Letter from the Editor
Deanna I. Howes, Director of Communications, AJCU
This month’s issue of Connections focuses on the ways that our institutions are helping young men on our campuses who experience a calling to enter the Society of Jesus. Although their numbers have declined across the world, Jesuits continue to make an impact on millions of people through their leadership of an array of apostolates, including nearly 200 colleges and universities. And, of course, there’s our Jesuit Pope! Truly, the Society of Jesus received no better exposure to a global audience than it did during Pope Francis’ election in 2013.
Here in North America, the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States has launched a website for those interested in formation: beajesuit.org. You will learn more about the Conference’s work in this issue of Connections in an article by Rev. Drew Kirschman, S.J., the Coordinator for Vocation Promotion for the USA Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus. A second innovative website for those interested in formation, The Jesuit Post, is run by young Jesuits, one of whom, Mr. Garrett Gundlach, S.J., has contributed an article about his call to the Society.
hile the Society has long attracted novices fresh out of college, one of its newest members is Rev. Tom Curran, S.J., who serves as president of Rockhurst University. In 1984, Fr. Curran was ordained a priest in the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. For nearly thirty years, he often considered entering the Society of Jesus, but it was not until 2012 that he began the process of becoming a Jesuit after discerning “that joining the Society would give him an opportunity to grow closer to God” (Rockhurst). Earlier this month, Fr. Curran professed his final vows at the end of a Mass on May 2nd at St. Francis Xavier Church in Kansas City, MO. We congratulate Fr. Curran and offer him our continued prayers.
Rockhurst and its twenty-seven fellow members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities are proud to support the students who are drawn to the Society every year. With ordinations set to take place this spring at the churches on several of our campuses, we believe the timing couldn’t be better for this issue of Connections. We hope that you enjoy learning more about vocation promotion, and that you keep all of our Jesuits in your prayers.
Best wishes for a wonderful summer!
Deanna I. Howes
Director of Communications, AJCU
Cynthia A. Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU
Where Are We on HEA Reauthorization?
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has begun a series of hearings as part of the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) initiated three white papers on HEA: Risk Sharing, Data Transparency and Accreditation. AJCU submitted comments on all three white papers and joined the higher education communities’ joint responses initiated by the American Council on Education (ACE).
The first white paper hearing was on the role of consumer information in college choice. It focused on the various data requirements for colleges and universities and how difficult it is for consumers to learn what information is available from the U.S. Department of Education. Earlier this year, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing on the impact of over regulations for higher education after the release of the report, “Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities: A Report from the Task Force on Government Regulation of Higher Education.” This week, on May 20th, a hearing on risk sharing focused on alternative ways that higher education institutions would be held responsible for increased student debt burden. Sen. Alexander has announced that the next hearing will be held on June 3rd, and that HEA legislative language would be finished by this fall.
On the House side, there has been a series of hearings on HEA over the past year. A few legislative pieces have passed on Financial Counseling, the Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act and the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act, which also passed the Floor of the House. Other Committee hearings have focused on accreditation, simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, innovative partnerships, simplifying Federal student aid programs and Pell grants, and the teaching profession.
While Congress has not yet finished the Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) Act, HEA is next in line. Now is the time to work with Congress to assure that the campus-based aid programs are preserved and that the inclusion of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, S.590, works for all impacted parties. AJCU will continue these efforts until the end of reauthorization.
College Ratings System Is Still Moving Forward
After countless meetings with Administration officials over the potential development and release of a college ratings system, we hoped for a slow backing away from it due to myriad issues and complications. But, it turns out that that is not the case, and it is projected that a technical paper on the system will be released in early August, followed by the final report in September. Unfortunately, the higher education community will not have the opportunity to comment on this document, nor see it before it is made public.
Save Student Aid
The Student Aid Alliance (SAA) recently launched a social media campaign featuring the hashtag: #SaveStudentAid. AJCU and many Jesuit institutions are participating in the campaign to raise awareness of potential student aid cuts to the FY16 budget. During the summer, AJCU encourages all Jesuit institutions’ employees and students to use #SaveStudentAid on Facebook and Twitter to voice their concern for saving campus-based aid programs like the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) and Perkins Loans.
