The Arrupe Era
On October 11, 1963, word reached America magazine that a Jesuit had risen from the dead. The editor, Thurston N. Davis, a Harvard PhD in classics who had been dean of Fordham College in the 1950s but had left that post to replace Robert Hartnett as editor, was, above all, a man of moderation. But here was a scoop, relayed from a provincial to a former provincial who relayed it to him. And although America was only a weekly magazine, Davis responded like a deadline reporter. He called in Robert Graham, a California Jesuit historian whose specialty was the Vatican, and Eugene Culhane, his former Fordham assistant dean and now America managing editor, who had covered the Castro revolution with some sympathy. Together they hustled out to Idlewild International Airport (now John F. Kennedy) to meet BOAC Flight 501 from London at 6:55 A.M., which would deliver two Americans from Soviet prisons who had been exchanged for two Russians in our jails.
Thurston Davis had known Walter Ciszek since they were novices together at Wernersville, Pennsylvania. He remembered him as a trim young athlete, a linguist, hard worker, quiet but outgoing. But he had not seen him in 30 years. A lot had happened since then. Ciszek had been inspired by a letter from the pope read to his novitiate class asking for volunteers to work in Russia, and he had built his vocation around responding to that invitation. This determination had led him to Poland when World War II broke out, and into Russia disguised as a workman in order to minister to Polish workmen, and, eventually, to Russian prisoners who had no priest. Arrested as a spy, he was jailed for five years at the notorious Lubianka interrogation center near Moscow, and then sentenced to 15 years of hard labor at Norilsk in Siberia. He had been presumed dead, and Jesuits had inserted his name into the list of the departed for whom they prayed. Later, cryptic