Jesuit Father Anthony SooHoo is a New York University doctoral student studying ancient Mesopotamian religion, and he works in young adult ministry.
By Becky Sindelar
There’s an old saying that if you’ve met one Jesuit, you’ve met one Jesuit. Get to know a few Jesuits and you’ll realize it’s true. Men called to the Society of Jesus are diverse — in their backgrounds, areas of study, expertise and ministries.
During November’s Jesuit Vocations Month, we’ll introduce you to a new U.S. Jesuit each week. Each has heard and answered the call to serve God — whether as a physician, educator, architect or expert on ancient religions. They are all serving God as Jesuits.
“Everyone has a vocation and God’s call can be realized in many ways,” said Jesuit Father Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference. “A Jesuit vocation is for those who have been called to serve the Church and the world wherever the needs are greatest. While November is Jesuit Vocations Month, we pray every day that God continues to bless the Society of Jesus with men seeking a life in service, grounded in love of Jesus Christ and of others.”
This week, meet Jesuit Father Anthony SooHoo, who first heard the call while attending a Jesuit high school in New York City. Today, he studies ancient religions at NYU and ministers to young adults.
Jesuit Father Anthony SooHoo straddles two worlds. By day, he’s a New York University doctoral student poring through texts on ancient Mesopotamian religion. Nights and weekends, he works with young adults in the Big Apple, nurturing the faith of those firmly rooted in the 21st century. He enjoys traveling across the millennia and is quick to bring his Jesuit vocation to everyone he meets.
Fr. SooHoo first heard God’s call as a student at Regis High School in New York City. He says of the Jesuits he met there, “They were good, interesting, down-to-earth people who shared their faith with me through the example of their simple lives. And they weren’t afraid to engage the world.”
The son of Chinese immigrants, Fr. SooHoo grew up in Flushing, Queens. After graduating from Regis High School, he headed to the University of Chicago, where he studied anthropology and archaeology, two of his passions. But he stayed in touch with the Jesuits he knew in New York and met Jesuits doing studies in Chicago as well. After he finished his bachelor’s degree in 1997, Fr. SooHoo entered the Society of Jesus.
Since joining the Jesuits, Fr. SooHoo has had a diverse range of experiences, from pursuing further studies on ancient religions to guiding young adults on their faith journeys as an associate pastor and retreat director.
Fr. SooHoo’s first assignments as a Jesuit were focused on educating children and young adults. He was the school program coordinator at St. Martin of Tours School in the Bronx from 1999 to 2002, where he oversaw the after-school program and developed curriculum and enrichment activities for students. Next, he served as the director of campus ministry and as a religion teacher at Xavier High School in Manhattan from 2002 to 2005.
Fr. SooHoo says he enjoyed teaching high school students because “they have lots of curiosity about their faith, and they aren’t afraid to ask questions.”
After being ordained to the priesthood in 2008, Fr. SooHoo returned to academics, studying at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome where he received a licentiate in Ancient Near Eastern Studies in 2010. He then came back to New York to serve as associate pastor at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish in Manhattan.
Today, Fr. SooHoo is finishing his Ph.D. at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, where his field of study is ancient Mesopotamian religion. His current studies allow him to continue to follow his passion and interest in archaeology in the ancient Near East.
“Throughout my studies as a Jesuit I’ve been focused on studying Scripture, with the desire to understand the context in which the Bible was written,” he explains.
While at NYU, Fr. SooHoo has stayed involved with St. Ignatius Parish, working with young adults in their 20s and 30s. He is a facilitator for the Charis Retreat program, where he works with teams of young adults who offer retreats for their peers. He also assists with Contemplative Leaders in Action, a two-year faith formation and leadership development program rooted in the Spiritual Exercises that is sponsored by the Jesuit Collaborative.
“I find young adults give me lots of energy because I’m working with a group of people who are committed to their faith and enthusiastic about their faith,” Fr. SooHoo says.
“One of the great gifts I have as a Jesuit is to be able to accompany people on their journey of faith,” he explains. “It’s a great privilege to hear their stories. It’s inspired me to be a better Jesuit and better person of faith.”
After he finishes his Ph.D., Fr. SooHoo hopes to teach at a Jesuit university, where his interest in working with young adults and in academia can be combined. His Jesuit calling has allowed him to pursue his various interests, and the diversity found within a Jesuit community also appeals to Fr. SooHoo.
“One of the most consoling things about being a Jesuit is the chance to live in a community with people from all over the world with a variety of ministries and different personalities,” he says. “Coming home to that and being supported by that is a wonderful gift.”
Fr. SooHoo, who has also served as a vocation coordinator in the New York Province, says that if a man is considering a vocation to the Society, he advises him to “pray about it and follow your heart.”
“Get in touch with what you are most passionate about and listen to how God is speaking to you in the obvious and not so obvious ways,” says Fr. SooHoo. “Let God help you discern what your call is and what you’re most passionate about.”
Fr. SooHoo admits that while a Jesuit’s 10 to 12-year formation is a long process, it’s worth it. “It’s been a chance to grow as a human being and to grow in my love for the Church and the Society of Jesus.”
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuits.org/become for more information.