Jesuit* Hospitality
Monday, November 05, 2012


International Director, Peter Balleis SJ, on a field visit to the rural of Mweso, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an example of Jesuit hospitality.(Peter Balleis, SJ/JRS)
Boston, 5 November 2012 – Fr Keenan, Professor of Theological Ethics, Boston College, discusses the nature of Jesuit* hospitality, and explores ways to better serve refugees and other forcible displaced persons by expanding our concept of hospitality beyond the dwelling place and out into the world.

While the term was rarely used, GC 34 was touching upon the Christian virtue of hospitality, of making the Society a symbol of welcome- to the poor, to lay people, to those searching for meaning, to those who want to talk seriously about religious issues. (General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, No. 34, Decree 1: United with Christ on Mission 11, [11])

The General Congregation's statement might strike some readers as certainly peculiar, for regardless of the many charisms associated with the Jesuits, hospitality is not one of, say, the first dozen descriptions that come to mind. If you want religious hospitality, go to a Benedictine monastery: you'll be treated like God!

Jesuit hospitality is very different. In order to understand it, we need to first understand Jesuit identity and spirituality. Its identity is caught up in its mission. Jesuit identity is not shaped by where we live, but rather by what we do.

We are missioned throughout the world. This includes being missioned to accompany the most vulnerable.

As one theologian writes "The central image of the Jesuit St. Ignatius seems to have had in his own mind, right up to his death, was that of a kind of apostolic vagabond." How can an apostolic vagabond be hospitable?

One of the early founders of the Society of Jesus, Jerome Nadal wrote that Jesuit ministry does not expand from the Jesuit community; rather, community occurs where Jesuit ministry is. "Wherever there is need or greater utility for our ministries, there is our house." We live wherever those in need live. Nadal adds, "The principal and most characteristic dwelling for Jesuit is not in … houses, but in journeyings..."

In a manner of speaking Nadal sees our ministry as like the first apostles: our mission is to go to those most in need; we meet them as apostles of the Church; where they are, we dwell.

That journeying forth to meet those in need is, then, an act of hospitality; though strikingly different from the common notion of hospitality Jesuit hospitality is not found in its receiving, but in its sending.

Sent forth: a mobile hospitality. As one "in the Church" and "in the world," the Jesuit goes to those on the margins of society to welcome them into the Church by preaching, catechising and confessing or into the wider society by education or social ministry. If "the world is our home" as Nadal proclaimed and if our mission is to those who are refugees, then our call is to bring them into sanctuary.

Our model for Jesuit hospitality is not found, then, in the gracious Benedictine monastery, though indeed there is much we could learn from that place. Rather the model for Jesuit hospitality is the refugee centre. Whether those refugees are without country or church, we go to meet them and welcome them into the world where God works.

Where anybody in need is, there is our mission and our hospitality. Our hospitality is not then a domestic one, but a mobile one, not because our communities are mobile, but because those whom we serve are found throughout the world.

Therein we encounter our own lack of stability. For often, we are no more at home, than those we serve. And sometimes that means, as in the story of Thomas, that we are not as effective as someone who lives at home or in one’s native land. It means that sometimes we are as powerless and as alienated as the refugees we serve.  In those instances, when all we can do is accompany, we realize just how much we are like him without even a place to rest his head. We discover what it means to be a vagabond.

Inasmuch as the Jesuit charism is so strikingly defined by its mission to go to those in need, the new accent on hospitality ought not to be understood as a call to appreciate and develop a more sensitive sense of domesticity.

On the contrary, the new emphasis warns us against seeing the world as solely the place where they live; rather it calls us to be more attentive to where and how others live. It is to welcome others as the itinerant Good Samaritan did.

James F Keenan SJ, Professor of Theological Ethics, Theology Faculty, Boston College

* The author uses the term Jesuit for anyone sharing in the Jesuit ministry.

For a longer essay on this see James Keenan, 'Jesuit Hospitality?' Promise Renewed: Jesuit Higher Education for a New Millennium ed. Martin Tripole (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1999) 230-244. Alternatively, readers can write directly to Fr Keenan, james.keenan.2@bc.edu, for a copy of the article.