that is bred in our culture. Me first! Where the message is I have to make the most money. I have to have the best reputation. I have to achieve more of the securities that I think are going to make me happy in my life. Free from that. And free for a very different way of looking at the world, a way that Jesus articulates in the Gospel we just heard. Free for service to God and to others," he said.
The concept is counter-cultural to the mass-marketed idea of materialism and satisfaction through quick consumerism.
"The fact is, the more we live for God and for others, the more we are transformed into our very own true selves. I find out who I am, living for God and for others," he said.
The reason for Father Cecero's visit to Canisius was to sign a sponsorship agreement that acknowledges and ensures that Canisius is meeting all the standards of a Jesuit school.
After Mass, Father Cecero and Father Costantino spoke about what makes a Jesuit high school.
"Several years ago the Jesuits of the United States gathered through the provincials and decided it would be important for the future of Jesuit schools that we articulate exactly what is a Jesuit school. We came up with statements that include what we see as the goal of Jesuit education, which is to graduate students who are committed to justice, who are loving, who are religious and open to growth and intellectually competent. Those are five characteristics of the graduate at graduation," Father Cecero explained. "Each of the Jesuit schools engages in a process of self-assessment to see how well it does that, and the province enters into a conversation with the school, using the agreement to guide the conversation. When there is agreement that the school is in fact living the mission, we have a ceremony like this where we sign the agreement."
With the signing of the agreement, the Jesuit community is saying that Canisius fits that bill.
"Its strengths are fine academics, athletics and spirituality. As Father Cecaro said in his homily, we transform men through our commitment to the Jesuit Catholic principles of the school in those areas. Our spirituality is Jesuit. Our academics are outstanding. They are always, in Jesuit fashion, going for the magis. That's a Latin word meaning greater. Our motto throughout the Jesuits is 'To the greater Glory of God.' So we push hard on academics. We push hard on athletics. We push hard on spirituality," said Father Costantino.
The Mass of the Holy Spirit is a Canisius tradition, in which students and educators ask for the Lord's blessing, the Holy Spirit's guidance. During the Mass the student body was presented with a gift from a Navajo reservation where students visited last summer as part of eight immersion trips taken throughout the country and Central America. The hand-woven rug bears the school colors of blue and gold, along with a Kairos cross.
The theme for Canisius' 145th school year is "A Place at the Table," to remind students that despite varying backgrounds all are called to a place at the table of the Lord and no one should be excluded.