Jesuits Fr. Fred and Fr. Gerry share their Christmas traditions

A statue of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus greet those who visit Orton Hall, the home to the Jesuits.


A statue of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus greet those who visit Orton Hall, the home to the Jesuits.

A statue of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus greet those who visit Orton Hall, the home to the Jesuits. (Xavier Nazzal)

Fr. Fred Mayovsky,  S.J. and Fr. Gerry Chapdelaine, S.J. sit down for an interview with Lion Staff member Xavier Nazzal.

Fr. Fred: The tradition that me and Jesuits follow on Christmas [and/or] around Christmas, [is that] there are some families I go to visit and there are masses that we have in their homes for Christmas Mass, because I do not have a parish to which I am attached, but I defimundo want to celebrate Mass on Christmas, so I join these families. Sometimes there will be a gift exchange. Nothing big, nothing multi… whatever. So, that’s just me in, on, around Christmas.

As Jesuits we have a special dinner not necessarily on Christmas Day, because there’s some people who go to their families. Some of the guys like me have been doing this a long time, going to their families. Most of us are gone and most of us are here. You’re going to say wait. Most means over 50%. There are a lot of us that are here. There are a lot of us that are not here. Okay, so what we do is we have a Christmas dinner not necessarily on Christmas Day on the 23, the 22, something like that. We have a sort of gift exchange upstairs. We draw a name out of a hat. We don’t tell the person who we are, but we get them a gift. I think there is a price range, but I don’t know what it’s going to be this year. 500 dollars, no way. Maybe about 25 dollars. What is the gift? Something sensible that the person can use. One year I got a bunch of neck scarves made by my cousin in Colorado and I gave those out. We have a nice dinner. What will it be? I don’t know. I’m not the cook. We get together and we tell stories and we laugh and it’s family. We’re family up there. We really are family, it’s not just a bunch of people living together. It’s family. So, then back to that evening celebration. Then we’re just sitting around telling stories. We’ll say how did you do that and then for the people that are going out with their families, they go out to their families. How far away are their families? Yakima, Seattle, Portland, Tacoma.

I don’t have any particular favorite gifts. People give what they can. Amazon is a nice little gift. What do I give? I find out what the family needs. Sometimes I’ll find out what tools the husband needs, maybe it is something that the wife needs. Maybe it’ll be something that the husband and the wife needs. Little kiddies? Yeah, I used to make little wooden things and I have a bunch of wooden things upstairs that I made and there are no little kiddies around, because these little kiddies grew into teenagers, came to Bellarmine, now these kiddies are out and they’re married.

Lion Staff Interviewer: How was it saying Masses for parishes for Christmas?

Fr. Fred: Oh very well. I loved that. We would get together and really try to personalize it for the people. The people are really good. We wish each other Merry Christmas and so forth.

Lion Staff Interviewer: How was saying Christmas Mass in Zambia?

Fr. Fred: I was a priest out in Zambia. That was a very good experience. It’s good. It’s spiritual. The people have a lot of singing, they have what we call the dancing choirs. If you go to Zambia or Malawi [online] and check what their masses look like, they will be dancing, singing and bringing up the gifts. It’s a very happy occasion. Little kids are always running around. Here in the states, when people have kids, they say “Keep those kids quiet.” When I was in Zambia, I would be up there at the altar and I’d have all these kids around me and you’re going to want to make sure you’re not going to step on them. They squeak when you step on them. You can talk to the kids right there. You can talk to the adults. The language I was using there was primarily chibemba. Yes, I still speak some of it. And it was great. I was the pastor of two parishes. And it was good. People really loved to be there. Good faith in Africa. Really good faith.

Lion Staff Interviewer: For this Christmas, what are you looking forward to doing specifically?

Fr. Fred: I’ve got a couple feelers out if the priests want to take a break [for Christmas Eve Mass], but I’m gonna be with at least one family for Christmas Eve that I’ve done for the last 25, 30 years. Something like that. We have Mass at their place. They had kids, but they are grown, had their own kids, and those kids will be there for the Mass. So, we’ll have Mass there and some kind of dinner and gift exchange. And that’s what we do there. It’s a great experience. I consider them my family. In fact, I consider so many people around here my family.

The Christmas spirit is everywhere on campus. (Xavier Nazzal)

Fr. Gerry: Well, ordinarily I live in the Jesuit community. We usually have some special Christmas dinner where we exchange gifts. We have a drawing of names a couple weeks before Christmas. We share this at the Christmas meal. The other side of it [is that] most of our guys go out and help in parishes. Most people don’t know this, but priests are allowed to do three masses on Christmas or during the Christmas season. I’ve always done that. For part of it, every year I’ve done Mass at a convent for nuns — for 15-20 nuns. That is one Mass. I also say Mass for the families as well. Jesuits also spent time with their personal families as well. It’s a time of prayer, a time of deep gratitude, and a time of caring.

Lion Staff Interviewer: As a Jesuit priest, what do you think is your favorite Mass you have done in the past?

Fr. Gerry: I’ve never said Mass on Christmas for my immediate family, because I was never home on Christmas. I’ve always visited my family on Christmas Day, but I’ve never celebrated sacraments with them, at least for Christmas. It’s kind of interesting. You know there’s so many different memories for Christmas. But I’ve had some really memorable moments for some of the Christmases that I have celebrated, particularly with some of the retired sisters that I used to take care of. A lot of those poor nuns were handicapped and couldn’t do much and didn’t have much, but we always had a good time. There were quite a few good times that I had celebrating the Eucharist with beautiful people.

Lion Staff Interviewer: What are you planning on doing for this Christmas?

Fr. Gerry: This Christmas, I will say Mass. We will have our dinner for the Jesuits at the 22 of December. I’ll be saying Mass for several different families. One of the things that I might mention is that a lot of people like to do reconciliation at that time, so we’re really busy when you do the common reconciliation service. We do that here at school, too.

This concludes the interviews with Fr. Fred Mayovsky, S.J. and Fr. Gerry Chapdelaine, S.J. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!