(L-R): Rev. Miguel Cerón-Becerra, S.J., Raj Kumar, S.J., Benedict Lumu, B.S.C.L. & Samir Talati, S.J.

Loyola University Chicago draws Jesuits in formation from across the country and world to study and serve in the heartland of America. Home to one of only three First Studies programs of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, the University also attracts many Jesuits and religious from worldwide provinces for graduate studies to further their vocations.

Loyola’s Jesuit Community is one of the nation’s largest: it advances the Catholic character and mission of the University through service in the faculty and administration; as students and chaplains; and in sacramental ministry and spiritual direction.

“Loyola is blessed by the presence of many Jesuits across our campuses,” says Mark C. Reed, president of Loyola University Chicago. “Having Scholastics engaged in campus life, coupled with a good mix of both early-career Jesuits and veteran Jesuits serving in faculty, ministry and administrative roles, is a potent combination that has a tremendous impact on our students and culture.”

Though it is common to primarily associate Jesuits with providing spiritual fruit for the community, that relationship is reciprocated in deeply meaningful ways across the University. On Loyola’s campus nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, that nourishment is found in moments both great and small.

The University’s Jesuit Jam, for instance, is an annual tradition stretching back two decades that highlights the Community as part of a men’s basketball pre-game fest featuring live music, pizza, games and prizes. And Loyola’s role as a hub for the global Building Bridges Initiative, which brings college and university students into direct dialogue with Pope Francis, has provided a unique way for Jesuits to engage with the Church’s synodal spirit.

For Miguel Cerón-Becerra, S.J., a Jesuit Brother of the Mexican Province who came to Loyola to pursue a Ph.D. in Philosophy during his Special Studies, Loyola’s campus is a “geographical blessing” that enables him, together with his fellow Jesuits, to engage with the diverse and culturally rich city of Chicago. Moreover, Chicago’s central proximity to so much of the United States allowed Br. Cerón-Becerra, two fellow Jesuits from India, and a Bannakaroli Brother from Uganda to undertake a transformative cross-country journey experiencing America’s civil rights history over winter break.

“For a long time, we had been carefully considering places we could go and things we wanted to experience during our time in America,” says Br. Cerón-Becerra. “When the plan quickly came together, we were blessed to have the Community’s full support.”

He notes that, as international students, they couldn’t fly to a destination and rent a car or travel as easily as domestic students. But Chicago was the springboard that empowered them to set out on the open road for the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN: the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

Br. Cerón-Becerra explained, “We organized our trip backwards, starting at a place of great tragedy and ending at one of the sites where the civil rights struggle began, even before Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gained prominence.”

(L-R): Rev. Miguel Cerón-Becerra, S.J., Raj Kumar, S.J., Benedict Lumu, B.S.C.L. & Samir Talati, S.J.

Along the way, they listened to an audiobook of Dr. King’s life; through visits to museums and historic sites, they gained a great knowledge of the painful history of racial injustice in North America and of the healing power of God on an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level. They experienced a profound sense of fellowship through the celebration of the Eucharist, communication with loved ones, and moments of silent reflection.

But when Br. Cerón-Becerra, together with Rev. Raj Kumar, S.J., Rev. Benedict Lumu, B.S.C.L. and Rev. Samir Talati, S.J., arrived at their final destination (the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL), they found that they were too late to attend any of the day’s worship services. Providentially, the group was led to the Historic Bethel Baptist Church, where they made it just in time to join the last service of the day. There, they were greeted warmly and invited to share a few words about the reason for their journey. In doing so, they received the congregation’s blessing along with their greetings, hugs, and handouts.

“We felt God embrace us in that acceptance and hospitality,” says Br. Cerón-Becerra. “In that moment, we felt part of the community that sings of God’s deeds and preserves the memory of what God has done and continues to do to liberate God’s people. This trip leaves an indelible mark on us and will have lasting consequences in our future apostolates. We will be forever grateful for our experience in the Loyola community that allowed us to touch the United States’ sacred soil, marked by both violence and exploitation, as well as by the love of the one who turns the other cheek and the one who prays for the aggressor, with a vision of universal friendship.”

(L-R): Rev. Miguel Cerón-Becerra, S.J., Raj Kumar, S.J., Benedict Lumu, B.S.C.L. & Samir Talati, S.J.

As another unexpected sign of both interculturality and community during the trip, the group found comfort in the South Asian curries, biryanis, and tandooris of the many motels, gas stations, and restaurants operated by Indian immigrants that nourished their strength throughout the trip.

Br. Cerón-Becerra says that the journey has given them an unshakeable calling to share their experiences during their remaining time in Chicago, and when they return to their home countries and provinces. They found that three fundamental elements of the civil rights movement–Scripture, church building, and nonviolence—provide essential criteria for addressing society’s great injustices including mass incarceration, forced migration, and threats to the survival of indigenous peoples and the environment.

Through the group’s remarkable trip, an everyday reality of life at Loyola is revealed. As transformative experiences bear spiritual fruit to the University’s Jesuits, they in turn multiply that harvest for our community by taking it back to their classrooms, offices, and ministries as leaders and participants in a greater work. They plant countless seeds that flower into exceptional scholarship and service and, in doing so, continue to make Loyola one of the foremost centers of formation in the world—not only for its lay students, faculty, and staff but for the Jesuits who themselves are formed here.

By Matthew McDermott, Associate Director of External Communications, Loyola University Chicago. All photos courtesy of Loyola University Chicago.