Len Altilia, one of four Jesuit jubilarians honoured at the annual event for 50 years of life in the religious order. Photo by Michael Swan

God's grace behind 50 years of Jesuit service

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  • April 11, 2014

THORNHILL, ONT. - It normally takes 13 years to become a full-fledged member of the Society of Jesus. It takes the grace, love and steadfast faithfulness of God to remain one for 50 years.

Nobody lives 50 years in community and under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience by virtue of willpower, smarts or sinless, spiritual heroism, Fr. Len Altlia told about 300 gathered for a Mass of thanksgiving and the annual Jesuit Provincial’s Dinner in Thornhill April 9. Altilia was one of four Jesuit jubilarians honoured at the annual event for 50 years of life in the religious order.

“That 50 years is marked by one constant — God’s grace, God’s love, God’s generosity, God’s fidelity,” said Altilia.

Over the last 50 years there have been immense changes in technology, culture and the economy. But Pope Francis constantly reminds us that some things don’t change, said Altilia.

“We can rely with absolute certainty and profound trust on the goodness of God,” he said. “If there’s anything I’ve learned in these 50 years as a Jesuit, it is to trust that love.”

Nobody serves Jesus because they are worthy.

“God uses imperfect instruments — sinful people,” Altilia said. “God has only ever chosen sinners to accomplish His purpose for one reason. There isn’t anybody else.”

Since his first teaching assignment as a Jesuit, Altilia’s passion has been high school communities and teaching. He has taught at Jesuit schools through most of his Jesuit life, with breaks in the 1990s and 2000s to help with leading the English Canadian province of the Jesuits.

Others who entered the Guelph, Ont., novitiate with Altilia in 1964 included three former Jesuit provincial superiors — Frs. Eric Maclean, Bill Addley and Jim Webb.

Not all the 1964 novices became priests. Br. Paul Desmarais still works in Lusaka, Zambia, teaching agriculture and ecological justice.

Fr. Michael Czerny is today right-hand-man to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome. He founded and ran the African Jesuit Aids Network in Nairobi, Kenya, from 2002 to 2010 and has worked in social justice from Toronto to El Salvador to Rome.

Fr. John Perry’s academic and pastoral career has also been dedicated to the ideals of social justice. He’s the author of Myths & Realities of American Slavery: The True History of Slavery in America, and Catholics and Slavery: A Compromising History. With a PhD in moral theology, he has taught at the University of Regina, Toronto School of Theology and the University of Manitoba. Currently he’s in Accra, Ghana, teaching at the Kofi A. Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation.

Fr. John Govan has spent 38 years guiding people through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and perfecting the art of spiritual direction in Guelph.

The Jesuits also honoured the Knights of Columbus with their Magis Award at the dinner. Jesuit provincial superior Fr. Peter Bisson thanked the Knights for their help with upgrades to the Martyr’s Shrine in Midland, Ont., and other projects.

“The Society of Jesus has benefited from the help, the wisdom and the companionship of the Knights,” he said.

Knights of Columbus aren’t used to getting awards, said Robert Sykes, chairman of the Northern Zone of the Toronto Diocesan Association.

“This is different for the Knights of Columbus. It’s seldom we’re on the receiving end,” Sykes said.

Now in it’s eighth year, the Jesuits in English Canada give the Magis Award annually to an individual or organization which has gone beyond the usual in its quest to serve Christ — a key Jesuit ideal that St. Ignatius of Loyola called “magis,” Latin for more.

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