Robert Daly, SJ, New England Province
Professor emeritus of theology
Associate consultant and assistant for higher education for the New England Province
My vocation story, as I look back on it, has a somewhat humorous beginning. 70 years ago, in the second grade of St. Mary’s School in West Quincy, a girl sitting in front of me, put up her hand: “Sister! Sister! Sister!” “Yes?” answered Sister Adela, “I know someone who is going to be a priest, because priests don’t go to hell.” That being the time when we thought that one could end up in hell for all sorts of things great and small, even for things like eating meat of Friday, or missing Mass on Sunday, I thought that was a pretty good proposition. It was the precise moment of the beginning of my vocation. After that, when anyone asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I would answer, “a priest.”
For 70 years I have been discovering what that means. The young boy in grammar school wanted to be a glamorous, heroic missionary. The adolescent at B.C. High, having second thoughts about the difficult life of a missionary, but still wanting to be a priest, got attracted to the Jesuits. I noticed that Jesuit priests did all kinds of things. I thought to myself, “If they’ll take me, they’ll probably find something for me to do.” The Jesuits did take me, in 1950, fresh out of B.C. High, barely 17 years old. Amazingly, 59 years later, the Jesuits are still finding things for me to do, and I am still discovering more and more of the meaning of what began in the second grade 70 years ago.
The first “moment” in this journey of discovery was—and still is—to be discovering what community means. Although I did not realize it at the time, that moment began in my family, under my mother and father, and with my three brothers and three sisters. Family life and family sharing, made my transition to the Jesuits both effortless and happy. Life with the Jesuits has become a whole series of discoveries. As a young Jesuit I began to realize that using my mind was not just a job to be done, but also a profound joy and a fulfilling mission, one that has worked out in a whole series of apparently never-ending discoveries. While learning what it meant to be a Jesuit, and a priest, I was also discovering that I was not to be a specialist in science but in English Literature. Then, as ordination approached, I discovered that I was not to be in English, but in theology. Then, years later, already in my 50s and well established as a systematic theologian, I discovered that my calling was to become a liturgical theologian. A full decade later, already in my mid-60s, at a time when I had thought that the age of “discoveries” was for me long past, I began to discover what I now see as the true meaning of Christian Sacrifice. I had already written a couple of books and couple of dozen articles about this, and was considered to be something of an expert on the subject, even by my former teacher, the great liturgical theologian, Fr. Ed. Kilmartin, S.J. But I had completely missed the central point of this mystery, as I discovered when working on something that he wrote shortly before he died in 1994. That is what I try to rectify in the book, Sacrifice Unveiled that is coming out just as I celebrate my 76th birthday and 59th as a Jesuit.
My life with the Jesuits continues to be a happy journey of discoveries and—sometimes unexpected—developments. Not just the Jesuits, but also the other theological and academic communities to which I belong are still finding things for me to do. I can only sing with the Psalmist “Miserationes Domini cantabo”—I will sing of the merciful blessings of the Lord.”