Observer

June 4: Father John Coleman’s 50th.

“To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Corinthians 12:12-13.

On Sunday I joined Father John A. Coleman, S.J. for a celebration of his 50th anniversary of ordination at Saint Ignatius Parish, on the campus of the University of San Francisco.

His family, friends and fellow Jesuits filled this historic church on Fulton Street, among the largest in the city – with music and the festive spirit of a parish, so thankful for John’s years of priestly service.

On Pentecost, we listen attentively to St. Paul who in the second reading tells how the rich gifts of the Spirit become works of service. To my mind, these must be our most joyful works and reflective of the deepest commitment to Christ and to people.

In the case of John Coleman, his extraordinary spiritual and intellectual gifts have translated into fruitful years of university teaching, scholarship, writing, and preaching. Reason enough, to join him for this celebration, and for the simple joy of knowing him.

I met John in July of 1990 when I took his course on the sociology of religion at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana. That year I had received a fellowship to the Kennedy School at Harvard, and I recognized that the scholarly project awaiting me in Cambridge required more preparation in the social sciences.

John Coleman’s scholarly reputation at Cal Berkeley and at the Jesuit School of Theology was a vitally important factor in a paper of mine on the Church, the press, and Catholic leadership on the issue of abortion. A year later, as an editor of Concilium, the international journal of Catholic thought, John published my findings from the Harvard study. Over the years, when I needed an endorsement, John has provided me with the most effective letters of recommendation.

To this day, I still have John’s class notes on Max Weber’s ideas about the administrative state, and how organizations like the Church can turn inward and become an “iron cage” whereby creativity and expression are stifled, and often replaced with rules and higher degrees of regulation.

John has published widely and has held important academic posts, and for many years was the Casassa Professor of Social Values, at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.

Most of all, he is a thoughtful and authoritative voice on the weighty issues facing the Church and the nation. On March 13, 2013, the day of Pope Francis’s election, John was among the very first people I contacted; and the next day we were guests on the radio for the KQED Forum with Michael Krasny. We were then and remain fascinated with the idea of a Jesuit pope, the first ever!

Frankly, if I have an unresolved or uncooked idea about a political or social issue, I consult John Coleman’s blog. See below.

http://stignatiussf.org/fr-colemans-blog

And better, over dinner or lunch, he’s a companion and conversationalist, and as interested in your opinion, as a check on his own. I cannot think of another person more supportive of the Catholic intellectual life, and how it might flourish in this new era under Pope Francis.

In his homily on Pentecost Sunday, John reviewed key moments of priestly ministry, thankful to his parents, family, friends and most especially the Jesuit communities of which he played a vital part.

Even “good days and bad days” and in the “ups and downs” of fifty years of ministry and teaching, God’s grace of peace and forgiveness are manifest.

John asked: “What does it take to be a good priest?” To him, it was the rich sense of connection in which the many gifts of ours are used to strengthen and give direction to our work. So in this, there is a profound peace.

John concluded, “I’m not over the hill, but in the ‘Back 9.’” And then he went on to quote a line from Daniel Berrigan, “We serve a mystery, and we all serve it badly.” Indeed!

At the end of the Mass, Father Greg Bonfiglio, the pastor of Saint Ignatius, on behalf of those present, thanked John for his six years of service to the parish as an associate pastor.

Greg mentioned that in St. Ignatius’s journals, one notices how the handwritten pages were often smeared from the saint’s tears, as he recounted his own stories of founding the Society of Jesus.

So too, with tears in our eyes, we tell stories of John Coleman’s priestly service and know that God is close, holy and sacred as we have witnessed this priest’s sincere attempt to follow Jesus in his life and work.

 

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