Jim Facette is a Marianist Brother currently living in Dayton, Ohio. Born and raised in Milwaukee, he entered the Marianist order right after high school. Jim taught high school math and physics for 25 years, later moving into parish work, social justice coordination and university management support. An important part of his education was living and working twelve years among the poor in Peru. Jim graduated from the Sophia resident program in 2009, a transition year toward his next life step. Jim has recently stepped into the leadership role of the Brothers of Earth, together with Jim Conlon, John Surette and Maurice Lange.
Jim, how did a city boy like you discover Nature?
I see it as coming principally from my father’s side. My grandfather, on my father’s side, had been a logger up north in Superior, Wisconsin. My father grew up there in close proximity to wilderness. He often took me on hunting and fishing trips into the forests and on the streams and lakes of Wisconsin. As a child I had a number of fears of the natural world—what if I met a bear or other wild animal in the wild, fear of heights, strong winds, especially wild electrical, thunderclap storms. One time we were out in the middle of a large lake when a fierce storm came up. I knew nothing of the Story of the Apostles on Lake Gennesareth in a storm-tossed boat with Jesus, but like them, I prayed intensely as we were thrown about by the chaotic and thrashing waves, finally reaching shore, safely delivered from this force of Nature. I remember my Dad taking me out on the open porch of our house one time during a violent electrical thunderstorm. He enfolded me in his strong arms and helped me come through into the awesomeness of nature. I now love being in the wild, camping and hiking, climbing and just being in communion with this immense, utterly beautiful and fascinating world of nature, of Earth with all her diversity, complexity, and yes, adventure and danger.
Jim, you mentioned that it was later in life that the fragility of our planet really came home to you.
Actually it was the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 that really opened my eyes. I was teaching high school and the celebration of this day was part of the school curriculum. Through participating in Earth Day I became broadly aware of the environment, the deterioration of earth systems, pollution, recycling. Over time my ecological awareness and consciousness has grown, incorporating me ever more and more into the Deep Story of the Universe and Earth.
Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment that pulled people together all over the country, resulting in the creation of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts. What a gift to have been engaged at the very beginning of this rising national consciousness.
Yes. Yet the real turning point for me came even later in 1991 during a sabbatical at Loyola University New Orleans. Over the course of time, Thomas Berry gave three weekend courses at the university that awakened me to a whole new understanding of Earth. Things started to come together. I was thoroughly captured by the story of the long development of the Universe and the realization that human time has only been the last moments of Universe time. What a powerful and life changing story it is.
Before this 1991 Aha! Moment, your life took a significant turn from being the high school teacher. Tell us about this part of your journey.
I had volunteered to go to Peru where I spent the next 12 years. For the first year and a half, I once again found myself teaching at a high school, in the port town of Callao, just outside of Lima. Gratefully my students were patient with me, assisting me tremendously with my Spanish. The next eleven years were spent working in the industrial shanty town (Pueblo Joven) of Santa Rosa in Callao. I quickly grew to love this area and its people. Mostly I conducted parish work like preparation for the sacraments, youth programs, Spanish lessons for the indigenous of Peru. However, I also became active in the community consciousness-raising of social justice and environmental issues.
What specific kind of social justice issues did you work on in Peru?
This was a work of community organizing. My community worked in consciousness raising (concientizacion). Our focus was in solidarity with the workers and their families, participating with them in the struggle with working conditions, wages, housing and schooling for their children. As part of this we addressed the many debilitating social and environmental concerns severely affecting the Santa Rosa community such as air quality, home and street construction, clean water. Water had to be trucked in before a water storage system was built. All garbage and waste material was dumped into the local river and around its banks, creating a huge sanitation/health problem. The community came together to clean up the river and create a garbage collection system. It was a real privilege and education for me to live and work there. To this day the Peruvian people are very special to me and I remain in contact with them. I also came to love the land—coast, mountains and jungle.
Where did your journey next lead you?
After my 1991 sabbatical I continued to live and work in New Orleans for five more years. Thomas Berry’s teachings influenced all that I did. My focus was to get Thomas’ message of the sacredness of Earth and all her creatures across whenever and to whomever I could. My first assignment was at a parish, working with African-Americans and Hispanics. Later I took a job at the New Orleans archdiocese as the Hispanic coordinator. During this period I worked with the Peace, Justice and Earth commission within the Marianist congregation. In 1995 I moved to San Antonio, TX to work in a parish and with COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service of the Industrial Areas Foundation).
Just prior to entering the Sophia program, you lived in Hawaii. What did you do there?
For seven years I was on the administrative staff of Chaminade University of Honolulu that is run by the Marianists. My responsibilities included safety, emergency planning, recycling, chemical management, natural disaster management. During this time I participated in the hiking organizations, Sierra Club, Solemates, and the Trail and Mountain Club of Hawaii, hiking many of the most interesting and challenging trails I have every experienced.
Tell us a little about the Marianists.
The Marianists are a religious congregation of brothers and priests formed in the early 1900’s by Blessed William Joseph Chaminade. My order is active throughout the world and operates with a strong sense of equality and community. I chose to become a brother instead of a priest because my interest was to teach rather than work in the area of administration of the sacraments.
So, what drew you to the gateway of the Sophia program? And why did you choose the 9-month semester program? How did you like it?
