The Jesuit Constitutions instruct all Jesuit novices to do a month-long pilgrimage “without money… begging from door to door… to grow accustomed to discomfort in food and lodging.”
This tradition is how Wisconsin Province Jesuit Jeff Dorr, a scholastic who is now in First Studies, found himself with $35, a one-way bus ticket and an order to be home for dinner at 4:00 p.m., exactly 30 days later.
Dorr took the bus from Detroit to Atlanta. From there he planned to walk 20 miles to a Trappist monastery to spend his pilgrimage in prayerful solitude.
But within minutes, his plan changed. The first person he stopped to ask for directions had just gotten out of prison. They talked for a few minutes, and Dorr was so moved that he gave the man $10 for train fare. Next, he met a homeless man, and Dorr gave him the remainder of his money so he could eat.
“I realized that I felt drawn to a new focus,” Dorr said. “I knew what homeless people looked like and sounded like, but I never knew experientially what it meant to be homeless. I thought maybe that’s where this should go. Something of that experience of being on the street and being without was what I was meant to be doing.”
Dorr spent 18 nights at a homeless shelter, where he met dozens of people who shared their stories with him.
“One thing I gained from the shelter was a whole new appreciation for who ends up there,” said Dorr. While many shelter residents have addiction or mental health issues, others are people who had houses and jobs and then something went wrong, like a divorce.
“The point of the pilgrimage is to spend the month letting go of our typical securities of home, money, community, and in doing that, come to trust more fully in God,” he said. “I realized how blessed I am, and that no matter what I do, I can’t experience life on the streets the way these guys do. It changed the outlook I had of what I was striving for and what God was calling me to. His message to me was to be with them, but you can’t be them.”
Read more of Dorr’s pilgrimage experience at Xavier Magazine.