Proud to have known you.
My apologies for this very personal note, but I wanted to take a few moments to communicate the ways in which God has been working in my life in recent times, and my response to God’s whisperings to me.
There is a moment in the musical Billy Elliot, when the young Billy shares a letter written to him from his late mother. She had intended him to open it and read it when he was 18, but as he tells his dance coach, “…I opened it a few years early.” The letter is sung (it is a musical, after all) and the lyrics are his mother’s words reassuring him from the grave that she loves him and wants him to grow up being true to himself. It is a message that fits well in a play about a working class boy who braves ridicule from family and friends when he decides he wants to learn ballet. The song always gets to me, especially these lines (in bold):
And please, Billy, know that I will always be
Proud to have known you
Proud that you were mine
Proud in everything
And you must promise me this, Billy
In everything you do
Always be yourself, Billy
And you always will be true
(watch it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=874mADUXGJw)
The expression of pride is not self-referent—‘I’m proud of what a son I have raised’; rather it is a deferent, reverent gratitude for being associated with a magnificent, unique being who happens to be her son. I get a lump in my throat when I hear the mother singing those lines, thinking about my own mother, and hoping I would have the same humility towards my children if I had been called to fatherhood.
I’ve been listening to that song quite a lot lately on my iPhone, iPad, iMac (am I too proud of my Apple patronage?). I’ve been listening to it, and frankly often tearing up, as I have been packing and transporting my life away from my association with Fairfield University, and my association with the churches of Staten Island. It is a bittersweet departure, but one which feels right at this time.
I arrived at Staten Island almost 30 years ago, right after I was ordained a Jesuit priest and was missioned to get a degree in Filmmaking at the Tisch School of the Arts in NYC. My good friend Michael Sepp, a young diocesan priest who was an associate pastor at St Rita’s Church on Bradley Ave on Staten Island, invited me (with the approval of his pastor Jack Reardon) to celebrate Mass on Sundays in the parish. The good people of the parish and its priests welcomed me and taught me a great deal about how to be a priest. They also put up with my sometimes unconventional celebration of the sacraments, as I searched for creative ways to communicate my experience of God’s presence in our everyday lives. I was blessed with many friendships there, and was invited into the homes and lives of many wonderful parishioners. I discovered new joy in liturgical music, especially through my friendship with the creative genius of Sandy Gargaloni, whose friendship extended way beyond her music. She introduced me to a children’s Mass, and I have loved celebrating that and trying to help our children see the Church and Jesus as fun and life-giving. After many years at St Rita’s, I moved with my friend Father Austin Titus as he assumed his first pastorship at Holy Family, and I was blessed to continue my Sunday Mass ministry there for the entire length of his tenure. And in these past two years, that privilege has continued under Fr Angelo Micciula at Holy Family, and Fr Tom Devery at Our Lady Star of the Sea. I really can’t adequately express my pride in and my gratitude for so many people in Staten Island. It has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.
I arrived at Fairfield 24 years ago, immediately after graduating with a degree in film production from NYU. I thought it was going to be a brief assignment as an adjunct professor pending my move into a full-time position in film/video production, probably in New York. Within a year I was asked to consider a tenure-track position, and when I protested that I wanted to make films, I was reassured that I could do that in the summers. That never happened, primarily because I spent all my time, energies and creativity in teaching, building an academic program, founding a student television studio, reinventing the Media Center, and directing and living in the Ignatian Residential College. I loved doing it all: teaching and mentoring students, working with staff and faculty, implementingJesuit pedagogy in all of my endeavors at the school. I remain very proud of my work, and very proud of my students.
It became clear to me about a year ago in my prayer and spiritual direction that it was time to finally end my ‘brief’ 24 year assignment at Fairfield, and I began a conversation with my Jesuit superiors about the next chapter. I very much felt called to finally get around to making those movies I had envisioned upon my graduation from NYU; I felt called to experience parish ministry not just on Sundays, but on a daily basis; and I very much wanted to do both in the place that has always been my lodestone and the home of my soul—New York City.
God made it happen—with the help of Fr Ed Weber, Fr Austin Titus, and my Jesuit superiors, and I have now moved my life and my ‘stuff’ to the Church of the Epiphany at 22nd and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. I have just spent my first few nights sleeping in my beloved city since I lived here as a boy, and it has been awesome! I begin my formal ministry at the church on September 1st, and hope to be able to continue my film work, especially with the ambitious project I call Cinapologue (www.cinapologue.com). I may even get to teach some film classes at the parish! With the kindness of Fr Micciula and Fr Austin, I hope to continue celebrating Mass on a special monthly basis at Holy Family Church as well.
As I end a major chapter in my life, I feel the need to sing the words of Billy Elliot’s mom to my friends, former students, colleagues, members of my religious community, and my brothers and sisters in Staten Island:
I will always be proud to have known you, proud in everything you are and in everything you do. And yes, proud that you were mine and I was yours when we walked together through our daily lives.
I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting me, for your gentle corrective suggestions, for your comforting friendship in the Lord, and for your love. I have no intention of losing you in my life, and I remain always ready to help you in any way I am able. I have always believed that the most important thing we can do with our lives is to help one another, and especially to be available with our love. I want you to know how proud of you I am, and how much I love you. And…and I can’t wait to see you again soon!
With great affection and gratitude,
I am your brother and your friend,
Jim Mayzik SJ