Jesuit Vocations at Boston College: Being Open to the Conversation
Kathleen Sullivan, Boston College Office of News & Public Affairs
During the 2013 Summit on Vocations to the Priesthood organized by Boston College (BC), BC President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. said that the key to tapping into potential vocations is to demonstrate how priests and religious live “in hope and with faith” and engage interpersonally with students. “There is nothing as powerful as happy, fulfilled priests and religious. That is contagious. That attracts,” said Fr. Leahy.
At Boston College, there are numerous examples of Jesuit priests who serve as models for a religious life that is joyful, fulfilled and meaningful. These Jesuits are always open to conversations, formal and informal, with those who may be discerning a call to the Jesuit order or other forms of consecrated life.
Fr. Leahy and BC Vice President and University Secretary Rev. Terrence Devino, S.J. lead the Priesthood Discernment Group, where a small group of Jesuits meets monthly for prayer, conversation and pizza with BC students who are considering the priesthood.
“They share stories, questions and concerns and are very open to the possibility of a vocation in their own life or in the life of someone around them,” says Fr. Devino.
Fr. Devino also runs Manresa House, an on-campus resource for students to inquire, think and discern about the priesthood and other types of religious life for men and women. A group of students gathers at Manresa House every Wednesday evening for an Examen reflection. Sponsored by the Ignatian Society (a student group comprised of BC students who are graduates of Jesuit high schools), the Examen is open to all interested students.
“Manresa House is a remarkable place on our campus where students are welcome to enter into the conversation – conversation around hospitality,” says Fr. Devino. “Discernment is all about welcoming that which enters in and expands the heart in new directions. Being open, welcoming and reflecting is the goal and the mission of Manresa House.”
Mr. Daniel Kennedy, S.J., a 2012 graduate of Boston College, is now a Jesuit scholastic studying for his master’s degree at Saint Louis University.
He was a member of the Priesthood Discernment Group and made regular stops at Manresa House. He says, “It was nice knowing [that] there were others on campus who were also discerning. I had great encounters there with other students, staff, and Jesuits. What helped me in my discernment were the unofficial, personal observations and conversations [that] I had. It helped me imagine what my life as [a] Jesuit could look like.
“There are countless Jesuits I could mention, but the five Jesuits who had the greatest influence on me were Fr. Devino, BC Campus Minister Rev. Don MacMillan, S.J., St. Ignatius Parish Pastor Rev. Bob VerEecke, S.J., St. Ignatius Parish Associate Pastor Rev. J.A. Loftus, S.J., and the late BC Vice President Rev. Bill Neenan, S.J. Bill Neenan played a large role in my discernment. He was my spiritual director and companion through the process. All five offered me an opportunity where I could imagine what my place might be as a Jesuit. They all made me feel very comfortable whenever I visited their offices.”
Kennedy credits three things at BC that confirmed his vocational call:
PULSE: PULSE is an interdisciplinary course at BC that combines studies in theology and philosophy with reflection and a 10-12 hour-a-week field placement at a social service agency. “PULSE was an important part of my intellectual and spiritual formation. It has made a lasting mark on me and has given a definitive shape to my ministry. It ignited a process of integration to understand the complex realities of society’s margins through an intellectual, psychological, and spiritual lens. It helped me [to] see [that] the margins of society are the frontiers of ministry where, as a Jesuit, I feel called to serve.”
Jesuits: “Through my service as a sacristan, I got to be around a lot of Jesuits. I got to see what joy there was in their lives. It was very consoling. What made me fall in love with the Society were my interactions with Jesuits on campus and through Campus Ministry.”
Campus Ministry: “The campus ministers watched me develop over four years through my time as a work study student, sacristan, and as a participant in the Arrupe International Immersion program. Some Jesuits are fond of saying [that] behind every good Jesuit is a good woman religious who taught them how to be a compassionate religious for the world today. I would expand that category for me. I learned how to be a Jesuit from the lay men and women, religious, and priests in Campus Ministry. My mentor in the department, Ellen Modica, encouraged me and asked me good questions during my application process.”
