While I was an undergrad at Fordham, I often was invited to dinner with the Jesuit Scholastics (and others who were in formation for ministry) at Ciszek Hall a quiet respite just off of the Fordham campus in the Little Italy Section of the Bronx, better known as Arthur Avenue to most. Those evenings enabled me to form many great friendships amongst many great Jesuits. And the Jesuit who ran the house was one of them. His name was Fr. Gerald J. Chojancki, SJ but we all knew him by his preferred monicker of “Jeff.” Jeff died Tuesday suddenly and I was saddened to hear of his death at the relatively young age of 69.
Fr. Jeff always had great homilies and often accompanied us undergrads on retreats. He was a tireless spiritual director to many and a friend to any who reached out to him.
On one of my many visits to Ciszek, I was sitting at dinner with Jeff and my dear friend, now Fr. Tom Benz, S.J. We were talking about a bunch of things and Jeff seemed a bit tired after a long day of administrative tasks. I was excited about my new internship at WFAN radio and Jeff was interested in some of the cast of characters I was working with, in particular Don Imus. Another Jesuit whose name escapes me at the moment, sat down and had a pensive look on his face. Jeff looked at him and said, “Hey, what’re you thinking about?”
The young scholastic sighed and said “Aristotle!”
Without missing a beat, Jeff quipped, “Oh the hell with that. Hayes, tell us more about Imus!”
Everyone laughed and later I found Jeff with his hand on the young Jesuits shoulder. “Hey, hope Aristotle isn’t a big problem. I was just tired and couldn’t deal with any more Philosophy questions.”
They took their dessert into another room and talked until I left hours later.
Jeff eventually became the Provincial of the New York Province and he dealt with a lot of serious issues. He dealt with the sexual abuse crisis and the merging of the Provinces of the East coast. The Jesuit Collaborative that exists today is largely a result of his leadership. The Collaborative looks for ways to share the Spiritual Exercises with others in new ways and I know that was a high priority for Jeff throughout his life. He taught me much about the exercises in our short time together at Fordham. He was brave enough to stand up for many gay priests who were shamed when many called them unfit for ministry, his support for all Jesuits was unwavering, no matter who they were.
Mostly, I remember his big smile and his welcoming nature. He’d always be the first one to greet us at Ciszek and was often the last one to say goodbye to us, talking often into the wee hours of the morning. His sense of humor was always something that drew people to him and I’ll remember laughing often with him around campus.
Rest in peace, Jeff. May the angels welcome you into paradise where St. Ignatius and the Risen Jesus will greet you with the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
And they will welcome you as you did for so many others.
More info on Fr. Chojnacki’s funeral arrangements can be found here.