Ciszek Hall is located in the Belmont section of the Bronx. Though the neighborhood is advertised as Little Italy North (the bocci crowd regularly commandeers part of the small neighborhood park), there are more than many Albanians, Hispanics and African-Americans as well, with the occasional housing complex for Fordham undergrads who prefer an off-campus alternative. Right down the street from Ciszek is a mosque; a little farther on is beautiful Mount Carmel Church, anchor of many neighborhood activities, especially the San Gennaro and St. Anthony festivals.
Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. was born on November 4, 1904 in Shenandoah, PA, where he spent his youth and attended parochial schools. In 1928 he entered the Society of Jesus. Experiencing what he has described as "almost a direct call from God," he volunteered for the Russian mission in response to the appeal made by Pope Pius XII to the Society of Jesus. In June 1937, Fr. Ciszek became the first American ordained in the Russian Byzantine Rite.
"With God in Russia"
On March 19, 1940, Fr. Ciszek entered Russia, but was arrested a year later and sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor. After five years in solitary confinement in Lubianka prison in Moscow, he was sent to the Siberian slave labor camps above the Artic circle. In 1955, upon his release from the prison camps, he was given restricted freedom in the Soviet Union and functioned as a priest while working in factories and as an auto mechanic. During all these years, Fr. Ciszek had no contact at all with the United States where, in 1947, he had been declared "legally dead."
Return to America
Fr. Ciszek resurfaced in 1963 when, along with another American, he was exchanged for a Russian couple being held for espionage in the United States. After returning home, Fr. Ciszek became a member of the John XXIII Center for eastern Studies at Fordham University and worked in the building which now houses Ciszek Hall. Fr. Ciszek wrote two books describing his experiences in Russia: With God in Russia, "the book they wanted me to write," narrating his experiences in the Soviet Union, and He Leadeth Me, "the book I wanted to write," about the spiritual significance of those experiences.
During the last twenty-one years of his life, Fr. Ciszek became an internationally known director of the Spiritual Exercises. The counseling and retreat work that became his full-time occupation were marked by a simplicity in method and humility of heart that attracted all sorts of people to him for advice and spiritual direction. Fr. Ciszek died at John XXIII Center on December 8, 1984. He is buried at the Jesuit Center, formerly the Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, PA.
Movement for Beatification
The official process of investigation into the life, holiness, and virtues of the Servant of God, Walter Ciszek, S.J., is being undertaken by a tribunal of the Byzantine Catholic Diocese of Passaic, NJ. The cause for his canonization is being promoted by the Fr. Walter Ciszek Prayer League which was established and approved by the Most Reverend Michael Dudick, D.D. in 1985.