For more information on Boston College’s work with students who are discerning vocations, please click here.
Above: BC Vice President and University Secretary Rev. Terrence Devino, S.J at Manresa House. Photo by: Caitlin Cunningham
Fostering Jesuit Vocations: Two Perspectives
Eugene Curtin, Creighton University
Rev. Patrick Gilger, S.J. and Rev. Richard Hauser, S.J. sit at opposite ends of the Jesuit experience: Gilger, at 34, building bridges for young men who sense that ineffable calling to a Jesuit vocation; Hauser, at 77, bringing a revered and experienced voice to a process called “discernment,” the effort to discover what, exactly, that still, small voice is trying to say.
Their mission is ancient, and would be recognized by any of the early church fathers once tasked with facilitating the experience of God in societies that gave such matters little heed and were often even hostile to the effort. The church knows what it is to be counter-cultural, from ancient warnings against the worship of false gods to today’s hot-button issues of abortion, homosexual marriage and the ordination of women.
Such noisy social issues, Fr. Hauser says, magnified incessantly by an omnipresent media culture, can make it difficult for young people to hear the voice that spoke to him in the 1950s, and to Gilger 50 years later. It increases greatly, he said, the difficulty of attracting new generations to Jesuit vocations.
What, then, to do?
Fr. Gilger is the associate pastor at St. John’s Church at Creighton University and an instructor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. He suggests that the starting point is recognizing that spirituality is no longer handed down from on high, that people have taken charge of their own experience of God in a manner unknown to earlier generations, and that their objections to church teachings should be taken with a deep and abiding seriousness.
“The locus of religious authority in the West, after Vatican II especially, has completely changed, so that now each individual is in charge of his or her own religious life in a way that we’ve never really seen before, or at least we haven’t seen for a long, long time,” he says. “That provides incredible benefits. People are able to explore their own religious experience in ways we may not have seen before, or compose a mélange of different religious symbols that somehow speak to them.”
And if that seems disconcerting to the tradition-minded, then Fr. Gilger, a 2002 Creighton graduate, begs them not to be angry with the messenger.
“Even if we didn’t want it to be that way, there’s nothing that the Church could do about it,” he says. “You might look at it this way: Conservative dioceses or conservative parishes are fighting a battle that’s already over. The battle they’re trying to fight – not just in the Catholic Church, but all around in terms of religious experience today – is trying to recreate a religious world where people did not have the individual freedom that we have today, to choose whether and how they will be religious.
“When we’re considering how we might encourage people to think about Jesuit vocations, it cannot happen by putting a cookie-cutter interpretation of their own experience of God onto them, or putting them in a situation where they feel forced or controlled. That’s all over, for good and for bad.”
Fr. Hauser, professor emeritus of theology at Creighton, who has spent 35 years directing a discernment group at the University for students considering a Jesuit vocation, agrees entirely. He said a sense of calling cannot be instilled by an external force. It is a speaking of the Holy Spirit, a gift from God that might or might not be answered – that can be nourished, but not created.
“The culture and their age group is telling them what’s normal is to fall in love and eventually get married and have kids,” he says. “Taking an alternate path requires a deep connection with God’s presence in your heart that is calling you to a vocation that is not culturally conditioned.”
And youth open to vocation are very much of the culture. He says, “Most people who join the Jesuits are reflective human beings who have been asking whether God might be calling them to the vocation of the Society of Jesus, but at the same time have girlfriends, are doing well in their studies, and are planning a career.”
The example being set by Pope Francis, the church’s first Jesuit pope, is touching the souls of youth in a way that the Church has not seen in a long time. Fr. Gilger says, “He is taking people where they are, living the kind of humility that people want to see Jesus live, and that means avoiding public hypocrisy and challenging the Church on its own hypocrisy at times.”
