Saint John Francis Regis DayMay 21, 2008
Fifty-one years this coming June 16th, I sat where you are sitting now on what was my graduation day. (O God, I can hear you thinking, not another old grad! Actually, I was only five years old at the time, something of a child prodigy. . .) I nearly didn’t sit there on June 16th, 1957, because of an unfortunate encounter I had with chemistry in my senior year. No, I didn’t blow up anything in the lab. But Mr. Gerry McMahon, S.J.—now Father Gerry McMahon—passed me on the re-take, the second last thing I did at Regis. I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that I was entering the Jesuit novitiate at the end of July that year.
Why June 16th? Until the revision of the Roman liturgical calendar in 1969 and the subsequent revision of the Jesuit liturgical calendar some years later, June 16th was the feast of Saint John Francis Regis. It still is his feast in the Jesuit province of France, of which he is the patron saint. There are at last count fifty Jesuit saints and 147 Blesseds who have S.J. after their names, even if in one or two cases some may have entered the Society of Jesus ex post facto. This is true ofcertain martyrs who died along with Jesuits. René Goupil and Jean de Lalande, two of the 17th-century North American martyrs who died respectively in 1642 and 1646 near Auriesville, New York, are prominent examples.
But John Francis Regis—Jean-François Régis to his mother—never reached the shores of what was then called New France, although he wanted to join that hardy band of French Jesuits, nor was he ever martyred, although his life was threatened. He lived and worked as a pastor and rural missionary most of his priestly life until his death, just short of forty-four years of age, in the mountainous areas of southeasternFrance.RegisUniversity in Denver, Colorado,and RegisJesuitHigh School in Centennial, Colorado,are named after Regis precisely because he was a saint who worked among mountain people. Apparently the St.RegisHotel is also named after him, but only, I suspect, indirectly, because John Jacob Astor IV, who opened the St. Regis in 1904, had friends who owned summer estates on St.RegisLakein the Adirondacks.Fifth Avenue and 55th Street is hardly mountainous.
Neither is 84th Street between Park and Madison. I am not quite sure whyour alma mater was named after John Francis Regis.Perhaps it was, as Father Judge has suggested, because the other Jesuits schools in the once and future Maryland-New York Province (the current New England, New York and Maryland Provinces) already had schools named after Saint Ignatius Loyola, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga and Saint Peter Canisius, to say nothing of Saint Joe Fordham, Saint Biff Georgetown and Saint Whatever B. C.
People tell me that guys who go to Regis are very smart, and although I nearly proved the opposite, I suppose it’s true. I noticed, however, that I am still not listed in the Wikipedia account of Regis as one of the more famous alumni, despite my recent brief appearances on New York 1 and Channel 11: my fifteen minutes of fame. In any case, it’s good for us at Regis to have as a patron saint a man who, although smart enough, put the poor people of the rural mountainous areas of southern France first in his list of apostolic priorities.Saint Paul would have approved. Although the members of the relatively new Corinthian Christian community had gone quite mad on the charismatic gift of tongues, Paul preferred more basic things in the Christian life: “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of service, but the same Lord. There are varieties of activity, but in all of them and everyone the same God is active.”
Jean-François Régis was a former student in one of the fifty collèges or secondary schools the Jesuits conducted in France in the seventeenth century. His contemporary at another Jesuitcollège in France was René Descartes, born less than a year earlier than Régis. Brilliant as Descartes was, he lived in his mind. No one remembers him for his random acts of kindness. I don’t want to talk against the life of the mind, but if you try to live only in your mind, you might miss out on a lot of other things. Likewise, if—as the Gospel reading suggests—the seed of God’s word implanted in your hearts since your baptism is “choked by cares and wealth and the pleasures of life,” you might land up on the short list of famous alumni on the Wikipediaaccount of Regis.
Regis has produced scholars and judges and eminent clergymen; it has also produced, I assure you, a few very bitter people who no longer identify themselves as Catholics or even as believers. But let me tell you about one man Regis produced in 1955, two years before my class graduated. He may be one of the happiest people, one of the happiest Jesuits I have ever met. His name is Ned Murphy, Class of 1955. Ned has worked all his priestly years—we were both ordained in 1968—for the cause of peace and for the welfare of the victims of violence, national and international, the downtrodden, the addicted, the homeless, the hungry, the people who need some second hand shoes. Ned founded P.O.T.S. in 1982 in the Bronx—the acronym stands for Part of the Solution. Not unlike John Francis Regis, he has expended himself for God’s poor people. I would like to see Ned’s name on Wikipedia’s list of the most famous alumni of Regis, although I am fairly sure he will have my head if he finds out I suggested it. Of all the Regians I have known, Ned comes closest to the model set by our patron saint. He has been the friend of the poor.
I wish I had that on my c.v. Maybe you could get it on yours.
Patrick J. Ryan, S.J. ‘57