What Jesuit Education Taught Me While I Was Hospitalized

Learning a lesson of love when being treated for cystic fibrosis-related diabetes

William Ryan avatar

by William Ryan |

Share this article:

Share article via email
banner graphic for

I’m the proud product of a Jesuit education. For eight years, I studied under the tutelage of wise educators who were Jesuits, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church that was formed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century. The modern calling card of Jesuit education is that men and women serve others. In a speech by the Rev. Pedro Arrupe (1907-91), the former superior general of the Jesuits, he implored men and women to care for one another in the same way that God cares for us.

I’ll never forget the first time that I saw what it means to be a man who serves others.

My high school career began about as poorly as anyone could imagine. On the third day of school, my dad picked me up from the train station and took me home. Shortly thereafter, my mom came home from work early. She told me that I had to be admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City the next morning because I was dealing with diabetes related to my cystic fibrosis and that’s where my doctor was.

Recommended Reading
A graphic depicting a woman on a stage with the words

How Chronic Illness Affected My Education

While in the hospital, I tried my best to catch up and adjust to an amount of schoolwork that I’d never faced in grammar school. For starters, my high school, St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey, made everyone in their first two years study Latin. I can assure you that I never struggled with another subject, before or since, more than Latin in my first year. I was also studying religion, which we definitely didn’t study in public school. I’d always struggled with math and science, so trying to teach myself all of these subjects in a hospital room on top of trying to get my glucose levels to a more normal level was incredibly stressful.

I just remember feeling so alone during this time, and I was trying not to let myself get too down. The next thing I knew, my guidance counselor walked into my hospital room. There he was, the legend and icon, the Rev. Anthony Azzarto.

jesuit education | Cystic Fibrosis News Today | a photo of Father Azzarto with his arm around young William. William is in a plaid shirt and wears glasses; the father is in a coat and tie.

The Rev. Anthony Azzarto and me, circa 2013. (Courtesy of William Ryan)

If you know him, you know that he’ll wince a little at being called a legend and icon. I’ll do it anyway.

Father Azzarto, as I called him, spent the two years before I started high school in Africa, working with the church and other Jesuits to help as many people as they could, no matter their religion. It was about caring for everyone in the village. He spent the first half of the ’80s doing the same work. Back in America, he worked at my high school, doing everything from teaching, working with alumni, running retreats, and being the school chaplain. At this time, he was a guidance counselor for freshmen and sophomores.

So there I was, sitting in a hospital gown and some basketball shorts, when Azzarto walked in. I don’t know what it is about him, and maybe someone else can figure this out for me, but he’s quite possibly the most calming presence when entering a room. He’s like the grandfather or uncle whose love you feel the second you see him. He barely knew me, and yet there he was.

All he did that day was come into my room, ask me how I was doing, tell me that he and the school would be there for me, and prayed with my family and me.

The five pillars of the Jesuit education are being intellectually competent, open to growth, religious, loving, and committed to doing justice. It was on that day that I learned what it means to be loving. I’m not perfect, but I believe it’s important to show one another love and care because we don’t know what someone’s situation is. That’s what Azzarto did for me.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.




Great job Will. Love ya

Helen Palmiero avatar

Helen Palmiero

Well, Will, you've done it again. You put your whole heart into another excellent article which in turn touched my heart as well. With much love and admiration, Helen

Tim Blowfield avatar

Tim Blowfield

Thanks William, Your story is encouraging. Fr Azzarto's pastoral care is precisely following that of his master and saviour, Jesus. Praise the LORD!

Steven Evoy avatar

Steven Evoy

I really enjoyed this article. My daughter never had many friends visit her when she a hospitalized, and most of our family was 400 miles away. She did have a teacher who actually came to our house to help her with geometry. It helped realize allot of stress related to this subject. My daughter really appreciated her extra help.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.

A Conversation With Rare Disease Advocates

Your CF Community

Visit the Cystic Fibrosis News Today forums to connect with others in the CF community.