Looking Back: Celebrating 50 years as a Jesuit in the Seattle Times

Fifty years ago,  in 1961,  Jesuit Father Patrick Howell entered the Society of Jesus at Sheridan, Ore, the novitiate for Jesuits in the Northwest.Today, Fr. Howell is the rector (religious superior) of the Jesuit Community at Seattle University and professor of pastoral theology. In this piece for the Seattle Times, Fr. Howell looks back upon his time as a Jesuit and his own travails. 

A recent graduate of Gonzaga University, I was only 21, but my peers, most of whom had entered directly from a Jesuit high school, such as Seattle Prep or Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, considered me one of the “old men.”

The years pass swiftly, but they have been full of grace and certainly much more joy than sorrow.

I was blessed with first-class opportunities for advanced education. After initial studies in spirituality, prayer, Jesuit tradition and a dose of Latin and Greek, I studied philosophy and English literature at Boston College.

Then came three years of high-school teaching at Jesuit High in Portland. I survived the trials and testing by high-school boys and grew to love the personal interaction and challenge of teaching English, creative writing and poetry and advising the high school newspaper.

This “formation” period of teaching in high school probably accounts for why most Jesuits are such good teachers and homilists. Survival demands that you develop rhetorical skills and a flair for the dramatic — even though it’s not native to your personality — in order to grab the attention of 28 sophomore boys for 50 minutes each day…

But another significant portion of my life has been spiritual care of those who have suffered severe mental illness.

All this arose as a surprise, when I suffered a psychotic breakdown myself at age 35 and then recovered through excellent psychiatric care and the good graces and support of family and friends…

This “grace” led to an amazingly rich ministry with people with mental illness and their families.

Years ago, Jesuit Father Michael Buckley, in an address to Jesuit seminarians asked, “Is this man sufficiently weak to be a priest?”…

Why weakness? Because, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is in this deficiency, in this interior lack, in this weakness, that the efficacy of the ministry and priesthood of Christ lies. “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)

I think, after 50 years, I can rejoice in being “weak enough” to allow the grace of Christ to shine through and carry the load.

More of Howell’s life as a Jesuit can be found in this piece in the Seattle Times.

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