Fr. Gilger is certainly not reaching for the panic button. He says that Catholicism today is what it has always been and what it will always be – the experience of Jesus as savior. It is a tree that has sometimes flowered in different ways but always stems from the same trunk.
“We teach the same things – the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, the resurrection of the body, these things,” he says. “On the other hand, what we have to do with those teachings is the same thing that God does with God’s self – incarnate them. That’s our goal. And if the way they [were] incarnated in 1945 is no longer compelling for people, why would we even be worried about that? There’s nothing to be worried about. We take these same things and we continue to learn how to give them as a gift within this new culture.
“That’s what we’ve always done. We work against those places where our culture does not hold the teaching but we also celebrate the new ways that our teachings are incarnating in this culture now.”
It is perhaps an incarnation of the generational approach to encouraging Jesuit vocations that the young Fr. Gilger and the venerable Fr. Hauser have built a unified approach from opposite directions. Fr. Gilger is the founder of a blog, The Jesuit Post, where nearly 40 young Jesuits write about politics, sports and pop culture from an Ignatian perspective.
Fr. Hauser remains the master of the evening chat around a coffee table, and of the four- or five-day retreat, where the reality of vocation can be better assessed.
But always, always, Fr. Hauser insists, his is a background presence.
From the moment a student calls him, or sends an email expressing an interest in learning about a Jesuit vocation (firstname.lastname@example.org, just so you know), Fr. Hauser sees his role as a spiritual director not to advocate one way or the other, but to provide a sympathetic and confidential ear.
“The decision has to be between himself and God,” he says. “Spiritual direction helps clients come in tune with what’s going on in their heart. The director is not telling the client what to do, but to own what is going on in his own heart. The client makes the decision, or does not make the decision.”
Above: Photos of Rev. Richard Hauser, S.J. and Rev. Patrick Gilger, S.J. courtesy of Creighton University.
Pointers and Pitfalls in Vocation Promotion
Rev. Quentin Dupont, S.J., Professor, Seattle University
I have told my vocation story many times and as a result, I have come to understand a different kind of “vocation promotion” in my interactions with students at my Jesuit university.
In light of these experiences and of the almost 15 years since I started inquiring about life in the Society of Jesus, I propose a three-point method toward deepening Jesuit vocations in our institutions. Each part is essential and allows us to identify some common “traps” that get in the way of effective promotion of vocations to the Society.
Every Jesuit who talks about their vocation tells the story of a person who they encountered and who eventually led them to the Society. I hear the same from every person considering entering the Jesuits. The story of being called a “Companion of Christ” starts with an encounter with someone who knows the Jesuit charism. Jesuits are not the only ones who offer this presence on campus: so do faculty and staff at our institutions — Catholic or not. As a senior at Santa Clara University, I once saw a brochure quoting a professor of mine (who is Jewish) saying how much he found himself in agreement with the Jesuit values of the university. This allowed me to understand that the Jesuit vocation was about sharing a treasure with the world rather than being part of an exclusive group. Presence draws us to encounter and search for meaning in and of our own lives.
Many of my lay colleagues promote their appreciation for the Ignatian charism. I hope that the next step is to see that everyone on campus (not only the Jesuit community) is a promoter of the Jesuit vocation. Any professor and any staff member should get used to the idea of asking someone: “Have you ever thought of being a Jesuit?”
Only by being truly present to those with whom we teach and work can we allow ourselves to consider asking this question. This sense of presence, in Jesuit speak, is called “cura personalis,” meaning care for the person. We have to care for the people on our campuses – care for their competence as professionals but also care for their well-being and development as persons. This care demands our availability on three fronts: Our time, our compassion and our active participation in the values of Jesuit education.
In offering presence, authenticity and apostolic focus as the lenses of vocation promotion, we are indeed called to share a treasure with those around us. This also requires us to practice interior freedom, discernment and an understanding of God’s greater glory in our own lives.
We often describe a vocation as “where one’s deepest desires meet the world’s greatest needs.” Indeed, for Ignatius, discernment of any kind starts with uncovering one’s deepest desires. In other words, vocation promotion demands that we help people find authenticity in their lives.
