A Timeless Tradition Reborn: Corpus Christi Procession Led by Sodality
On a sunny afternoon in the heart of New Orleans, the streets were awash with a sea of faithful. The bell of the Holy Name Church tolled at 4 p.m. on June 10, marking the beginning of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. This moment represented more than just a passive observance of an ancient feast; it was an extraordinary demonstration of faith, community, and tradition led, in part, by the students of Jesuit High School’s Sodality.
For many years, Eucharistic processions on Corpus Christi had been absent from Uptown New Orleans. However, this year marked a renaissance of this time-honored tradition, thanks to the initiative of the Sodality Congress Executive Committee.
“With the Congress being held on the day of Corpus Christi, we thought that it would be a wonderful devotion to have a Eucharistic procession, which is the traditional practice for that Solemnity,” said Fr. Joseph Hill, S.J., a key player in planning this event.
The “Congress” to which Fr. Hill referred was the National Sodality Congress 2023, and the event included a congregation of Sodalities from across the Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus. Among the 78 registered participants, the Sodalists from Jesuit High School, New Orleans, were entrusted with leading the procession, an honor signifying their commitment to fostering a spirit of service and dedication to the Church.
Under the guidance of Fr. Jon Polce, S.J., and with sonorous melodies provided by Jeff Miraflor, S.J., the young Sodalists led the procession from Holy Name Church to the shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succour.
The Uptown procession, while bearing a distinctly New Orleans character, mirrored an annual Vatican tradition in which the Pope processes from St. John Lateran to St. Mary Major. Over the years, Sodalities have organized and led Eucharistic processions in many cities in Europe and Latin America.
The Sodality’s roots trace back to 1563 when the concept was pioneered by Belgian scholastic, Jan Leunis, S.J. The primary aim was to cultivate personal interior lives and apostolic activities among students. Sodalities sprung up throughout Jesuit institutions worldwide, fostering Catholic life through special exercises under an ecclesiastical superior.
Jesuit’s Sodality, carrying the torch of this long-standing tradition, demonstrated exceptional organization and leadership skills during the procession. Pride in their school and commitment to their faith were evident in their eyes and in their actions.
Fr. Hill expressed gratitude for the participants and acknowledged their efforts, saying, “We gather together to support one another in living a Christ-like life and in being formed for the mission of evangelization. Thank you for your presence here and for your witness to Christ as a Sodalist.”
The school’s Sodalists embodied what “men of faith” look like in the spiritual battleground of the modern world. Indeed, the procession was more than a mere revisiting of an old custom—it was a vibrant display of faith and tradition, values fundamental to the Jesuit High School community and the New Orleans Catholic community at large.
Speakers and Featured Contributors
The following featured speakers and guests were important contributors to the Congress, and Sodalists and attendees greatly benefited from their expertise and experience.
As a Sodalist himself, Cardinal Sean O’Malley engaged with the Sodality community through a video message that he prepared for participants. His leadership as Cardinal Archbishop of Boston and personal dedication from the ACU Sodality provided a significant boost to the morale and spirit of the event. His unique approach to connecting with the community, including maintaining a personal blog about his cardinal duties, sets a significant precedent for ecclesiastical interaction in the digital age.
The extensive experience of Fr. Joseph Hill, S.J., as a regional vocation promoter, teacher, retreat facilitator, and pilgrimage leader were vital in organizing the Sodality Congress. His previous roles as Sodality director at Jesuit High School, New Orleans, and his pivotal role in renewing the Sodality at St. Louis University High School demonstrated his deep commitment to the spiritual formation of the youth.
Jesuit Fr. Matthew Baugh’s intellectual rigor and knowledge, as the holder of the Philosophy & Letters Chair in Catholicism and Community at Saint Louis University, brought an essential academic perspective to the proceedings. His work as Director of the Catholic Studies Center and his writings on Catholic political thought greatly enriched the spiritual and intellectual atmosphere of the event.
The spiritual leadership of Fr. Jonathon Polce, S.J., was fundamental in guiding the participants during the procession. His experiences serving as the director of the Sodality in different locations, and his role as chaplain and theology teacher at Jesuit High School added depth and diversity to his guidance.
Jesuit President Fr. John Brown, S. J., gave the keynote address on cultivating a devotion to The Blessed Mother. As a former director of the Sodalities at the Jesuit high schools in both New Orleans and Tampa, Florida, Fr. Brown drew upon his experiences with these organizations to offer spiritual guidance and advice to attendees.
The academic pursuits of Fr. Sylvester Tan, S.J., specifically in studying the relationship between the living and the dead in Protestantism, offered a fascinating perspective. His ability to engage in dialogue between Catholic and Protestant understandings of the communion of saints made for a richer and more inclusive event.
The historical context provided by Fr. Michael Maher, S.J., a professor at Marquette University and an expert on the history of sodalities, was vital to understanding the broader narrative and significance of the event. His regular research at the Jesuit Historical Institute brought a robust historical background to the event.
Scholastic John Guerra, S.J. ’14, provided testimony based on his own experience as a member of the Sodality at Jesuit. His current and past work as a theology teacher, golf coach, and choir director showcased his multifaceted talents.
The perspectives of lay people such as Jay Williams, Bree Higginbotham, Alex Scalco ’14, Corey James ’13, Jackson Graham, William Cueto, David Fernandez, Stephanie Morris, and Erik Vieira added another layer of richness to the event. Their diverse professional backgrounds—from teaching theology to start-up operation, from corporate executive roles to professional artistry—highlighted the broad reach of Sodality and its impact in various walks of life.
Together, these speakers and contributors crafted a memorable event that symbolized the dynamic, richly textured fabric of the Sodality community.