Fr. Hernán Paredes, SJ
A Reflection on Switching Ministries
Fr. Hernan Paredes, SJ recently finished his first year teaching religion at the Loyola School in Manhattan. Below is his reflection on written toward the end of the school year.
If I have to give an account of my Jesuit life in the last few years, that will be a story of switching ministries. After seven years of parish ministry in the New York Metropolitan area, Fr. David Ciancimino, S.J., the New York Provincial, asked me to teach at Loyola High School in Manhattan.
I was very comfortable with my pastoral ministry at two Jesuit parishes, one in Long Island and another in Staten Island, but I have to confess that my vocation within the Jesuit vocation, has been teaching high school kids. So, coming back to teaching was nothing new since I began teaching almost twenty years ago back in my native Ecuador.
However, coming to Loyola had some challenges. First, I had to move to another island, this time, Manhattan. Second, I was to replace a loving Jesuit teacher who devoted to Loyola his last 23 years of ministry. Third, it was my first time to teach in a coed school. Fourth, I had to leave my parishioners with whom I was so pleased to live. For sure, this experience at Loyola has been not possible without the care and concern of the Jesuit Community at 83rd Street where I live and pray with twenty-eight other Jesuits.
Now, after the third quarter is over, I can say that coming back to teach has been a blessing. I am working in a very loving environment. The Loyola faculty, administrators and students are committed to Ignatian spirituality. It has been such a nice discovery that faculty and students are familiar with the Spiritual Exercises, the Examen and Jesuit saints. It encourages me to teach students who are open to growth and academically excellent. I try to remind them in every class that we live in a world of grace and that it is their obligation to fight for justice. The school size (about 200) and the size of every class is a plus that makes teaching at Loyola feel like home. As in every home every student, male and female, experiences the support of the school community. I find easy to engage them in class participation. It is amazing to see that boys and girls do not compete but help each other in their common task to make Loyola their second home.
I teach three different subjects: New Testament to juniors, World Religions, and a class on Prayer to seniors. Every day is a new experience since the students at Loyola are eager to learn about Jesus and about our Christian faith. To be the only Hispanic male on the faculty, as well as a Jesuit priest, has some advantages when I teach any subject. I encourage my students to open their eyes and see that a different world is possible. I am impressed to see that very often my students relate their experiences to the social teaching of our Catholic faith. Students and faculty alike know the work of former Jesuit General, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the Jesuits martyrs of El Salvador, and the life and struggle for peace of Msgr. Oscar Romero from San Salvador. Furthermore, Loyola encourages and promotes service to the poor and needy, not only in Manhattan but in Camden, NJ, in poor areas of Kentucky, and even in Belize. To be a teacher at Loyola is to be part of an extended Ignatian family around the world.
I see myself as a priest when I teach, and as a teacher when I preach. Loyola High School gives me this wonderful opportunity. Every class comes with a challenge and I just try to be faithful to God and to every student when I teach how to pray, or when I learn from my students and their joyful experiences of serving the poor. I learn from them when I am helping in a retreat or when they share their faith. I see that my past experiences in the two Jesuit parishes, one with middle class and another with poor emigrants, have been handing at the moment of teaching to these upper class students. That’s the way Jesuit availability has to be. A Jesuit has to be able to engage in any ministry moving from serving old folks to young ones, from the poor to the upper class, and in so doing fulfill the will of God.
Finally, I am especially happy teaching at Loyola ever since I got the course evaluation two weeks ago from the Students and Headmaster. One of the students wrote: “Fr. Paredes is an effective teacher and the material, discussions, and videos that he shows us are educational. I’m glad we’re being taught by him”. Another said: “Fr. Paredes shows a true love for theology and understanding of teenagers that I have yet to witness anywhere else—faculty and clergy included”. So, I give thanks to God, to the New York Jesuits and to my students for teaching at Loyola School in Manhattan.