In a letter dated 29 May 2020, the Provincial of the former Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus announced his decision to close the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, effective August 2021. You may read the Provincial’s letter, accompanying FAQs, and Br. Derby’s letter of response here.
While we are sorrowful at the decision, we are focused on the remaining time of ministry here in Wernersville. The Jesuit Center will continue to offer retreats and other programs for spiritual renewal, and to host groups, through August 2021. You can see our 2021 program calendar here.
At that time the building was going to be called the St. Stanislaus Novitiate, because St. Stanislaus is the patron Saint of novices. However, Nicholas and Genevieve Brady were well aware that the beatification had begun for Isaac Jogues in 1880, and at their request the name was changed to the Novitiate of Blessed Isaac Jogues, to honor one of the North American martyrs slain in New York in 1646. The Canonization Ceremony for the new Saints occurred June 29, 1930, which coincided with the opening of the Novitiate when “Blessed” was changed to “Saint.” The Novitiate was completed in May of 1930. Sadly enough, Mr. Brady never lived to see the results of his wonderful generosity. He died on March 27, 1929 in New York. When the house was completed in May, his body was transferred from New York and Mr. Brady was buried in the Crypt under the altar. On May 31st, Cardinal Dennis Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia, laid the cornerstone and blessed the new building. The first community of scholastics arrived on June 2, 1930 and the Novitiate was well on its way to fulfilling its intended purpose.
The facility operated as the Novitiate until changes in Catholicism in the mid-1960’s were felt around the world and this was true for the Novitiate in Wernersville and for whatever reason, enrollment at St. Isaac Jogues dwindled. The Juniorate was closed in 1966 and the upper level scholastics were sent to other houses in the province for their junior year of studies or to college and graduate courses and the Novices would continue at St. Isaac Jogues.
Because of the low census, there was talk of closing and selling the Novitiate building. The Provincial called a meeting to decide what to do with the Wernersville house. At that meeting, George Schemel, S.J. asked for permission to use the facility for two years to start a spiritual center. Permission was granted, and while Novices continued their training and formation in the East Wing, the newly formed Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth turned toward those who espoused the principles of Vatican II. Religious and laity, men and women came for spiritual direction. The main thrust was discernment and directed Spiritual Exercises, all based on the work of St. Ignatius Loyola. The retreats were and are still geared toward helping people grow spiritually and to help clarify their direction in life, and to free the person to make good, elective decisions in their life.
The Novitiate program continued to operate in Wernersville for another twenty-seven years, and in1993 it was relocated to Syracuse, New York where Novices are still admitted. But the doors to the Jesuit building were not closed. The doors, cloister gates in the halls, and the gate at Church Road, always a symbolic boundary, were opened. All these were opened to ecumenical groups who sent their church councils for retreats, opened to those of all denominations, looking for spiritual instruction. And most amazing of all, the doors were opened to women.
History of the Novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues
About Us | History
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