As I See It

As the sister of a Jesuit, I have been his companion -- unseen and silent or clear and vocal -- from his first days in the Society.

Tony Saulitis and his sister Marija

A strong sense of family has bound author Marija Stankus-Saulaitis and her brother Fr. Tony Saulaitis, SJ, through their childhood in war-torn Eastern Europe and the years of separation Tony's life as a Jesuit required.

My Jesuit Brother

by Marija Stankus-Saulitis

TWICE A WEEK I dial 011 for international calls, 370 for Lithuania, and 5 for the city of Vilnius; I then add seven numbers and listen for my brother's voice. Whatever his first words, from his tone I know how he's feeling. I have been calling him, writing him, and following his journeys and his sojourns since the day he entered the Society of Jesus 42 years ago. As the sister of a Jesuit, I have been his companion-unseen and silent or clear and vocal-from his first days in the Society.

My brother's childhood coincides with mine: we share memories of war and bombs and hunger, of prayer, of the ship and the ocean, of school and games, of books and dances, and, of course, of our home and our parents. Although we have been apart for most of our lives, I know Antanas as well as I know myself, and I love him more.

When Antanas chose the Society of Jesus, he chose it not only for himself but for our family as well. Our Lutheran grandmother began listening to Jesuit programs in Germany. Our parents studied the Jesuit world and delighted in every Jesuit who entered their lives, for with one Jesuit comes the entire Society. I would have to unravel what my brother's direction has meant to me.

I see faces. In the '60s, when my brother was studying in Boston, I met the Jesuits who would be brothers to me these many years. I hold in my heart their early joy in God and their developing deep friendship with Christ and with others. I see them at my brother's ordination in our Lithuanian parish in Connecticut, where I also see them at our parents' funerals. I remember our conversations, their letters-their style and their handwriting. I can trace on the map their journeys, as others have done for Paul in the Bible. I have traveled with some of them. I know the Spiritual Exercises that have formed them; I have read the books they read and write; I understand.

What has the role of sister wrought? Many years ago someone who had spoken to me of marriage withdrew because he could not imagine life with a Jesuit's sister. My husband, Algis, met my brother only after our wedding because we were living on distant continents; I had assumed they would be friends, and they are. People have asked me to influence my brother: I was to tell him, for example, to assign Jesuits to a certain location. At gatherings I have been seated at the head table as the sibling of a Jesuit. I have been interviewed.

Tony and his sister as children

Tony and Marija: two kids relaxing, but the site was a displaced person's camp in Haunsteblen, Germany, in the early '40s to which the family had fled from Lithuania after the Soviets invaded in 1940.

Tony, Marija, and parents

Next stop for the family was a camp in Augsburg, Germany, where Tony made his first communion. Their father worked for the Red Cross and in a print shop; their mother, conversant in nine languages, worked with the U.S. counterintelligence efforts during the postwar period.

As a patrol boy in Connecticut

Arriving in the United States in 1949, the family found a large Lithuanian community in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Marija and patrol-boy Tony (left) attended St. Joseph's grammar school.

Graduating from CollegeTony graduated from Fairfield University in 1961, joined the Jesuits, and celebrated his first mass in 1969. After years of ministry to Lithuanians in Brazil and Chicago, Tony moved to his homeland where, as provincial, he sees to the care of elderly Jesuits who lived through years of communism while fostering new vocations to a resurgent Society of Jesus.

Tony distributing Holy Communion

Tony Saulitis celebrating his first Mass.

What does it really mean to be a Jesuit's sister? Those who are such know best. When a Jesuit friend was undergoing heart surgery in Boston, his sister and I talked on the phone almost daily. I recognized in her words the anguish I feel when something is wrong with my brother. There is so little we can do. The Society comprises our brothers' primary family. No matter how much we love our brothers, we have to let them be and remain free. That is the hardest lesson for a sister to grasp and to accept, and it is heartrending. We make no decisions; we have no effect; we're just there, standing by.

When my brother served the Lithuanian community in Brazil, I flew there to check out his situation. Once I became acquainted with the other Jesuits, the people, and the land, I was at ease. Algis and I lived in Chicago five of the years Antanas worked there. Because Antanas belongs to the Lithuanian Province, he has traveled to villages, towns, and cities in the various countries Lithuanians inhabit. Some of these places we've seen; some we know about. They are now part of our collective map.

When Lithuania regained its independence, Antanas started visiting to help its spiritual emergence from 50 years of Communist oppression. A few years ago a great shock reached me by mail from Lithuania: articles by the clergy against my brother by name; a published letter by the hierarchy against my brother, unnamed. The next time I saw Antanas, who rarely has a chance to come home, he was silent. I placed a wood carving, typical to Lithuania, of Jesus sitting by a wayside-the Christ who cares, who sits with us, who worries about us-on the table, and we three said nothing. Antanas and Algis did yard work for the three days Antanas was home.

I thought of the words of Ignatius about criticism and persecution. I realized fully only then what constitutes the Jesuit identity and exactly how the families of Jesuits participate in it.

All of us, the sisters of Jesuits, have such memories. With the radiance of their calling comes the suffering of their path. We stand by.   *

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