25 Jun June 2023 Reflection – Michael McFarland SJ

Missioned for Service


This is ordination season. The Jesuit ordinations in the various U.S. provinces took place on June 10. The celebration for our USA East Province was a beautiful affair, with some 150 priests joining Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, CT in the ordination liturgy, supported by a splendid choir of Jesuits and friends. For me, just a year short of my fortieth anniversary of ordination, it brought back many cherished memories and a deep sense of gratitude for having been chosen by God’s unfathomable wisdom for that important ministry and for the many rich experiences that have come with it.

Even with all of its acknowledged issues, the priesthood is a great gift to the Church. Most important, as God has arranged it, it is through the priesthood that we have the Eucharist, which we also just celebrated with the Feast of Corpus Christi. It is through the Eucharist that Christ shares His own divine life with us, transforming us to live as God’s children, nourishing and sustaining us in a new life that is eternal and gathering us into a loving community that is His Body the Church. That most precious gift came only through the ultimate act of love, as Christ poured out his life for us on the cross, an act that is renewed on the altar each time the Mass is celebrated. Also of tremendous value is the ministry of healing and reconciliation, both through the sacrament and through counseling and spiritual direction. I have always been deeply moved and humbled by how people have opened up their lives to me and shared their deepest feelings of hurt, guilt and betrayal, but also their hope and desire to overcome these debilitating forces. Time and again I have seen them receive God’s healing touch, bringing them consolation and strength.

A very important part of the Gregorian University’s mission is to prepare priests for ordination in dioceses and religious orders all over the world. Almost 20% of its 2800 students are seminarians preparing for ordination, which means that it sends forth about 180 new priests each year to serve their people. Especially notable are the increasing numbers from Africa and parts of Asia, where the Church is young and growing and in great need of priests. Many will go on to important leadership positions, like Bishop Caggiano, a Gregorian graduate who is beloved for his humanity, thoughtfulness, compassion and commitment to the pastoral care of his people.

As essential as the priesthood is, there are many other ministries that are just as important, such as teaching, administration, pastoral care and spiritual direction. The many lay people and members of religious orders in these roles bring tremendous gifts of faith, intelligence, learning, wisdom, compassion and deep dedication to the care of others to the Church. They too have been called to their ministries and graced by the Holy Spirit. The Church could not exist without them, and all of us have been deeply moved by their goodness and commitment. We are profoundly grateful for the blessing that they are. Preparing these lay people and religious for their ministries is another essential part of the Gregorian University’s mission. They make up over 35% of the student body and are a strong presence in all of the programs, from Scripture to Canon Law to Missiology to Child Protection and everything in between. The Gregorian takes very seriously its role in forming the next generation of lay leadership in the Church, which will continue to grow in importance and will continue to bring new dimensions to our communal and spiritual life.  Moreover it is very important that priests and seminarians study and socialize with lay ministers, to understand and appreciate the unique experiences and perspectives they bring to the Church. It is a good antidote against the clericalism that, as Pope Francis and many others have warned, weakens the effectiveness of the Church’s witness.

The increased numbers of lay students, along with religious women from poor communities, creates special financial issues. Unlike most priests and seminarians, they do not have the sponsorship of dioceses to pay their tuition, room and board. Many are studying for Church service at great personal sacrifice, both financially and in their living circumstances. As we have met more of these impressive students and learned of their struggles, especially in our visits to Rome, we have made raising financial support for them a major priority. Through our Pope Francis Adopt-a-Scholar program, $20,000 can provide a year’s tuition and basic living expenses for one of these students. The need is great and the payoff incomparable. We urge our dedicated supporters to consider making that investment.

Michael C McFarland, SJ
President, Gregorian University Foundation