Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Landmarking and Jesuit churches

For the Jesuit, the church and the city are inextricably linked because of the Jesuit mission’s focus on people and the community. Jesuits focus on the dialogue between the church and the “urban culture” and they have “made that dialogue a strategic priority…of their apostolic program” (Lucas 3). For his mission to be successful, St. Ignatius located his churches very carefully so that they would be cornerstones of the community. The work of the Jesuits is grounded in a “particular city, among these particular needs, working with these particular people” (22), and thus, the church must be centrally located so as to provide for the unique needs and people of each city. The Jesuit order build churches, their “landmarks,” in cities in order to bring their mission near to the life of the people they help and to provide a place for worship. Even the “simple clapboard structure” (16) that existed in St. Mary’s City was an active member of the community. The church was not necessarily the physical center of the city, but it was the center of much community activity. For example, the church in St. Mary’s was located at a vertex of one of two converging triangles that formed the town. It was in a prominent position “crowning the highest point in town” (17). St. Mary’s City was in the middle of the wilderness, but the chapel rose as a landmark of faith, demonstrating commitment to people and community as the cornerstone of a promising new city. The centrality of churches in the city enabled Jesuits to fully live out their mission. In the “Bowery,” the Jesuits transformed a saloon into a church and a founded a school, the Loreto School, whereby they were able to influence the lives of old and young Italian immigrants alike. Later efforts included the Nativity Mission Center, which included “a day care center for children of the neighborhood’s sweatshop workers” (21), and the Nativity Middle School, which continues to give at-risk Hispanic students “a chance to navigate the dangerous urban shoals and move into the mainstream, a chance to discover the landmarks of values, discipline, and community, a chance to transform the evil genius of their neighborhood into a new and shining city” (21). Jesuit work takes place in the city and to best serve the people the Jesuits must build their landmarks in the city.

The Jesuits had a considerable amount of conflict with Jesuits of other nationalities and with different orders of Catholics; however, they were united by their determination to build their landmarks in the center of life in the city. According to Lucas in Landmarking, “Ignatius was the first founder of a major religious order in the history of the Church to locate his headquarters in Rome and the first to opt deliberately for complete insertion of a religious order’s works and residences in the center of the urban fabric” (23). This decision set the standard for later Jesuit churches, which would similarly be located “within the sacred circle at the heart of the human city” (23). Whether a Jesuit church is located in Japan or Portugal, the church must be built in the heart of the city. Alessandro Valignano built a church in Portugal by having “his Jesuits occupy the disputed territory [where he wanted to build his church]” (5); Father Antonio Maraschi said of a Jesuit church in San Francisco, “Here let us build and wait…This will be the center of a great city” (6); and the power of church building was evident in Peru where Spaniards worked “alongside feather-bedecked Incas and Canares, who sang versions of the Psalms of David…in their own dialects” (11). Despite the protests of Catholics of other orders in these locations, who were worried about the Jesuits taking worshippers from their own churches, the Jesuits persevered. The vitality of their mission depended on the centrality of their churches in the city. In addition to their similar locations, Jesuits of countries throughout the world were also united by their use of Baroque art and architecture in their churches. My art history class studied Jesuit art of the Baroque; the art and architecture of artists such as Bernini gave Jesuit churches common identifying characteristics. According to Lucas, the “baroque church portal serves as a backdrop for processional and civic drama…Its piazza is a monumental transitional zone—a kind of waiting room between this world and The Next. The portal makes a confident statement about the Church’s presence and relevance in this city” (13). The baroque style unified Jesuit churches and demonstrated their mission. The architecture symbolized the importance of the church to the passage from the earthly city to the heavenly city. Baroque architecture characterized the Jesuit church in Rome, and also churches as far as Japan. Many visitors “both Catholic and Protestant, compared it [the Japanese church] favorably to the finest churches in Europe” (14). Baroque art similarly united the Jesuit community by inspiring worship in Jesuit churches throughout the world.

The location, art and architecture of Jesuit churches make the churches clearly identifiable as landmarks of faith. From the beginning, the Jesuits claimed the center of the city as their “sacred place of encounter,” demonstrating the Jesuit belief that “God is to be found and worshipped not on a holy mountain but at the ordinary crossroads of human experience” (2). It is especially important for students at Loyola College to remember the place of the Jesuit in the city. Loyola is not in the heart of Baltimore; rather, it is located at the northern extremity in an affluent and exclusive neighborhood that is largely removed from the actual “pulse” of the city. To fulfill its responsibility as a Jesuit institution, Loyola must work to bring more diverse people from the city to its worship services and become a more active, visible presence in the city itself.