Hospitality and Service

teen tutor works with elementary student / SDI Productions/E+/Getty Images

Editor’s note: Throughout July, we’re hosting 31 Days with St. Ignatiusa month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, posts on dotMagis this month will explore the theme of “people for others.” This month marks the 50th anniversary of Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s famous address in which he challenged Jesuit school alumni to form what we now embrace as “people for others.”

I teach in a service-learning course, in which my Jesuit university students regularly engage in weekly service at non-profit agencies in the surrounding community. Some of them tutor students; others might serve people who are unhoused or in recovery programs from addiction. All of them stay with the same agency to deepen their skills and connection to the community. Then, after a full year of service, when summer arrives and students return to their home states, they have a chance to reflect on what they have experienced.

I often have my students read an essay entitled “Jesuit Hospitality?” by my colleague James Keenan, SJ. In it, he explains that unlike other religious orders where a person might vow to remain in the same community for a lifetime, the Society of Jesus is an apostolic order. Jesuits might stay in one place for several years and then move on to another. Stability is not central; rather, one goes anywhere in the world where there is need and hopes to serve other souls. Keenan notes that for monks in a stable community, a key dimension of welcoming Christ in the stranger is seeing Christ in the visitor or guest. For a more apostolic order, though, it means finding Christ in a community that one serves by going out to them. Keenan says that the model for Jesuit hospitality is not the monastery but more like the refugee camp, that is, a place where people are “on the borders.”

My students are not Jesuits, and their service does not currently include work at any refugee camps, but I ask them whether these ideas apply to them as people who go out to serve in the city and not home on campus. I ask how service would have looked different if instead of taking the subway to an after-school program, they had simply tutored that same person on campus. Students almost universally say that while the experience would be valuable, it would not be as deep as going forth into the community. One student, for example, observed that he would not have gotten to understand the wider context of the children’s lives without seeing the physical space of the school in which his students went to classes. Another student shared that she felt that while she offered care at an after-school sports program, she was also a recipient of hospitality. She thought that she would not have experienced that sense of being the welcomed guest if she had not headed downtown on the subway to be part of another’s community, where she encountered God’s presence.

Letting ourselves receive hospitality, as much as give it, is a way to encounter Christ in others.

Her experience resonates with me. When I serve at a local prison, I am often warmly greeted by men who are incarcerated but who exercise tremendous hospitality, by making and serving coffee for guests, for example. They offer warm smiles and handshakes even to those first-time volunteers, who can be quite nervous and whose hearts they try to set at rest. Letting ourselves receive hospitality, as much as give it, is a way to encounter Christ in others.

Fr. Keenan ends his essay by challenging universities to take up the model of Jesuit hospitality by considering how this apostolic approach can be applied in the university setting. Who is marginalized right here? Who needs that accompaniment and community they may currently lack?

I also ask my students to consider how that spirit of Ignatian accompaniment that they felt in the context of a service-learning class can inform how they act with others in our immediate community, who might be at the edges of the circle of community. Who is left out on a college campus or back home when they return to their home parishes or communities for the summer?

All of us, not only teachers and students, can prayerfully reflect on these insights of an Ignatian approach to service. We are invited to go and be with others who are not already in our own families and comfortable communities and to form new connections. At the same time, even close to home we might find that there are those at the margins who need to be welcomed and cared for: that man at the office to whom no one ever talks or the elderly poor woman in need of food and friendship in our own neighborhood. We are invited to find Christ not only in the face of the stranger but also in the hospitality that the stranger extends to us.

Margaret Silf explains The Difference Between Consolation and Feeling Good in today’s featured article for 31 Days with St. Ignatius. Use the hashtag #31DayswithIgnatius on your favorite social media to share a new insight you’ve had this month of celebrating Ignatian spirituality.


  1. Thanks Marina. Hospitality and service, giving and receiving are meaningful ways of worldbuilding from below.

  2. Marina,
    I have a vivid 1967 memory of an old woman in a tiny hut in tiny hamlet in Viet Nam asking me to squat by her fire pit, in her dirt floor, to dine on a snow ball sized rice ball she had cooked for me as I visited her hamlet. I was an Army advisor serving with the Vietnamese local forces. She waved her arms, smiled broadly, and asked to serve me. Her hospitality and generosity were powerful, genuine, and unforgettable.
    Thank you for reminding me of her. I do not think of her often enough.
    Please continue your most important work helping students understand and experience the life-giving joy of serving others in need. So often, we receive more than we give.

  3. Wonderful essay Ms. McCoy; thank you. Your making a distinction between settled monastics and travelling Jesuits hadn’t really occurred to me before. It helps clarify things! “Going out and being welcomed” is different from “staying home and welcoming” in both subtle and profound ways.
    The monks at the Benedictine monastery I worship at once discussed a Jesuit practice (I hope I’m recalling this right!) where a novitiate would hitchhike across the U.S. with no money in order to arrive at his new training center on the opposite coast. That’s a very good exercise!


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