Province: USA Northeast
Birthday: September 5, 1985
Hometown: New Bedford, Massachusetts
Education: Bachelor’s degree, government, Harvard University; Master’s degree, philosophical resources, Fordham University; Master of Divinity, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
1. Entered the Jesuit novitiate after spending two years in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
2. Taught violin to students in the Bronx during philosophy studies at Fordham University.
3. Played with the inmate choir at San Quentin State Prison during theologies studies in Berkeley, California.
Post-Ordination: Will continue serving in his current ministries at San Quentin and Our Lady of Lourdes in Oakland, California, as he completes a Licentiate in Sacred Theology.
Fr. James Ferus, S.J., was born and raised in the coastal city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the only child of Nancy and the late Paul Ferus. James’ Catholic faith was nourished by his family, parochial schooling, and years as an altar server. While he didn’t attend a Jesuit school, his interest in studying the Bible and asking many questions of parish mentors likely suggested his future life as a Jesuit and educator. James began to seriously consider priesthood through his involvement in campus ministry while an undergraduate at Harvard, where he met many Jesuits from around the world who were studying theology nearby. Eager to continue his discernment while living a life of service, James spent two years in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, first at Cristo Rey New York High School and then at Operation Nightwatch, a community center for the homeless, in Portland, Oregon. Once his first Jesuit spiritual director pointed out to James how much he loved his students and community, he felt Jesus nudging him to make a lifelong commitment to religious life. Since entering the novitiate in Syracuse in 2009, God has always been gracious and resourceful with James’ prayerful desires and talents. Gifted with music lessons as a boy, James taught violin to students in the Bronx while studying philosophy at Fordham and later played with the inmate choir at San Quentin State Prison while studying theology in Berkeley, California. In between, he greatly enjoyed his years in Maine teaching students and accompanying them and their families at Cheverus High School. Most recently, James served as a deacon both at San Quentin and Our Lady of Lourdes in Oakland. Next year he will continue in these ministries as he completes a Licentiate in Sacred Theology. James will celebrate Masses of thanksgiving at Fordham and his home church, St. Lawrence, Martyr.
What is your favorite book, movie, music, or TV show you’ve encountered since entering the Society and why do you love it?
After full days of reading or teaching, I’ve grown to appreciate cooking shows, especially competitions such as “Chopped,” “The Great British Baking Show,” and most recently, “Nailed It!!” They not only inspire culinary creativity, but they also teach me the important lesson of time management when cooking in my own communities. (Despite my best-laid plans, I almost always run over time.) And watching a cooking series with housemates gives us a chance to bond after dinner, and maybe a little humility to recognize our own limitations as cooks!
What’s one interesting fact about yourself not everyone would know?
I learned to play violin as a small child and was a member of orchestras throughout high school and college. Yet, it’s been during my time as a Jesuit that I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the gift that music is in my life. Each of my superiors has strongly encouraged me to continue cultivating this gift and share it with others. I’ve had numerous opportunities to teach students and to contribute to liturgical music in both elegant churches and prison chapels. But I’ve also been able to savor the everyday moments of rehearsing with friends in small groups playing piano trios and string quartets. Sharing a common passion for music lends to extending hospitality and rich spiritual conversation, especially with colleagues from different religious traditions (or none at all) whose souls are profoundly stirred by the sounds we produce. Much of what I have learned about collaboration in parishes and schools has been cultivated within the intimate space of music-making.
James gives violin lessons at St. Ignatius School in the Bronx in 2013.
Imagine you could travel back in time and meet yourself the first day you entered the Society of Jesus. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to yourself?
The day I entered the Jesuits I would have never imagined that within a couple of years my father would be diagnosed with cancer and pass away. Looking back on this sad event that changed my responsibilities within my family and shaped my formation, I’d encourage myself to trust just how supportive my brother Jesuits would be. So many have asked with great care and interest about my mother’s well-being, and a few of my close friends and classmates even write her notes and call her on occasion. Spiritual directors and community members have provided me with compassionate support while I mourned, a privileged environment that many people don’t have access to. Over the years, each of my superiors has encouraged me to make additional family visits for special events, and sometimes just because. My mom has enjoyed wonderful hospitality in my communities, and she in turn has extended hospitality to my brothers. During these recent years when I’ve lived across the country, I’ve still felt connected to my family and my roots. And so, on day one I’d remind myself – or anyone else for that matter – that the Jesuits will not only become your extended family, but truly integrate with your biological family.
Who is one important mentor who has accompanied you on your journey? What made them a good mentor?
Fr. Jack Fagan, S.J., arrived in Portland, Maine, the same week as I did in the summer of 2014. I was beginning my regency at Cheverus High School, and Jack, his appointment as superior of my community. We quickly established a pattern of sharing stories of our daily ministry in our house’s living room while listening to classical music on the radio. Jack’s enthusiastic questions not only helped me focus my prayer on how God had been present throughout my day in the lives of my students and their families, but also helped me imagine new possibilities for evangelization to the youth. Using his wisdom from decades of creative pastoral ministry on the margins, Jack’s responses to my stories reflected on how seemingly minor interactions with folks may have actually made a major impact on their days. Such creative visions came true when we entertained the Cheverus students three straight years singing humorous duets at the annual karaoke fundraiser. Jack modeled wonderful care for the Jesuits in our community as our superior and invited me to assist him with some of his administrative responsibilities, which gave me a valuable perspective on his important role and a greater sense of ownership in spite of being the youngest member. We were also privileged to participate together on several Kairos retreats, and I was fortunate to witness the impact his compassionate priestly ministry had on the students. Moments like these moved me forward toward the later stage of formation with eagerness to be ordained a priest. Throughout the years, Jack has shown me the importance of hospitality — to teacher colleagues and especially to family and friends — and that what matters most is spending quality time with the people we love. It’s both an obvious choice and an honor to have Jack vest me at my ordination this summer.
James (right) with Fr. Jack Fagan, S.J., (left) and then-novice Brendan Gottschall, S.J., en route to an island near Portland, Maine.