by Fr. John Welch, O.Carm.
The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) is an unlikely place for a pilgrimage. But recently I went there to visit the grave of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. The location formerly had been the novitiate for the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, on the Hudson River in Hyde Park, New York. The cooking school bought the location and maintains the graves of hundreds of Jesuits, among them Chardin's.
It was a pilgrimage for me. When I was finishing theology studies and preparing to be ordained, I was looking for something inspirational about the priesthood. I came across an article by Teilhard de Chardin. This Jesuit priest was a paleontologist and geologist who, among other explorations, spent years in China studying geology, the natural world, and prehistoric human life.
The article, written about 1924, was titled "Mass on the World." On the steppes of Asia, Chardin found himself without bread, or wine or an altar. He prayed to the Lord,
"I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and suffering of the world. ... all the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die; all of them Lord, I try to gather into my arms so as to hold them out to you in offering."
(Mass on the World)
Teilhard described a dynamic world. The world is not simply a static stage on which human beings play their parts. The world, under the presence of God's Spirit, is evolving and being brought to completion. Chardin referred to the risen Christ as the Omega Point, the culmination of all creation. This vision of a dynamic world participating in the salvation of Jesus Christ was energizing and freeing for me. Teilhard formed his views over a lifetime of fieldwork and research. His early work in paleontology had been interrupted in 1914 when he was mobilized to serve in the French army. He served as a stretcherbearer in many of the fiercest battles of World War I and was decorated for his bravery, including being awarded the Legion of Honor.
In his lifetime, Chardin's views were controversial. He challenged the literal interpretation of Genesis. He proposed a theory of evolution, which called for a reinterpretation of creation, human origins, and original sin. In conflict with Church teaching at the time, Chardin was forbidden by his superiors to lecture or publish in the area of theology.
In 1951, Chardin was offered a research position with the Wenner-Gren Foundation in New York. With permission of his superiors, he decided to settle in New York, living with Jesuits in St. Ignatius Church on Park Avenue. Teilhard de Chardin died on Easter Sunday, 1955, and was buried 60 miles upstate on the grounds of the Jesuit novitiate, St. Andrew-on-the Hudson.
Since his death, Chardin's earth-affirming teaching has grown in acceptance. His influence is seen in Vatican II's pastoral document, "The Church in the Modern World."
||Fr. John Welch, O.Carm.|
In summer school, I met a Jesuit who said, when he was in the novitiate, he and another novice were ordered to go out and dig a grave for a recently deceased Jesuit. Later, he learned it was for Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Jesuit graves are now maintained by the Culinary Institute of America. Somehow, it is fitting that Chardin's grave is on the grounds of a cooking school. If you make a pilgrimage there, just go to security, and they'll give you the keys to the cemetery.