The need to promote authenticity points to two all-too-common mistakes:
Mistake 1: Separating Jesuit vocation promotion from vocation promotion in general. Our task is vocation promotion, not identifying “baby Jesuits.” Offering vocation promotion as people-centered and authenticity-driven allows us to put forth a first principle of discernment: interior freedom. When I was a candidate, hearing Jesuits tell me that my discernment was about happiness in the life-choice I would make allowed me to open myself to the authenticity of life God was calling me to (and not “I have to do X.”). To promote vocations, we must first promote interior freedom toward a life lived in authenticity.
Mistake 2: Thinking that vocation promotion applies only to students. Jesuits or lay people involved in vocation promotion tend to think of our “target population” as the student body. But universities are much broader than this. Institutions’ faculty and staff include people who may be interested in exploring the question of their vocation, people who have not yet made a vocational commitment in their lives; just because someone has a job does not necessarily mean that one has yet found one’s deepest desires concretely expressed in a life-choice. Vocation promotion should be for all groups on and around campus, not only students.
Promoting Apostolic Focus
Jesuit life is turned toward “the apostolate”: Jesuits are working “in the world.” “Apostolic” comes from “apostle,” meaning “one who is sent.” A Jesuit’s job is always a “mission,” something one is sent to. If we are to promote vocations, including the Jesuit vocation, across campus, what are we inviting people to be sent to do? What context do those missions arise from, what challenges lay ahead, what fears must be aired and heard? As promoters of vocations, we have to grow at ease with the sense of context and purpose, not a precise “this, there” definition of job description and place. Rather, we invite people to something broader, deeper and at the same time more malleable and personal: “Who is God calling you to be?”
The life-long fulfillment of one’s vocation was, for Ignatius, guided by a simple principle: “The more universal the good, the greater.” Our apostolic focus must be on “being sent” in the wider sense of the term. The apostolate is no more Santa Clara or Fordham or Boston College or Seattle University, than it is “promoting a faith that does justice.”
That is often the step where most of us trip up: we mistake “apostolate” for “the institution to which I belong.” Unless we can understand that the apostolic focus of the Society is “For the Greater Glory of God” rather than “For the Greater Glory of My University,” we cannot truly promote vocations that are rooted in being sent, in discerning freely, in an open-ended opportunity to see what one never dreamed of become a life-giving reality.
For this is what we truly mean by “vocation promotion”: to promote life-giving opportunities of fulfillment for all those we encounter.
Above: Rev. Quentin Dupont, S.J. is a Jesuit currently teaching finance at Seattle University. He studied at Santa Clara University as an undergraduate and later Fordham University and Boston College as part of his Jesuit training. Click here to read his vocation story.
Promoting Vocations Today Demands the “Explorer Spirit” of Ignatius
Rev. Drew Kirschman, S.J., Coordinator for Vocation Promotion, USA Central & Southern Province of the Society of Jesus
What inspired you to choose your current commitments and career? Can you name the various ways that you were led down your current path? These can be complicated questions, maybe now more than ever. My hunch is we all recognize that there are a variety of experiences and many people who shaped (and continue to shape) our worldview in considering how we might give of our lives. Whether you find your call in administration or advising, teaching or coaching, offering behind-the-scenes support or leading out front, God’s ongoing revelations are active and alive. Growing in our awareness and seeking intentional ways to respond to this dynamic call is our challenge.
St. Ignatius of Loyola identified vocation promotion as a central part of the Society’s mission. While its importance is partially rooted in his desire that this “least Society” continue well into the future, Ignatius placed vocation promotion as a key element in his vision for the world. If God is laboring with us, and we are called to find God in all things, then the heart of our mission is to help others (and ourselves) hear and courageously respond to God’s call. An Ignatian vision for the world is one of finding freedom to respond generously to Jesus’ call. An Ignatian vision for our colleges and universities is about empowering this freedom.
