Near Misses With the Jesuits: You’ve Got Mail

When I was in the post-college discernment group for potential seminarians in the early 80’s, the diocesan vocations director asked me if I was considering religious orders. With my affirmative answer, he said he would communicate my name to various communities, and within days I began receiving mail.

I remember getting at least three or four communications that year from the Jesuits. Amongst all the others.

Previously in this series, I related how my misspelling of “hemorrhage” landed me at a diocesan co-ed school instead of the all-male Jesuit institution. I wasn’t particularly attracted to Ignatius of Loyola, and his confreres didn’t seem to be baiting the hook with anything particularly juicy.

Despite my interest in religious life and holy orders, I never spoke with any of the SJ’s from the community in Rochester. I never replied to any of the letters or postcards or invitations I received from the New York province.

A year later, I was still adrift in my life’s mission. My seven companions in the diocesan group all went to seminary after the “hoop” of discernment. The diocesan director assured me I could remain “in discernment.” He remarked that many guys had already “decided” to go to seminary, and that their particular discernment may or may not have already been worked out. He knew I was unsure.

More accurately, I think I felt I lacked the maturity to make a call for orders or marriage. Neither choice felt right at the time. I had more casual friends among women those years rather than romances. And I was convinced I wanted to serve people in some way. Maybe the Church, maybe in my university alma mater community.

A good friend was applying to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in 1983. I knew a few of the JVC people in Rochester–very impressive people my age who were devoting a year of their lives for service. When I did some research on it, I found more of what I liked. I applied too. I liked the emphasis on service and prayer and community.

My friend got an assignment for a Spanish-language radio station in central California. It was a bit of a laugh since she had a few years (if that) of high school Spanish on which to rely. But my mailbox was still empty. Surely they could use somebody with a science degree to teach–there were some openings for that. After a week and a half, I called up the main office where I sent my application. My name was unfamiliar to them.

At first they must have thought I was some fly-by-night impulsive guy. Was I sure I mailed my application? As we talked, the office person was shuffling through a stack of files. And they located my pages … buried, lost, forgotten, and ignored. I felt somewhat disgusted by this. I think they offered me something in Cincinnati, but it seemed more an embarrassed consolation prize. So much for discernment. I said a polite good-bye, and ended up back in grad school within a year.

And that seems to have worked out okay.

Creighton University did not lose my application–I received an acceptance letter for degree study last week. So I’m feeling very positive about my eight-day retreat and four weeks in Omaha this June.

But I was reflecting on that near miss with the Society of Jesus. What would my life have been like had I been given an assignment on time? Or if I had not been a bit bitter about being forgotten at the bottom of a filing cabinet? For people in their twenties, a year or two of service can be a life-altering experience. I see it in the people I’ve known who’ve moved on from Iowa State into church service or the Peace Corps, or other organizations in which they make a sliver of the money of most of our engineering graduates.

I assume … I hope the time is right to explore Ignatian spirituality as a person of middle age. I didn’t have my volunteer year three decades ago. But I seem to have fallen into the Jesuit gravity well this time.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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