Taking Flight: Visiting the Jesuit Works of Micronesia

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Fr. Ciancimino with Fr. Wayne Tkel, SJ, religion teacher at a local high school, and Fr. Greg Muckenhaupt, SJ, director of schools for the diocese of the Caroline Islands.

Photos give glimpses of the love, joy and the spiritual richness that seems to be visible around nearly every corner of Micronesia, the string of Pacific Ocean island nations visited recently by V. Rev. David Ciancimino, SJ.

But shared memories from the trip, unpacked over the last few weeks, say even more.

A room full of young people eager with questions about Jesuit vocations. A family who delivered a basket of local food and fruit that would last for days as their way of expressing deep gratitude for a Jesuit who celebrated a family funeral. High school students willing to pick up machetes and pickaxes to clear land for a new classroom. A local dignitary fighting back tears while speaking about the ways Jesuits and volunteers have impacted local lives by opening a Catholic high school that had been discussed and dreamed of for decades. Countless local leaders and two Micronesian presidents who are the products of Jesuit education on the islands.

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The exterior of Yap Catholic High School.

Fr. Ciancimino, provincial of the New York province, made the trip along with Fr. Edward Quinnan, SJ, his assistant for pastoral ministry, visiting Jesuits, volunteers, students and parishioners at apostolates on Pohnpei, Chuuk, Guam, Yap and Palau.

American Jesuits have had a presence in Micronesia since the end of World War II. The region is classified as a mission dependent on the New York Province; priests, scholastics and volunteers maintain a strong and caring presence among often underserved and marginalized individuals, and those otherwise without access to quality education.

So, when do most people realize just how far from home Micronesia is? The answer: at some point during the initial two days of travel it takes to get there, but before the plane even lands on the ground.

“You know you’re somewhere else when you look out the plane window while landing and only see water on either side,” said Fr. Ciancimino.

On Pohnpei, they visited Jesuits who celebrate the sacraments and support ongoing formation efforts for the local Church, where deacons serve as pastors in nearby parishes. In Guam, they visited Fr. Tom McGrath, SJ, who resides at the Catholic cathedral and works at a nearby Navy hospital. In Palau, they visited three Jesuits who work in a local Catholic high school and provide pastoral ministry in several community parishes.

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Pat Nolan, SJ, is doing his regency at Yap Catholic High School, where he serves as teacher, coach and college guidance counselor.

Chuuk and Yap are home to two flourishing high schools staffed by priests and scholastics, local people and devoted volunteers, some of whom hail from various parts of the United States. Xavier High School and Yap Catholic High School, in Chuuk and Yap, respectively, are oases of educational and spiritual enrichment where students are provided with resources they may not have had access to elsewhere – a vibrant student center, access to the Internet, teachers who truly care for them and encourage them to do more, deepen their faith, help others, attend college and dream of a bright future in service of their local communities.

Yap Catholic High School, founded in 2010 and located near the village of Lamar, looks forward to its first graduating class this year. Xavier High School is a larger boarding and day school that opened in 1952 and serves students who hail from even the most remote outer islands. Donations made to Xavier through the New York province recently furnished new desks and beds, as well as lockers that are being built by local craftsmen.

“The people of Micronesia, and, particularly, the students there, are wonderfully faith-filled and incredibly hard-working,” said Fr. Ciancimino. “They are deeply grateful for the spiritual, emotional and educational support that Jesuits and our partners in ministry provide so well and with so much grace in that region.”

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Inside one of the school rooms at Yap Catholic High School. Each of the four classrooms is its own free-standing building.

Gathering with Xavier seniors to speak about their experiences and goals, one young student was asked, “What’s the best part of attending Xavier?”

“We have A.M.D.G.,” she responded – the desire to labor For the Greater Glory of God. This was the personal experience, desire and vision of St. Ignatius Loyola which grew from his deepest prayers. It was also the desire that inspired his earliest companions who traveled the world, ministering to God’s people on the margins.

This desire to do all for God’s greater glory still serves as the core and hallmark of Jesuit spirituality and ministry today.

And that desire and glory is so visible in Micronesia.

View the full set of photos from the trip below:

3 thoughts on “Taking Flight: Visiting the Jesuit Works of Micronesia

  1. Pingback: Marking One Year of In Our Company | In Our Company

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