By Becky Sindelar
October 8, 2014 — Jesuit Father Jack Bentz has engaged in vocation work since he was ordained 10 years ago, but his new ministry is taking him into uncharted territory: a large public university. Boise State University may not sound like the frontier, but it’s a relatively rare place to find U.S. Jesuits — though a new way of looking at vocations may change that.
“We started asking better questions about how we do vocation work,” Fr. Bentz says of the Oregon Province, where he previously served as vocation director. “We thought vocation work would have to be nested within work with young adults, so if you want to do work with young adults, we should go where they are.”
Fr. Bentz says this led to thinking that if the Jesuits wanted to engage Catholic students in any number, “Why don’t we go to state universities?”
So when the Oregon Province got a call from the Boise Diocese about staffing the St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center at Boise State, they accepted and Fr. Bentz arrived there this past summer.
Fr. Bentz says there are big differences between a Catholic, Jesuit institution like Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where he came from, and Boise State. “Gonzaga is overwhelmingly a residential college, but here there are 22,000 students and only 6 percent live on campus.”
What that means for Fr. Bentz is reevaluating the center’s programming. “Right now the focus is as though it were a standard residential college, with evening events and weekend retreats, for instance. But neither of those times works for the vast majority of students here.”
Fr. Bentz says to succeed they must meet the students — who may only be on campus a few hours each day — where they are. “It’s challenging us to be creative,” he says. “There’s a great need but you need to serve the actual students that are here. So if you want to do the programming you better move that meeting up to noon or 4 p.m., for example.”
In addition to his vocations background, Fr. Bentz is a good fit for the assignment because he was born and raised in the area and is familiar with the culture. He’s also excited about the mission. “In campus ministry at a Jesuit university, you need to and should have ministers of other faiths. But here at the center, we just do Catholic programming, so the mission becomes very focused and that’s really interesting to me.
“I have to hone things, like how does the Eucharistic adoration actually work again?” he says laughing.
Fr. Bentz is also looking forward to bringing Ignatian spirituality to the center. A recent fall retreat focused on the five steps of the Examen, and future retreats will explore topics like the principles and foundations and rules for discernment from St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, with hopes of working toward an eight-day retreat option.
Training student leaders in Ignatian spirituality will be a key to the center’s success. “I think campus ministries can really operate as leadership programs for participants, if staff is willing to give a lot of encouragement and empowerment to the students,” says Fr. Bentz.
Beyond the students, Fr. Bentz sees his work at the center as a way to reach out to the greater Boise Catholic community. In this respect, the center has started an Ignatian speaker’s series, with Jesuits from across the U.S. visiting the campus to deliver talks or lead retreats.
“I’m very grateful for the chance to do the kind of work that I joined the Society to do,” says Fr. Bentz. “I’ve been doing vocation work since I was ordained, and I like that, but wow, it’s so fun to be in mission territory. It’s just so interesting to me to continue to be inspired by the early Jesuits.”