There is a seismic shift in the way we understand vocation work today. The models of the past were based on good witnesses present at our institutions in order to inspire others to follow. While this continues to be an important part of promotion today, the passive nature of waiting for young people to act on their own accord in following those who model Jesuit life seems less and less effective. Promotion work today demands a more active model where we are all promoters of the Jesuit mission. All of us are invited to actively seek out students and colleagues who demonstrate the capacity and desire to live the unique charism to follow Ignatius as Jesuits. Ongoing discernment is needed to identify those who are called to be Jesuits. We must also look for ways to support, both personally and institutionally, those discerning a vocation. It takes courage on our part to actively invite others to consider a vocation. This is not simply the responsibility of those with “SJ” behind their name; all must be active members in encouraging and promoting this invitation.
What do Clash of Clans, #BlackLivesMatter and binge watching of Mad Men, Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black have to do with vocation work? Since our founding, the Society of Jesus has labored in and with culture to identify Jesus’ call. So too for today! The location of imagination is where vocation work begins. Too often we wait for young people to come to us. Are we willing to invite others to consider religious life? Can we look in the contours of today’s culture as a way to creatively broaden young people’s imagination on what their lives can be about? It feels counter cultural (and super awkward) to ask a freshman in biochemistry if they might be called to be a Jesuit, and yet what is there to lose by NOT asking? You might be amazed at the conversations sparked by inviting young people to think about their lives in radical ways.
Creating a vocation culture is rooted in generosity and gratitude. As co-laborers at Jesuit colleges and universities, it is our job to offer tangible witness to these virtues. How do you concretely witness generosity to your students and colleagues? Now is the time to be explicit and intentional in our witness. As the coordinator for vocation promotion for the USA Central and Southern Province, I find incredible generosity and gratitude present in our institutions. The fruit of this can be seen in the number of graduates who go on to do service programs like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the Alumni Service Corps. Teachers, administrators, coaches and campus ministers are asking the questions and inviting young people to go out into the world as servants with and for others. Can we ask the vocation question and invite these same young people to consider a call to religious life?
How to begin this kind of conversation feels daunting. Let young people see you living your vocation with joy! Be willing to share your vocation story. How did you discern to work in a Jesuit institution, to labor with the Society of Jesus? When we live our vocations with joy (no matter what that vocation may be), it is contagious. Sharing our stories of discernment and courage in following Jesus’ call helps to create spaces where young people are not afraid to explore their own vocations with courage.
Too often we use the image of pilgrim when we talk about walking in the footsteps of Ignatius. Maybe for vocation work – creating a space to help young people courageously follow where Jesus is inviting them to go – we might use the image of the explorer. Ignatius sent his companions out to the far reaches of the world to share the Good News. As we seek to accompany people in their own discovering of Jesus’ call in their lives, let us be explorers who creatively invite others to follow the call of Jesus that roams in our culture, in our relationships, in our hearts.
Above: Graphic design work done by Rev. Tucker Redding, S.J.
Kindling a Fire: Jesuit Education and Jesuit Vocation
Mr. Garrett Gundlach, S.J., Jesuit Scholastic in the Wisconsin Province
It was just past midnight. A freshman wandered the campus alone, somewhere between awe and prayer, admiring the lights falling on College Church and the song of the fountains and streams in the quiet night. I was home. But I wasn’t: I was a freshman at Marquette University, simply on a fall break road trip stopover at Saint Louis University (SLU). It was October 2005. Hurricane Katrina had just swept New Orleans, and I was one of an eager Marquette dozen to answer a campus ministry e-mail invitation to jump in a van and see what we could do to help, if anything.
I was supposed to be sleeping that night, of course, but how could I? An overly enthusiastic 18-year-old, I had just chosen Marquette for its proximity to my home, for its Catholic identity alive in retreats and liturgy, and for the adventures it offered in local, national and international service. Very soon after arriving at Marquette, I found just what I had sought: a sense of possibility, a sense that God was alive and daring, and a sense that this God was inviting me beyond myself into a servant love without borders, in Milwaukee and beyond.
