Mother Assumpta sits down with Fr. Gabriel Richard’s President John Dejak to Discuss Moderation and the Virtue of Temperance.

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John DeJak took a moment to speak with Mother Assumpta about the virtue of Temperance. Often, we learn best by example, and John chose the story of Father Ciszek, a Jesuit priest who spent many years in concentration camps and the Gulag in Russia, as a prime example of learning the virtue of Temperance. Father Ciszek’s life shows us the true meaning of material vs spiritual and reminds us how blessed we are in the United States. John’s conclusion is that we must teach and learn moderation in all things. Our desires for the good, for bodily pleasures, are good insofar as they come from God; however, they become disordered if we seek them in excess instead of moderation.

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Mother Assumpta: 

John DeJak is no stranger to our community. He’s the president of Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor and also teaches Latin to our postulants. John, you’ve been a lawyer and an educator. You’re well-rounded. I understand that you are a wonderful advocate of Father Walter Ciszek, one of my favorite Jesuits. Since you’re going to be speaking about Temperance, can you tell us about him? 

John DeJak: 

Before I get into Father Ciszek, there’s a great quote by G. K. Chesterton about Temperance, which I thought I’d offer because it is a good one. He says, “We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.” Father Ciszek is a great individual in terms of any virtue, as any saint is certainly, but he’s an interesting character. In his youth and his young life as a seminarian, he would go to the extreme in trying to practice the virtues, at least with temperance. He fasted all Lent one year on bread and water, and I don’t know if that’s temperate. 

Mother Assumpta: 

It may not be prudent, but it could be recognized? 

John DeJak: 

Yes. It shows the interplay of the virtues together.

Mother Assumpta: 

I don’t think he could have done later what he did unless he had that drive.

John DeJak: 

That’s right. I think that his ability with his training of the helped him in the virtue of temperance and in his later life as well. People noticed this about him. He was always very prudent at table. He didn’t take too much in drink. When there was leftover food, people recounted that he would always save it. If you’re not going to eat that, I’ll take that, and I’ll make soup or something out of it. Part of that was not only his knowledge about practicing virtue and temperance but also the lack that he had in his trials in Russia where he learned to value every little scrap of food, so in that sense I think he had a heightened awareness and practice of temperance because of that. 

Mother Assumpta: 

I would recommend everyone reading With God in Russia or He Leadeth Me. It is unbelievable. What was his life like there in the concentration camp? 

John DeJak: 

He spent five years in solitary confinement. So many people react differently. We think of these people with PTSD as shell-shocked, and they react differently and sometimes psychologically are very damaged. He went through five years of that in terms of solitary confinement, very small amounts of food. The only thought he says during those years was how to get the next scrap of food. That was the all-consuming thing for them. After that, he served an additional 15 years in the Gulags where not much changed in terms of deprivation of food, clothing, and all the material comforts. The fact that he kept his head about him is an amazing thing, and it’s really God’s grace and his former training that girded him for that. The Lord knew what He was doing preparing him for that trial. 

Mother Assumpta: 

Do you have any insight into why he had such a desire to go to Russia?

John DeJak: 

He always wanted to do the hardest thing. That’s how he describes it. From his fasting to his penance to his prayer life, he always wanted to do the best and be the best. When he entered the Society of Jesus, it’s a time of high persecution in Russia because the Communists had taken over. They’ve been in power for 10 years, and that was the toughest missionary assignment that the Church had to offer, essentially a death sentence, so he was naturally attracted to the idea of the Jesuit hero doing that toughest thing. I think that was what motivated him. It had to be supernatural in certain aspects, as he tells in his story, and his prideful aspects were weaned from him during that experience. 

Mother Assumpta: 

I found it interesting that when he got out of the concentration camp, he continued ministry to the people there. He’s remarkable. 

John DeJak: 

He spent three years under house arrest restricted to a few of cities and scraping a living. He was a car mechanic. He had to get a job to survive. He made a pot of soup at the beginning of the week that lasted him four days. During that time, he sought opportunities to be a priest and to minister his people. Our lives today are so luxurious the United States. He slept on the floor and didn’t demand much. In one apartment, the whole apartment was a chapel. He happened to find another priest, and they made their apartment a chapel and slept on the floor. Everything was for God in that regard and less for themselves.

Mother Assumpta: 

I was so thrilled when he finally got released, but you couldn’t help feeling sorry for the people he left. Who is going to minister to them? 

