Father Witt, S.J., Revamps the Upper East Side

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By Vanesa Vennard Before Father George Witt, S.J. was prepping for his services at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, he was teaching English and religious education at Saint Agnes Boys High School for 10 years. Though Witt says there is certainly teaching involved with ministry, the church offers a broader and more inclusive subject matter.

"There was this sense that the teaching was good and I enjoyed it but God was calling me to something more, a life of ordained ministry in the church," he said.

Father Witt, who earned his master's degree in divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Calif., has been serving as a pastor at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish since 2009. And since then, he has been adjusting nicely from teaching to preaching.

When Witt came to St. Ignatius Loyola Parish in the Upper East Side, the church was going through major restorations that started with the previous pastor. Witt made sure the restorations were completed and he oversaw a revamping of the heater and air conditioning units in the church, a $2.4 million project.

Aside from restoration, Witt is also heavily involved with community outreach, especially among other parishes. The church holds food collections with Saint Gregory the Great Church and recently held a toy drive during Christmas for a parish in Staten Island in light of Hurricane Sandy's devastation.

And within St. Ignatius Loyola Parish, Witt wanted to make sure there was ministry for people of all ages. Originally the parish had young adult ministries and a ministry for families with their children. But Witt started a group for people in their 40s and a group for people 50 and over called "Boomers & Beyond."

"The place is really alive. Our enrollment, the number of parishioners over these last five years has really gone up," he said. "Physically the place has been revamped. That's the kind of stuff that I think is really a contribution here to the community on the Upper East Side."

Witt emphasizes the importance of interfaith work and started an adult group that meets with the Park Avenue Synagogue. He also participates with My Faith Your Faith, in which Catholic youth from St. Ignatius Loyola Parish along with Jewish and Muslim youth go to different places of worship on Sundays. Afterward they get together to discuss what they learned.

"We may have some distinctions on how we understand God, how we understand what exactly happens in worship, but you're talking about good people who are seeking God," he said. "And if we can't talk to one another and try to understand one another, we're in deep trouble."

In the past, Witt has served as a deacon and spiritual director at St. Benedict's Parish for the Deaf in San Francisco. He also served for two years as a retreat minister at the St. Ignatius Loyola Retreat House in Long Island, leading people on days and weekends of prayer.

Witt says St. Ignatius Loyola Parish will continue to work with other parishes and organizations to better the community and the lives of the people living in it.

"It's very gratifying," he said. "I can't imagine a better work that anybody would have than to be preaching God's word."

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