A Jesuit's Journey:
Fr. John Mace, SJ
September 20, 2020—When Fr. John Mace, SJ, celebrated his golden jubilee while serving in the Philippines, he had none other than Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, delivering the homily and declaring about the jubilarian, “50 years of journeying with the Lord—50 years of being polished into perfection!”
According to the E News of the Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference, these words of Fr. Nicolás and of others that day “summed up the rich and challenging, generous and selfless life” of Fr. Mace, and offered glimpses of his “many-faceted talents as well as his capacity for deep, compassionate care and friendship.”
Eleven years later, these themes were echoed by Fr. John Kim Duhyun, SJ, of the Jesuit Mission in Cambodia, who said of his mentor’s spiritual direction, “Fr. Mace was a very good listener. His presence was the kind that made you at ease in sharing. He also always had nuggets of wisdom about Jesuit life which gave clarity and insight.”
Fr. Mace’s time in the Philippines and in Cambodia was but a small representation of a journey of several decades in service of the Society of Jesus and the universal mission in Asia. In a talk about that journey—called “Out of the Blue”—given when he left Asia for an assignment back in the United States in 2016, he recounted how the Lord’s call took him to unexpected places and affected him in ways that were often unanticipated.
Born in Omaha, Fr. Mace attended Creighton Prep before entering the Jesuits. He was first missioned to Asia during his formation, when he taught philosophy and English at Daegun Seminary in Kwangju, Korea, from 1962 to 1965. He would later serve as master of novices for the Korean Jesuits from 1973 to 1982.
Significantly, Fr. Mace served as the fifth president of Sogang University in Seoul (see below). Throughout most of his ordained life in Korea, he also taught theology at Sogang.
Yet another place Fr. Mace served was Timor-Leste (also known as East Timor), where he had multiple assignments.
Over the years, Fr. Mace served in several US ministries as well—including positions as assistant director of campus ministry at Marquette University, secretary for formation at the Jesuit Conference USA in Washington, D.C., and pastoral minister at Creighton University.
Today Fr. Mace is missioned to pray for the Church and the Society of Jesus at St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin—and he expresses gratitude for the healthcare available to him there as well as for the financial backing provided by lay companions throughout his many years as a Jesuit. “Without the support of our benefactors, I would have been unable to do the important works asked of the Society in South Korea,” he states. “To my friends and those who have supported our work in Korea, I say, ‘Kamsahamida—thank you!’”
Strong Ties: Midwest Jesuits and Korea
The Society of Jesus in Korea was established in 1955 as a mission, or dependent region, of the Wisconsin Province in response to a request from the Korean Church to support the spiritual formation of Korean youth. Korea became an independent region of the Society in 1985 and a province in 2005.
In 1960, the Jesuits opened Sogang College (which became a university in 1970) in Seoul, and several Midwest Jesuits were instrumental in its growth.
For example, Fr. John Daly, SJ, started serving there as an English teacher and university treasurer. By 1963, he was Sogang’s president. In that post for 12 years, he helped develop the small liberal arts college of 600 into one of Korea’s top universities.
Today more than 15,000 students from more than 80 countries study at Sogang University. Among its notable alumni across political, business, and entertainment sectors is Jung Jin-haeng, CEO of Hyundai Motor Company.
Sogang’s significance can be understood by the fact that when the secular newspaper The Chosun Ilbo needed to explain to non-Catholics the identity of the Jesuits in its coverage of the election of Pope Francis, it used the university as a point of reference.
S P I R I T U A L R E F L E C T I O N
by Fr. John Mace, SJ, originally written for Creighton Prep’s “Pulse” newsletter in 2015
I had an unusual experience of the meaning of thanksgiving many years ago in 1967 when I was a deacon in Kwangju, Korea. One of my responsibilities was to take communion on Sundays to the residents of Hyunae Won, a modest facility for victims of Hansen’s disease (leprosy). The Catholics among the residents would gather in a small chapel for a brief communion service.
There was one resident, however, who declined to go to the chapel and asked that communion be brought to him in his small hut. His name was “Bundo,” Korean/Chinese for “Benedict.” I think he was shy about being with the other residents since his disease was already quite advanced. His fingers and toes were missing. So was his nose.
One Sunday, I remained to chat with Bundo for a short time. I mentioned something to the effect that it must be very difficult for him to be afflicted with the disease and to be so isolated. He responded by saying that, no, he gave thanks every day for his disease. I thought I misunderstood him and repeated what I had said. And he repeated what he had said.
I expressed my surprise at his saying he thanked God every day for having blessed him with his leprosy. I asked Bundo to clarify. He said very simply that, if he had never contracted leprosy, he would never have come to Hyunae Won. And he would never have had the opportunity to meet and know Jesus. I could hardly believe my ears!
[I give thanks for] Bundo and his simple and profound faith. I pray that God will bless us all with the ability to recognize and be grateful for the gifts we have received, especially the hidden ones.
Republished with permission of Creighton Prep