Jesuits seek new ground to help disadvantaged youth in NYC

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Wednesday 03, August 2011 | Category:   Clergy

In the 1960s on New York City’s Lower East Side, Father Walter Janer, S.J., a Puerto Rican-born Jesuit, started what would become the Nativity Mission School by setting up study halls and recreational activities for local youth as well as opening a summer camp in upstate New York. “We saw how much they had changed over the summer,” said Father Jack Podsiadlo, S.J. current president, of the young people who came through the door. “The idea was to see how many of our kids we could prepare for admission to Jesuit high schools.”

After formally opening in 1971, Nativity Mission Center and its middle school relied on priests, volunteers, and young teachers and welcomed young people whose parents could not afford parochial school tuition. Teachers were always there throughout the school day and during evening study hall. Since then Nativity has sent scores of young men to New York Jesuit high schools like Fordham Prep, Regis, and Xavier.

THE LOWER EAST SIDE at Delancey St. and the Bowery.
The Lower East Side, however, once home to legions of Jewish, Italian, and later Puerto Rican immigrants, has become on the city’s hottest boutique neighborhoods. Rapid gentrification, which forced many of the area’s lower-income Latino families to move out, coupled with a slow-down in donations from many of the center’s Wall Street benefactors, led Nativity’s board to vote to relocate.

That decision sent Father Podsiadlo, in the spirit of generations of Jesuit missionaries, on a journey to find an area of New York that the center could better serve, like the South Bronx and Brooklyn, where it plans to relocate in 2012. “We serve the poor,” said Father Podsiadlo, who has worked at the Lower East Side school since 1973. “If they’re not here, then we’ll move to where they are.”

Read the full New York Times article.

Editor’s note: With World Youth Day beginning shortly in Madrid, remember to check out the article on “Pilgrimage: The adventure of walking with God,” which mentions Father Podsiadlo and his walk of Spain’s historic Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route, in the upcoming 2012 issue of the VISION Catholic Religious Vocation Discernment Guide, available now in print and soon in a digital edition on this site.

The Jesuits are on VISION.

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