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Meet Fr. Gerry—a “Jesuit’s Jesuit”

Fr Gerry Blaszczak a Jesuits Jesuit Courtesy of Fairfield University

Courtesy of Fairfield University

William Van Ornum - published on 07/30/14

Since entering the Society of Jesus 47 years ago today, Fr. Gerald Blaszczak has had a remarkable career.

During the past year Aleteia has run several stories about the good priests, nuns, and brothers who serve the Church. Here is another such story.

Fr. Gerald Blaszczak, SJ celebrates his 47th anniversary of admittance to the Society of Jesus on July 30. Fr. Gerry, as he is known, grew up in Texas and spent important years of formation in New York State.

With scores, maybe even hundreds of young seminarians, he studied at St. Andrews-on-Hudson seminary. It was a grand place, with a sweeping staircase overlooking the Hudson River. The “chapel,” which seated more than 300 people, gave off an amber glow, a welcoming tint that created a place of emotional and spiritual warmth.

The Jesuit Martyrs of North America were depicted on the stained glass windows, perhaps a reminder to the seminarians that they, too, might travel the world—and be expected to suffer.

Fr. Gerry absorbed this Jesuit identity, took studies at Fordham, where he received a rare Danforth Teaching Fellowship, pursued graduate work in philosophy in Germany, and earned a Ph.D. in scripture at Harvard University. Like most scripture scholars, he had learned five or six languages by then.

After teaching college-level courses and directing seminarians, Fr. Gerry was assigned to be the rector of the Jesuit Seminary in Kenya. He has looked back on this as one of his most memorable assignments—receiving back from the seminarians great warmth and enthusiasm, while giving them the zeal and spiritual strength they would need to serve God on that dangerous continent.

By then he had become known as “the Jesuit’s Jesuit” for his genuine humility (despite intellectual brilliance), knowing how to listen to others in a spirit of collegiality, and having the firmness and aplomb to handle the most taxing human relationships.

In his next assignment he returned to Fordham as Rector and Vice President of Ministry.

One day I stopped in to visit him. No one knew where he was. It turned out that one of the elderly Jesuits who resided in the Jesuit Retirement Home on Fordham’s campus had wandered off. Fr. Gerry took it upon himself to search the campus and its bordering streets in the Bronx, hoping to locate the priest and gently escort him back home to spare the elderly priest the ordeal of police capture and transit. Many times he ministered to these faithful, loyal and now-needy Jesuits.

In 2001 Fr. Gerry travelled to Rome with Fr. Avery Dulles, and flew back to Fordham with Cardinal Avery Dulles. I believe Cardinal Dulles was fortunate to have a companion like Father Gerry who could intuitively understand complex theological concepts, and I hope Fr. Gerry will write about Cardinal Dulles someday.

There were other assignments after Fordham, Pastor of St. Ignatius Church in New York and Vice President of Campus Ministry at Fairfield University.

Three years ago he received a high honor that was also a huge responsibility—Secretary for the Service of the Faith, in Rome, reporting directly to the Father General of the Jesuit Order. He logged many miles and, much like Barnabas, was a “Son of Encouragement” for Jesuit communities on every continent. Recently he has been assigned to a parish where he will serve a Spanish-speaking congregation.

Early in the pontificate of Pope Francis, Fr. Gerry Blaszczak was interviewed by Catholic News Service concerning the Holy Father’s frequent references to Satan. Father Gerry explained their roots in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius:

“Francis comes from a tradition—the Jesuit tradition—where the presence of the evil spirit or ‘the enemy of our human nature,’ is mentioned frequently,” Fr. Blaszczak said.

“In almost all his homilies,” he continued, “Pope Francis talks about ‘the battle’ people face between following the crucified and risen Christ and ‘falling prey to negativity, cynicism, disappointment, sadness, lethargy’—and the temptation of the ‘dark joy’ or complaining about others.”

“In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuits, and has ‘Rules for the Discernment of Spirits,’ sowing pessimism and despair is ‘the modus operandi of the enemy,” Father Blaszczak added.

Father Blaszczak, who might be described as a “priest of fierce gentleness,” shares with the past and present Francis a fascination with all God’s creatures. One of his favorite memories is that of giraffes, frolicking on the steppes of Kenya.

Happy anniversary day, Fr. Blaszczak!

William Van Ornumis professor of psychology at Marist College and director of research and development/grants at American Mental Health Foundation in New York City. He studied theology and scripture at DePaul University.

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