I was looking for a way to pull things together in the areas of the environment, ecology and the new cosmology. Due to my time in life, I was able to take the nine-month program, to do the things that most interested and drew me. It was a terrific experience and I have maintained contact with many Sophia student friends.
Which classes or teachers hold special memories of your Sophia time? and why?
If I could, I would produce a poem with John Fox, sing with Jennifer Berezan and Carolyn McDade, dream with Barry Friedman and meditate with Tim Flinders and Judy Cannato.
Women of Enduring Grace: Carole Lee Flinders, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Kim Hermanson, Gail Worcelo, Kathleen Deignan, the above and below—enduring lives! Who could imagine what grace in bodily motion looks like—Michelle Dwyer. Mary Schmitt, dear teacher and dear friend—Field of Compassion.
Eric Weiss so challenged me to open my eyes and expand my vision, dig deep and discover worlds. Will Keepin and Drew Dellinger, poets, philosophers and visionaries. Terry Smith resurrected Thomas Merton. Story—your name is Masankho Banda and the beat of the drum.
Powers of the Universe and Story—Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. Jim Conlon—how did you pull it all together and sustain it, leading us all to be co-creators?
And I have never lived with such a diverse, creative and lovely community of people as my fellow students at Sophia! Dear friends all.
I am so grateful.
Has Sophia made a difference in your life? How have you influenced others with the Sophia philosophy?
Most definitely. It drew together the threads of my pre-Sophia studies and life experiences, creating a new platform from which I can operate. I am trying to influence my own congregation to respond to initiatives that include the integrity of creation in a more direct manner — really to widen the horizon of the community vision.
You have recently stepped up to the leadership role of the Brothers of Earth? Please tell me more about this group? Where do you want to take this group? What is your vision for the Brothers of Earth?
The Brothers of Earth is an inclusive Earth-based organization of men who come from a variety of different backgrounds. It started in 1997, co-founded by Jim Conlon and John Surette, with their first gathering held at the Genesis Farm Center of Ecology in New Jersey. As a group we convene every two years at selected locations around the country for a long weekend of discussion, presentations, contemplation and plans of action. Our intention is to draw more men into the group who share the life-embracing, cosmological vision of Thomas Berry.
The next scheduled gathering will be held June 7–10, 2012 here in Dayton at the Marianist retreat house, a beautiful facility surrounded with forest and prairie on an extensive area sculpted by the last glacial age some 10,000 years ago. I am very excited to host this event in June together with Jim Conlon of Sophia, John Surette and Maurice Lange. Steve Dunne, CP, a long-time friend and colleague of Thomas Berry for fifty years, will be the facilitator for the gathering. The details of the weekend are being worked out as we speak. More information about this weekend is available on the new website: http://www.brothersofearth.com.
My vision of where to take the Brothers of Earth is to grow it in number and in heart and to develop a closer bond with the feminine, possibly the Sisters of Earth (a large successful gathering of women who come together every two years like us). I believe that it is critical to have the feminine connection always present in the Great Work as Thomas Berry calls it so as to maintain a healthy balance of Earth. Women need to have a larger role in the present and future. The Brothers need to create a more inclusive foundation for the future.
Any final words or thoughts to share with us.
I am so in love with the Milky Way. I first saw it in the dark night sky of the Hill Country of Texas at a boys’ camp called Tecaboca (Texas Catholic Boys Camp, ha, it only sounds Native American) run by the Marianists some ninety miles out of San Antonio. It knocked me out. I have never been the same. I cannot say how many times I have been stirred in my innermost being with that utterly incomprehensible display. But the times have been few and far between. How much of the time the Milky Way is blocked by light pollution! The most impressive time I saw the Milky Way was crossing the spine of the Andes Mountains in Peru in the back of an open bed truck. Cold, very crisp cold. But the sight was so clear and extensive that I thought I was immersed in it. Of course I was.
The above experiences were a kind of remote initiation and formation into the Universe and this planet Earth. How could I have been so blessed! I had it backwards of course. I only became more aware of the evolution of our home, Mother Earth, over a long period of time, and even later learned the vast history of the evolution of the Universe as we now know it from modern science. How utterly enlightening and meaningful it all is. And how amazing that our Christian story resonates so beautifully and seamlessly with the Universe and Earth stories.
Some three hundred years ago the steam engine was invented, followed rapidly by the discovery and use of coal, petroleum…the machines and processes of the Industrial Revolution. It has been quite a ride…and in so many different ways a devastating one. Thomas Berry tells us that we are closing down the 65 million year period called the Cenozoic, a period of incomparable flowering of Earth. Humans have moved through social tragedies, injustices, wars, all the way to what certainly appears to be the ultimate undermining of the planet as we move rapidly toward climate change and global warming.
How can we turn it around? Awareness, transcendence and inclusion, increased consciousness, re-inventing the human? Again, Thomas Berry tells us that we will have to move into what he calls the Ecozoic period. “Our own special role, which we will hand onto the children, is that of managing the arduous transition from the terminal Cenozoic to the emerging Ecozoic Era, the period when humans will be present to the planet as participating members of the comprehensive Earth community” (The Great Work, 1999, Thomas Berry).
Interview by Kitty Nagler