Fr. Mark Ravizza, new General Counselor

Father Mark Ravizza, originally from the USA-West Province, is among the newcomers, this fall, at the General Curia. We invited him to talk about his experience, his responsibilities and his hopes.

1. Mark Ravizza, Father General has chosen you to be one of his General Counselors. What brought you to the General Curia? What are your responsibilities?

What brings me to the Curia is mission. First in the sense, that this is where the Society has missioned me to be. Looking back, I suspect that two of the leading factors may have been: first the work that I had been doing on a renewal of formation in the Conference of Canada and the United States and, second, my involvement during General Congregation 36. Whatever the reasons this particular assignment came as a great surprise to me. However, the grace of being called and missioned is fundamental to who we are as Jesuits.

The second sense in which mission brings me to the Curia is that I am here to support our shared project for the whole Society of Jesus. As a General Counselor, my primary area of responsibility will be formation, but really, the heart of the job is to serve Father General, and to help him, in whatever way I can, to implement both his vision and the mission that emerged with renewed vigor from GC 36. In the little time I have been at the Curia, I have been consoled to see the spirit of prayer, discernment and collegiality that Father General wants to instill in his Council.

2. Tell us briefly about the project you have been involved with during the past few years. How might it help you for your new assignment or mission?

Before coming to Rome, I had the opportunity to help the Conference of Canada and the US imagine new ways to renew and revise its formation, especially in First Studies. The project began as a response to Fr. Nicolás’ Letter on The Intellectual Formation of Scholastics and Brothers. However, it drew additional inspiration from the provincials of Canada and the US who independently had been feeling a need to explore if there were ways that we could update parts of our formation.

I can perhaps best give a sense of the project by sharing some of its major aspirations. The goal is to integrate studies more thoroughly with lived experience and apostolic activity, to live closer to the poor, and to develop interdisciplinary programs that give men the skills they need to more effectively lead institutions, and better serve the contemporary mission of the Society as articulated in our recent documents. There is, of course, and an unwavering commitment to preserve the philosophical and theological rigor of our studies, but also the hope to integrate these courses more holistically into the spiritual, apostolic and communal dimensions of Jesuit formation.

Concerning how this experience might help in my new assignment, it is probably too early to say. I do know that the process we followed taught me even more than the particular programmatic conclusions we reached. This process began first by studying very seriously the vision of formation that Father General and the tradition of the Society were calling us to. Then we brought that vision into conversation with the talents, experience, and creativity of our formators, men in formation, and the people whom they serve and collaborate with. Finally, and most importantly, we kept bringing all of this input back to a process of prayer, spiritual conversation and communal discernment so that we could truly listen to how the Lord was calling us to respond and improve.

3. What would you tell those who would say that what could be appropriate (for the men in formation) in the United States might not be relevant all over the world?

Actually, I would agree with them. Our formation always needs to adapt to the local context; it is never a one-size-fits-all proposition. Having lived in formation communities in the United States, El Salvador and the Philippines, I have especially come to appreciate how deeply culture influences our formation. And this is good and appropriate. Of course, there are many common and universal elements in our formation. These are well expressed both in the rich tradition of documents we have going all the way back to the Constitutions as well as in the Society’s way of proceeding that gets built into our “Jesuit DNA.” One mark of this common formation is a consolation that I imagine most Jesuits have experienced: being able to go into a Jesuit community anywhere in the world, and to feel an immediate sense of shared brotherhood and common mission.

At the same time, the Society also has a rich history of inculturation and accommodation. For the Ignatian imagination, God is always at work in concrete, local ways, and our task is not to impose pre-set ideas on what grace should do or look like. Rather, we are called to accompany people and learn how best to cooperate with what the Spirit is doing in a given situation. In some sense this same type of discernment needs to take place when we adapt the universal elements of our formation to different cultural contexts. Consequently, I would be very hesitant to assume that the programmatic elements that were developed for the centers of study in the US and Canada could, or should, be transferred uncritically to other Conferences. At best, I think we might be able to adapt some of the processes of listening and discernment that were used in order to determine what is most appropriate in a particular context.

4. Concretely, what are your plans for the next few months?

One of my first tasks is to gain some proficiency in Italian since that is the language of the Curia. A second goal is to come up to speed as quickly as possible on how day-to-day work gets done in the Curia. Almost every aspect of the job from consultations with Father General to managing the tremendous volume of paperwork that flows through the Curia is new to me, so this will be a steep learning curve.

Finally, but perhaps most fundamentally, I look forward to learning as much as I can about the realities of formation around the globe, especially in those parts of the world I have yet to visit. This is especially important because our vocations are growing most quickly in the global south, and some of these regions are places that I am least familiar with. My hope is to find as many ways as possible to visit, to listen to, and to learn from our formators, men in formation, and the people they work with. I am really looking forward to getting to know all of our formation programs, and discerning how I can help to promote the best formation possible for our new generation of Jesuits.