By Fr. Thomas Simisky, S.J.
The first day of school in Tomsk Catholic School, a Jesuit institution and the only secondary/pre-secondary Catholic school in Russia.
“It is dangerous to make everyone go forward by the same road: and worse to measure others by oneself.”
Timely advice during these divisive times. This quotation from St. Ignatius of Loyola reminds me to keep an open disposition, appreciate different worldviews, and meet people on their paths.
From my earliest vocational stirrings, I was inspired by Jesuit missionaries who did exactly that, no matter how exotic or challenging the circumstances. Jesuits traveled to distant lands, entered diverse cultures, learned native languages, and collaborated with locals to build missions. In many cases, Jesuits were the first to capture spoken languages in dictionaries and grammar textbooks, all for the Greater Glory of God.
In Jesuit apostolates like Holy Trinity Catholic Church and Holy Trinity School, we share this tradition, one infused with openness, optimism and global reach. This active, Ignatian search for God’s goodness, manifest often in unexpected places, can only result if we are committed to “finding God in all things.” As a Jesuit for more than 17 years, I have been blessed to encounter our Living God in the lives of many. International experiences have shaped my approach to Ignatian spirituality: as a first year Jesuit novice teaching in an elementary school in Jamaica, 3 years as a scholastic studying in Bolivia and Chile, and 4 summers serving in the Russian Region. In each situation, Jesus the Teacher was there waiting for me.
The next step on my Jesuit journey will be Tertianship, the chance to deepen my commitment to the Society of Jesus, pray the Spiritual Exercises for 30 days in silence, and dive into our foundational documents with my Jesuit brothers. Tertianship is our final stage of formation before Final Vows, that full incorporation into the Society. For me, this program will take place in Portland, Oregon from January to May.
The city of Tomsk, one of the oldest towns in Siberia.
Of course, God is never done with us and future missions await. In June, I am being missioned to our school in Tomsk, Russia (yes, the middle of Siberia) for 5 years. The last time I was there was during the summer of 2019. Friends remind me that winters are different, with temperatures dropping to -40. Still, I am happy to return to the good people I’ve met in Tomsk and Novosibirsk. The mission is attractive, as Jesuits run the only Catholic school in Russia. For those who are interested, here is a brochure about our work there: Tomsk Catholic School.
It did not take long for early Jesuits to realize that schools are a powerful platform to spread Jesus’ Good News. Jesuit education naturally engages religion with the arts, science, and culture. And the more diverse the student body, the richer the interaction. The fact that only 20% of students in our Tomsk school are Catholic is an opportunity to build dialogue and understanding. I was able to experience something similar serving a predominantly Muslim population in Kyrgyzstan in 2013: Summer Along the Silk Road.
I am deeply grateful to share this time with you at Holy Trinity. You can be sure of my thoughts and prayers for you as our paths continue.