Dear Friends in Christ,
What a difference eleven years can make! That’s how long it’s been since I joined the Society of Jesus. Some days, it feels like a lifetime --other days, no more than a long weekend. But over a decade has passed to be sure. And I am writing these words to you on the third anniversary of my ordination.
Eleven years ago, eleven of us entered the Jesuit Novitiate at St. Andrew Hall in Syracuse, NY. We came from eight different states and ranged in age from 23-42 (guess who the oldest was!). Before the end of our novitiate, two great men, Rob and Matt, decided to take a different path. A few years later, Rob married Kristen, right here at Xavier. They still worship with us on most Sundays and Rob is currently working on a doctorate in theology at Fordham. Matt married Louise and they are happily raising three beautiful daughters in Wheeling, WV. He teaches high school during the day and, in his spare time, leads a terrific band called “Two Bridges.” A third man, Tom, left the Jesuits just last year to continue his path to the priesthood with the Archdiocese of Boston.
So eight of the original eleven remain. And three of those –Dennis Baker, Brent Otto, and Sean Toole—will be ordained this weekend at the Fordham University Church, along with John Peck who came later in the program. We have been through an incredible journey together: the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius; pilgrimages to foreign countries; grueling (yet blessed) work as orderlies at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx; hundreds of credit hours in philosophy and theology; countless opportunities to promote the faith that does justice; authentic new friendships; and the beat goes on and on. It’s a wonderful life!
Two of the men from my class will intersect with SFX as early as this weekend. Dennis, a former member of the Xavier High School faculty and no stranger to our church, celebrates his first Mass as a priest at our 11:30 liturgy on Sunday. Dennis has served the Jesuit mission from Canisius High School in Buffalo to Yap Catholic High School in the Federated States of Micronesia. He’s amazing! In July, Sean will begin a pastoral year with us, serving both the parish and the Mission as a most welcomed addition to our staff. Sean has engaged a variety of great ministries, from refugee resettlement in Syracuse, NY to prison chaplaincy at San Quentin Penitentiary in California. You’re going to love him! These are two wonderful Jesuits whom I am honored to call my brothers and friends.
In 1955, Fr. Joseph McGloin SJ wrote a book entitled “I’ll Die Laughing.” It tells the story of Jesuit formation prior to Vatican II and I couldn’t think of a better title for it! If truth be told, the last eleven years have been sacred, inspiring, enriching and profound. At times, they’ve been crushing as well. But I think I’ve spent more time laughing, loving, feeling loved, and finding God than I ever did in the 40+ years that went before them. This is truly a wonderful life and I recommend it highly.
Thank you, good people of St. Francis Xavier, for nurturing and strengthening Jesuit vocations since 1847. This parish would not be standing without you. And the Jesuits would be diminished without Dennis, Sean, Brent, John and the 24 other U.S./Canadian Jesuits being ordained this year. So please keep these new priests in your prayers and be assured of theirs for you. I hope that
all of us will die laughing (but not too soon)!