Spring Hill College Magazine
By Lindsay Mott ’07
On Sept. 2, 2017, Rev. Christopher Viscardi, SJ, celebrated 50 years as a member of the Society of Jesus. The official Jubilee Mass was held on May 20 in New Orleans with four of his classmates who entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, in 1967. He came to Spring Hill College almost 40 years ago and has become a cornerstone of the Theology Department, ministering to students and the Mobile community alike.
Viscardi’s journey as a Jesuit began in 1967 when he graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a liberal arts degree. He had been considering a vocation with a religious order but did not feel called to be a parish priest.
“What I liked about the Jesuits was the variety – there were Jesuits in astronomy and in sociology and in law and different things, and they were all around the world,” he said.
By the end of the first year of his two-year novitiate, he knew he had made the right choice. After taking his vows, he spent time studying and teaching in St. Louis and New Orleans before heading to Rome to complete doctoral work in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
He then received his first, and what he called his lifetime, assignment: Spring Hill College. He came to The Hill in December 1978 and began teaching the next month. He thought he would be at Spring Hill for only a few years, but now it has been close to 40. He said this is somewhat unusual for a Jesuit assignment, but not uncommon for a Jesuit working in higher education.
Since then, his main focus has been on teaching Theology. He earned tenure and became Division Chair for Philosophy and Theology and Department Chair for Theology. He currently serves on the Spring Hill College Board of Trustees and has done so for many terms.
In 1983, he began ministering regularly to Hispanic immigrants, which became a secondary, but equally important, ministry to his role at Spring Hill. He no longer serves as the Archdiocesan Director of the Hispanic Ministry, but continues his weekly involvement in Spanish Masses and pastoral work.
After almost 40 years on The Hill, Viscardi has gotten to the point where he is teaching, and even performing marriages for, children of former students. “Staying connected with people at different points has been very rewarding and enriching and had a big impact on my own life as well,” he said.
When joining the Jesuits 50 years ago, Viscardi was not sure where it would lead. “I did not have sort of the dream of becoming a teacher. I liked the Jesuit vision and the Jesuit mission, and, however that worked out, I just kind of left that in the hands of God.” His path may have been different than he expected, but he said, if given the choice, he would definitely take it again.
Q&A with Rev. Christopher Viscardi, SJ
Q: What has been your greatest personal takeaway from the Jesuit lifestyle?
A: A big personal takeaway is seeing much more clearly how each one of us, including myself, is just part of a bigger whole, and part of all humanity. We are deeply connected to one another, and that is part of God’s plan. We’re one part of a larger picture, and there’s so much more going on, both within ourselves and outside of ourselves, than we realize. Coming to recognize that and appreciate that is a great blessing. And just the mystery and the wonder of being human and being a person, and that we’re really a part of something much, much greater than just ourselves.
Q: What do you see as the greatest impact or legacy of the Jesuits?
A: Pope Benedict said that the mission of the Jesuits is to be on the frontiers and to connect the Church to the world and the world to the Church. That kind of openness, while also being firmly rooted in tradition, I think that’s what the Jesuits have offered for almost 500 years now: that sense of bringing Christian faith into a real connection with the modern world, that openness to finding God in all things, and to discernment, that Christianity is bigger than just the rules and laws and the different teachings. It’s something much bigger than that, and there’s this whole mission to the transformation of the world in the values of Christ.
Q: What is the most important idea or lesson you try to impart to your students?
A: In general, I would say a couple of things. One is to move beyond black and white thinking — it’s either this or that — to recognizing the complexity of the world and the limitations of the human mind. And then, moving beyond that into this greater complexity is one of the major challenges of a good education. Then the second thing, another way of saying this maybe, is recognizing the mystery of life and of ourselves — that life, the world and each one of us is a mystery in God and that the mystery of God surrounds us all in ways we can never completely understand or explain but that can give us a great sense of security or a sense of confidence and hope in the future and in the present, so we don’t always live in a kind of anxiety about what’s going to happen next.
Q: Anything else to add?
A: There are several particular individuals or movements in recent history and past history that stand out that give a kind of a model and inspiration to the rest of us as Jesuits and help open our minds and our horizons. And that’s been one of the benefits for me during 50 years as a Jesuit, being part of that whole family, in which particular thinkers or activists help open up new perspectives and new ways of thinking and generate a certain kind of inspiration.