A Heart on Fire:
Michael Rossmann, SJ
Alumni of Jesuit high schools probably remember jack-of-all-trades Jesuit regents. “Regency” is the stage of Jesuit formation in between philosophy and theology studies and is an opportunity for a Jesuit-in-training to spend a few years working in some capacity, usually by doing a million and one things at a Jesuit school.
In many ways, my experience of regency is very typical. I teach four different subjects, coach basketball, give retreats, and moderate several clubs at the Jesuit high school where I work.
In other ways, however, my experience of regency is quite distinctive. I’m teaching at Loyola, an extremely common name for a Jesuit school, though this Loyola is in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The Jesuit provinces of the Midwest and the Jesuits of Eastern Africa have “twinned” or partnered for the past few decades by sharing resources, men, and best practices, and my own work continues this deepening relationship.
While the names, faces, and backgrounds might be different, the same Jesuit identity and shared experience unite my community members in this Jesuit province that includes six different countries. I’m just as often inspired by brother Jesuits here as I am back home.
Many experiences teaching at a high school here have also revealed how teenagers around the world deal with many of the same issues; concerns about fitting in are probably universal, for example.
Still, my time here has also been filled with what I call my “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments.
In the middle of teaching my Catholic religion class, the call to prayer often echoes from one of the neighborhood mosques. A student confessed on a morality exam his addiction to eating octopus, a popular street food here on the coast of the Indian Ocean. A Muslim co-worker was the first person to send me a congratulatory text message on the new Jesuit pope.
My students here demonstrate respect and eagerness to learn that may not be as evident in many American schools, though I also have 500 students, which means 500 exams to grade at the end of each semester and 500 parents to meet at marathon parent-teacher conferences.
Of course, it’s difficult to miss the important moments of my family and friends while away and uncomfortable to deal with a climate and diseases that are different from home, but I have also discovered a broader sense of home and unity.
An extremely common expression here in both Swahili and English is “we are together.” Rarely is the phrase followed by anything else. It’s not “we are together in order to finish some business” but simply “we are together.” Being together is the purpose and not some means to an end.
I will eventually return to familiar comforts in the U.S. but am excited by the deepening partnership between the Jesuits of the Midwest and of Eastern Africa. We are together, and we are much better for it.
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