By Grace Rice
The notion of Jesuits as “companions” dates back to the earliest days of the Society of Jesus, when St. Ignatius of Loyola and his circle of friends came to see themselves as each other’s companions, as well as companions of Jesus.
“We are companions to the companions of Jesus,” Pat Gillick says, describing his work at the St. Camillus senior Jesuit community. Gillick works alongside his old friend, Pete Donegan. As former Jesuits themselves (pictured with their former classmates in this magazine’s table of contents), they can connect with the Jesuits at St. Camillus in a way that the typical lay person might not be able to. Donegan and Gillick’s work varies from day to day, from excursions to Milwaukee to helping the men cook their own meals, to hearing the Jesuits relay stories of their years in the Society.
The job is rooted in occupying the Jesuits’ days meaningfully, which can be a challenging task after the colorful lives these men have lived. Gillick says, “It’s a privilege to be a companion to great men who are coming to the end of their days and letting go.”
For other Jesuits, slowing down at St. Camillus can mean having the time to learn new skills, specifically drawing and painting. Janet Merkel, mother of Creighton University’s Fr. Thomas Merkel, SJ, has been teaching art classes to the Jesuits at St. Camillus for 14 years now. The endeavor began somewhat serendipitously. A Jesuit happened to be admiring a painting done by Janet Merkel’s mother one day. Merkel explains, “He said to me ‘This is a really lovely painting. I’d always wanted to learn how to draw, but I never had the time or the opportunity.’ I said ‘Really? I think I could teach you.’ And that is how it began.”
Merkel’s students start off with the basics: drawing with graphite. From there, they can move onto watercolor pencils and eventually, watercolor and acrylic paints. Different Jesuits have different skill levels, and she tailors her course to each individual. Although Merkel had taught classes to seniors before, she finds that there is something different about her time with the Jesuits. “It started off simply as teaching, but it became a mission. I like to see people be happy drawing. I think that the art has a lot of reflection in it and time for the creativity of God to be explored,” she says.