A.J. Rizzo, SJ
Only a few days after he pronounced his first vows, A.J. Rizzo, SJ, was moving into his new home in Ciszek Hall at Fordham University where he will begin First Studies, two years of graduate level philosophy. He still had to register for classes, buy his books and do all the things a student does to get ready for a new semester. But already, he was feeling prepared.
“The novitiate, the first two years, have prepared me well for this next step,” he said.
After all the new experiences of these past two years, he’s learned how to adjust, how to feel a little less nervous at new places and new people. He knows, he said, “God is faithful.” “I have met people who have made my life as a Jesuit beautiful and full of joy and I have faith that
will happen again.”
Mr. Rizzo, a Philadelphia native, spent three years at Loyola Blakefield, a boys preparatory school in suburban Baltimore, before entering the Society of Jesus. At Loyola, he spent a year as assistant to the school’s chaplain, Joseph Michini, SJ, followed by two years as Loyola’s director of Christian service. A graduate of St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia and the University of Scranton, he has gotten to know Jesuits since he took a summer program at the Prep before his eighth grade year. Each experience brought him closer to entering the order. “I first thought about it while I was in high school,” Mr. Rizzo said, remembering “Jesuits at the Prep were real role models for me.” After working along side Jesuits after college graduation — one year volunteering at the Prep and then three years at Loyola — he “fell in love with the work that the Jesuits do.”
And something more, too. Ignatian spirituality drew him into a closer relationship with God and with the world. Mr. Rizzo was attracted to the way Jesuits pray and how they see the world. “It spoke to who I am and who I want to be,” he said.
The last two years have been full ones. While studying at the novitiate in Syracuse, Mr. Rizzo has
worked in schools, hospitals and in another country. He spent the spring semester in campus ministry at Georgetown University. Last fall, he visited patients and distributed communion in a hospital. The previous spring, he worked at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, where all first year novices spend time working with terminally-ill patients. Five novices provided physical care for patients as nurses aides.
The first semester after his entrance into the Society, he taught English and religion in a grade school in Syracuse — and spent the last hour of each school day helping the first graders get their things together to go home. Every novice makes the 30-day silent retreat, the Spiritual Exercises, and then spends two months in an international apostolic work.
Mr. Rizzo went to Belize. He went, he said, “all charged and excited to live out the Ignatian spirituality.” Most of the time was spent in the Jesuit schools and parishes of Belize City where he worked with people of the parishes and little kids of the schools, “meeting God in the people that God sent my way every day.”
But the highlight was a visit to Mayan villages in Punta Gorda with a classmate. They lived with families, getting to know them, praying with them. “They took wonderful care of us,” he said, profoundly moved by their lack of materialism and the richness of their love. “It was beautiful to be part of that,” he said.
At First Vows, pronounced Aug. 16 in Syracuse, Mr. Rizzo was surrounded by his family — he’s the second oldest of six children — and many of the people from the apostolates where he served. “All my parents and my family want is for me to be happy,” he said, noting the support they’ve given him since he decided to become a Jesuit. At First Vows, they saw how happy Mr. Rizzo is. While at Fordham, Mr. Rizzo will serve as Jesuit liaison for a Jesuit Volunteers community in Harlem and he hopes for another apostolate in the Bronx.