By Tracey Primrose
October 22, 2014 — Jesuit Father Mike Weiler, the provincial of the California Province Jesuits, is an inveterate fundraiser, an unusual claim to fame for a man who last raised money selling candy bars as a Little Leaguer. But since 2012, Fr. Weiler has focused on three goals: expanding a skilled nursing wing at the Jesuits’ infirmary in Los Gatos, California; adding rooms to the Culver City, California, novitiate; and increasing the formation endowment. He’s raised nearly $23 million to date with $4 million left to go. Any initial reluctance to ask for donations has been replaced by a single-minded determination to care for the Jesuits of California — both the guys in the twilight of their Jesuit vocations and those beginning their journeys.
Fr. Weiler first came to know the Jesuits at an open house at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose. He was deciding whether to follow his older brother to the Christian Brothers high school near their home or travel 20 minutes by train to attend Bellarmine. He knew immediately that the Jesuits were the right fit. “I never felt so listened to by an adult as I did that day,” he recalls.
The Weiler family lived smack in the middle of a mobile home park that his dad and uncle owned outside Palo Alto. This was decades before the technology boom when the Santa Clara Valley was ripe with apricot and prune trees. It was almost like living on a ranch, a place where a kid had room to run around and shadow his dad as they worked their way through a never-ending fix-it list.
The family was very Catholic. “I was probably 11 before I knew that there were people other than Catholics in the world,” he says. At their local parish, his dad was a lector and Fr. Weiler was an altar server, and he considered being a priest as early as the 6th or 7th grade. At Bellarmine, his interest in a vocation grew. He became friends with a number of Jesuit scholastics and was “taken by the quality of their friendships and the urgency of their work.”
When Fr. Weiler confided to a young Jesuit scholastic that he was thinking about joining the order, he was advised to take his time weighing his decision and go to college. So, he headed south to the University of California, Santa Cruz. If you’re considering a religious vocation, why not do it near a sun-soaked beach? For three years, he studied English and psychology, all the while maintaining close friendships with Jesuits. When a Jesuit friend asked, “What are you waiting for?” it was all the encouragement Fr. Weiler needed to fill out an application to the Society of Jesus.
He entered the Jesuits in 1975 at the then-novitiate outside Santa Barbara. A drop-dead gorgeous compound with ocean views, it was “the most unimaginably beautiful facility in the federal penal system.” Fr. Weiler explains, “You never went anywhere. We were there from entrance day — September 7 — till June 1 when we went to the Province Villa in Sacramento. We never left.”
It was a period of transition. Gone were the days of novices in cassocks, but the new thinking about novice formation — the one that put men out in the world — was still evolving. The result: Fr. Weiler and his fellow novices had plenty of time to explore the novitiate’s 40 acres but couldn’t go beyond the front gates.
When he finished the novitiate, he headed to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to finish his bachelor’s degree in English and then to Gonzaga University in Spokane for a master’s degree. Next assigned to teach for three years at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, Fr. Weiler enjoyed the job but found it exhausting, “High school teachers work so hard.”
At the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, Fr. Weiler studied theology for three years prior to his 1988 ordination. As a newly-ordained Jesuit priest, he was interested in spirituality but also wanted to learn Spanish. After five months in Guatemala and six months in Mexico, he was assigned to Dolores Mission, a low-income Latino parish in East L.A., where he served for two years. It was “a stretching time.” He was preaching in Spanish, coming to know and love the parishioners and dealing with the endless violence right outside the church’s front doors. One day in the middle of the 5 p.m. Mass, the fighting outside was so intense that he said, “un momento por favor” to the congregation, walked out and helped break up a fight, returned to the altar and picked up where he left off.
After Dolores Mission, he took a one-year program in spiritual direction, which helped solidify his desire to become a therapist. “I really enjoyed working in people’s interior lives.” After four years of study, he earned his Doctor of Psychology degree at the California School of Professional Psychology.
A newly-minted therapist, he went to work at Santa Clara University, dividing his time between the counseling office and classes he would teach to graduate students. He lived in the dorms and helped students deal with a wide range of issues — from anxiety and social phobia to self-injury and attempted suicide. He served for six years at Santa Clara before being missioned to his next assignment: director of the novitiate in Culver City, California.
The novice experience had changed dramatically since Fr. Weiler’s day. Novices were serving in hospitals and in prisons far from the novitiate — just as St. Ignatius had intended — and Fr. Weiler loved it. “Every day, you get to work with some of the most generous, bright and eager young men you’ll ever come across … plus, novices are eternally amusing.”
After seven years as novice director, Fr. Weiler received word in 2011 that the Jesuits’ Superior General had selected him to serve as the next provincial of the California Province. While the job required someone with strong pastoral skills, which Fr. Weiler had in spades, the new provincial also needed to be an administrator. Initially, Fr. Weiler didn’t think he was the right person for the assignment, but he went into it with an open mind and an open heart.
Fr. Weiler conferring with Jesuit Father Chi Ngo.
There have been many blessings along the way, particularly that his job requires him to have yearly in-depth face-to-face conversations with each of the province’s Jesuits. Helping people focus on their interior life and helping them through difficult times is life-giving for Fr. Weiler. “It’s been an enormous privilege because I get to see so much good that’s taking place and to see Jesuits up close. I get to see our goodness, and it’s really stunning.”
Watch the video below for more about Fr. Weiler and a brief overview of the work of the California Province.
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.