John DeJak:

They were so eager for a priest, and they made sacrifices to go to the mass. 

Mother Assumpta:

How does his release come about?

John DeJak: 

He was released in an exchange from the United States. The Kennedy Administration, Robert Kennedy in particular, had a special interest in his case. He was released with one other gentleman who’s now a professor at the University of Chicago. They swapped for two Soviet spies in New York.

Mother Assumpta: 

What was his life like in America when he came back? 

John DeJak:

There’s a great littleanecdote told by the gentleman who he was released with about their way back into the United States. On the airplane, Father was so taken with the luxury of things, because he had done without for so long, that everything was precious, even the covers of the seats. It’s a regular plane, nothing special, but even the food on the way back he’s savoring every bite. When he returned to the United States, he had that same mentality. He wrote an article for America Magazine about three weeks after he came back, and he’s very dispassionate in the sense of these are my impressions. He was not making judgments, but he commented on the luxury of everything such as going to a supermarket. You have everything you want. One of his Jesuit confreres brought them to a hardware store, and he was amazed that he could get multiple of these. It was like a fish out of water because he had been a laborer and standing in line for a wrench took three years or three months over there, so seeing all of this was astounding to him, yet he still cherished everything, even if it was just one screwdriver. He never took anything for granted, even though there’s a great abundance available in the United States.

Mother Assumpta

Where is his cause now for sainthood? 

John DeJak: 

Languishing in Rome because of the paperwork necessary and the investigations that need to be done take quite a long time, but phase one is done, which is great. It’s now on the desk ofthe promoter of the cause of the Society of Jesus. Originally, it started in a Byzantine diocese. They initiated the cause, and then the Romans took over and in Allentown, Pennsylvania, so technically the bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania is the Episcopal promoter. 

Mother Assumpta: 

If anybody deserves canonization, I would think [he does], just reading his life in reading his books. 

John DeJak: 

concur.

Mother Assumpta: 

I was thinking about all of your accomplishments, but probably your greatest accomplishment is being the father of 8 children. God bless you. How would you teach the students about Temperance? 

John DeJak: 

I think situating it at first. What is it about? What is temperance? St. Augustine speaks of it a little more broadly while St. Thomas dives right into it. It’s about the bodily pleasures, right? It’s about things that are attractive to us: food, drink, sexual intercourse. That would be a drive within us that calls for the virtue of temperance. First, situate it, and then talk about the fact that our nature is wounded because of original sin, so we are oftentimes disordered in our desires for bodily things such as food or drink and usual things teenagers suffer because they’re in that period of their life where they’re seeking independence, and they have these heightened desires. These desires for these things are excellent, but we have this thing that keeps it out of whack. We need to focus on this virtue in order to govern ourselves. The Greeks called it “the grief,” and I’ll never forget it because my teacher taught me that internal self-control by moderating what we eat and drink and the proper use of our sexual functions in marriage has a ripple effect in the way we think and moderate other intellectual pursuits as well. The virtue isn’t proper to that necessarily, but St. Thomas, in conjunction with St. Augustine, would teach that if we have control of our bodily desires, we certainly would be able to moderate other virtues. 

Mother Assumpta: 

Today we’re trying to teach moderation with social media, the internet, iPhones. What’s destroying personal communication with people? 

John DeJak:

Everybody’s on it, so I think moderation is a wonderful word for it because these things are good, and we want to teach the good, but we also know the dangers, speaking of children, and it’s getting harder and harder. Even little ones have to know that you can’t play too much. You can’t take all of the things to extremes. 

Mother Assumpta:

It’s a wonderful time for this virtue, right? To really teach it. 

John DeJak:

You’re right. The social media thing is very easy to get lost in. Two hours have gone away, and you didn’t even realize it. I think adults who are fully formed have that problem as well. This is a virtue that needs to be cultivated. We get all consumed in shopping or sports or technology because our senses are utilizing these things. We want to hear more. We want to see more. We want to experience more. That’s the way God made us. These are all good inclinations, but we’re meant to moderate them and to understand their service to the higher spiritual functions. It’s a challenge.

Mother Assumpta: 

We are made for such a time. I think I would be a much better person in the Renaissance. 

John DeJak: 

I feel the same way. It’s a challenge, but we can do it. 

Mother Assumpta: 

Absolutely. You’ve got a lot to do, and we all have a lot to do. God bless you.


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