Ten years later, those moments of excited possibility at SLU or beside Marquette’s Joan of Arc chapel still form the authentic core of my prayer, but now with a more balanced sense of the challenges that service brings. It wasn’t long before Marquette’s service opportunities cut sharp to my core, demanding something more of me. It wasn’t long before I studied abroad with Santa Clara’s Casa de la Solidaridad program in El Salvador and I saw that service wasn’t about heroism but about learning, accompaniment, solidarity and sacrifice. Spending afternoons with men and women experiencing homelessness, struggling to learn English, or rebuilding relationships with their families after war or immigration has a way of humbling one’s ego and opening one’s eyes.
In between weekly service engagements, break-time immersion trips (and classes), retreats and daily liturgies kindled the fire behind all this activity. In these vibrant spiritual communities, my faith grew. I began to recognize and name God’s loving voice in my life. Naturally, I began to ask how I might respond. I thought about ministry. I thought about writing. I thought about community. Gracefully, Marquette not only provided the fuel, the programs and opportunities for these desires for faith, community and service, but it also provided the venues for their parallel vocational inquiry: What does all this mean for me moving forward?
It was around this time that I met the Jesuits, not just abstractly as some international, 500-year old pioneering religious order, but concretely as resident priests and unassuming professors, spiritual ‘Yodas’ and compassionate listeners, each vowed and variously surrendered to a religious life, to the discipleship of Jesus, with all the journeys and serving that entails.
I immediately recognized the gravity and the privilege of such a life, of such a call. And Marquette’s Jesuit community provided a forum for me and other discerners to talk it out, weighing fears against possibility, hope against ambivalence. It was far from an automatic yes; indeed I didn’t enter the Jesuit novitiate until after new, heart-opening relationships, a year of volunteer service, with significant challenges and self-doubts along the way.
But on the more enthusiastic days, Jesuit life seemed the perfect blend of surrender, challenge, and community: I began to daydream, to imagine myself in a life where I could ceaselessly and unlimitedly pursue these newfound passions, my relationship with God and relationships with others, particularly those who are forgotten on the fringes of our society. I dreamed of active ministry, of pastoral visits and of spiritual writing. I imagined myself among other fiery lads, challenging one another to become yet more authentic, yet more humble, yet more committed to love’s breaking into the world. While my peers daydreamed of unfolding careers with professional credentials, creative service and families, I pictured myself differently – in community, professing perpetual vows and, the next day, traversing the furthest frontiers of the world with a gospel of love and healing, the furthest frontiers of the human world, the human heart and even the far-flung media frontiers of the internet. These days, I’m no less enthusiastic, just more aware of my limitations.
Ten years later, I am five years into my Jesuit formation toward priesthood. Marquette daydreams are becoming realities, and I cherish diverse work that includes everything from the clinical accompaniment of refugees to writing for The Jesuit Post (TJP), the website of the Society of Jesus at the intersection of culture and faith, revolution and relevance, pop music and mysticism. In my Marquette daydreams, writing was just another way to share; in TJP reality, it’s the same formation in a new forum, reflecting and praying, editing and Jesuit-collaborating to shape a single voice reflecting spirit, service and how, as humans, we’re trying to become more human.
Looking back, I sing the praises of my philosophy professors who invited us to read the exotic Tao Te Ching, the campus ministers who pushed me, pulled me and then asked even more of me, and the administrators and residence life staff who worked behind so many scenes to create the environment for all this growth. Jesuit education provided, first and foremost, a safe place for me to wonder and wander. From there, it provided programs and possibilities for cultural immersion and reflective service. It provided places and structured times to meet God in living community and finally, it offered me a graduate’s dare: Can you unify all this newfound passion into a single path, a single voice uniquely your own? Can you find the courage to share that voice? Can your voice find its place in a chorus?
Above: (L-R) Mr. Garrett Gundlach, S.J., Mr. Leo Stüebner, S.J., Rev. Kevin Flaherty, S.J. Photo courtesy of Mr. Garrett Gundlach, S.J. Mr. Gundlach is a graduate of Marquette University (2009) and the Casa de la Solidaridad program (spring 2008).