By Doris Yu
May 12, 2015 — Twenty-five years ago as a Jesuit novice, Father Steven Schoenig professed his first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as all Jesuits do upon completion of their two years in the novitiate. Last year, Fr. Schoenig took vows again, this time professing final vows — the ultimate confirmation of membership in the Society of Jesus.
“I made an offering to God and asked him to place me with his Son in the Company of Jesus,” he said, describing his first vows ceremony. “But every decision, no matter how good, needs one more thing according to St. Ignatius: confirmation. You have to live it for a while. So there followed a quarter century of training and growth, of testing and experience, of struggling and rejoicing … Through it I came to see that my offering was being confirmed by God. By inviting me to take these final vows now, the Society of Jesus is confirming it too.”
After first vows, Jesuit formation continues with philosophy studies; regency, a three-year assignment serving as a teacher in a school; theology studies; and tertianship, where a Jesuit is invited into the final stage of his training, which includes making the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Only then are Jesuits called to final vows by the Superior General of the Jesuits (currently Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicolás). Following years of formation, reflection and self-evaluation, each Jesuit is confident in his devotion to the Society, and the Society returns that confidence and fully endorses his membership.
Last year, 21 Jesuits in Canada and the United States were called to final vows, and many of them took the opportunity to reflect on the greatest blessing of their Jesuit vocation.
For so many Jesuits who professed final vows, their greatest blessing is the people they’ve encountered through their ministries, from students to parishioners to the poor. Father John Cunningham appreciated meeting “so many different types of people: college students, scientific researchers, colleagues and parishioners who are trying to understand their faith lives.” Father Thomas Frink said his ministry among the poor in Kingston, Jamaica, filled him with new life. “Beginning with the children, I began seeing God at work in countless ways among these people for whom God is not only a presence, but is the true provider of what they need,” he said.
As members of a religious order so deeply rooted in the pursuit of scholarly growth, Jesuits were also grateful for their academic lives and ministries. “My intellectual formation has equipped me to minister to the next generation of students in a Jesuit university,” said Father Joseph Nguyen. “The rigor of the academic life has prepared me for my call to provide young people with a sound spiritual formation and pedagogy to become people for others.”
Some Jesuits were thankful that passions they developed prior to entering the Society had been embraced and accepted. “From the very beginning, in novitiate, I understood that God wasn't asking me to give up my passion for environmental issues,” said Brother Bernard Hudon. “And so I was led to reconcile — as a Jesuit and a biologist — my passion for God and his creation.”
None of these blessings would be possible without God, these Jesuits agreed, thankful for the growth of their personal relationship with Christ. Father Charles Rodrigues said he was grateful for “the experience of ‘getting’ what it means to be a companion of Christ ... looking at him, looking for him, looking with him, looking within him, looking on behalf of him, and seeing life as I never could have envisioned.”
Father Marc Rizzetto found it most meaningful that he discovered “the God of surprises” through his vocation. “Again and again I am reminded that God breaks rules and ignores structures. It teaches me that while we cannot cling to our own certainties, we can cling to God,” he said. Father Hung Pham appreciated “the overwhelming grace and mercy of God who continues working to form and to mold me through the kind and patient care of my Jesuit brothers and superiors.”
Of course, the list of blessings would not be complete without including the Society itself. “I’m filled with gratitude because my vocation has been discerned and fostered and confirmed through the many companions I’ve been blessed with,” Fr. Schoenig said.
St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society, inspired Father Michael Caruso. “It is a particular grace to be engaged in an apostolic work with other committed Jesuits. … I think this is why St. Ignatius was fond of the term companions. He recognized a truth: that God would give to us Jesuits strength, creativity, prudence and a sense of joy in serving Christ and his church together.”
And after receiving these gifts, Jesuits are certainly eager to pay it all back. “For all these years, the Society of Jesus has nurtured and nourished me,” said Fr. Rodrigues. “Now, I assume full responsibility for nurturing and nourishing the Society itself.”
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.