God’s invitation to the priesthood or religious life reaches us through parents and family, teachers and friends, and through the many events and experiences that each of us encounters in life. This includes military service. St. Ignatius Loyola was a soldier wounded in action. As he read the lives of the saints while he recovered, God invited him to reconsider his goals in life.
Here are the stories of three men who entered the Society of Jesus after serving in the military.
Missioned in a New Way
By Thomas Simisky, SJ
“How could you go from being a Marine to a Jesuit?” This is the question I am always asked when people hear a little about my past. I asked myself, and God, the very same question many times throughout my discernment.
Having been a Marine artillery officer for four years after graduating from Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts, with a political science degree, I had already received a strong formation that shaped my character in many lasting ways. And in spite of growing up active in our local parish and attending St. John’s High School, I had slipped away from regular Mass attendance. All of this led me to wonder if I was worthy, or even capable, of a priestly vocation.
I was finally able to listen to Christ’s call when I was a graduate student at Boston College. While on a five-day Ignatian retreat, I reflected back on when God was most present in my life and when I felt most alive and fulfilled. Strangely, I thought of my deployment to the Persian Gulf in 1995.
I realized that I enjoyed working with and teaching the young Marines in my unit, many of whom came from difficult family backgrounds. I also felt inspired by the sense of being sent on mission, doing something greater than myself in which it was understood that we had to sacrifice our individualism for the greater good. And I enjoyed living in community (as shipboard and barracks life really is). All of this allowed me to see that my missionary vocation as a Jesuit was actually always present.
Many close friends were surprised (though always supportive) when I told them I was entering the Society of Jesus. Over time, the response inevitably becomes, “It makes total sense.”
Vowed life permits me to be missioned in new ways. My eight years in the Society have been filled with many travels and assignments. But fundamentally it continues allowing me to grow in faith, increasingly free to follow Christ with greater courage. SEMPER FIDELIS!
Thomas Simisky, SJ, is a first year theology student at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
Discovering My Vocation
By Rudi Casals, SJ
My first “encounter” with the Society of Jesus was in Japan. While visiting Nagasaki harbor, I went up a nearby hill for a better view of the city. This brought me to the site of the shrine of the 26 martyrs. I was struck by the fact that such an explicitly Catholic site was in the mostly non-Christian surroundings of Japan. My subsequent research led me to the story of Jesuit Saint Paul Miki and the history of the Church in Japan. This was the start of a significant relationship with the Society.
While teaching at the Naval Academy, my heart was torn between a love of the Navy and a growing desire to serve God as a priest. I had the benefit of working alongside Navy chaplain Fr. Robert Keane, SJ. His daily example, and conversations with Fr. Brendan Hurley, SJ, (now a spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome), gave me the freedom to make the choice to apply to the Society. While working in Des Moines, Iowa, as a recruiter, I had the chance to visit the Jesuits at Creighton University who continued to help me find God in my life.
It was the sum of various factors and individuals that led me to the Society. A great part of my vocation I owe to the sailors who shared with me their joys and pains. Their trust allowed me to realize that the most rewarding and fulfilling part of being a naval officer was the pastoral opportunities it afforded me. Also, the unwavering loyalty and friendship of the particular shipmates I had gave me the confidence and freedom to risk leaving a life in the Navy for the possibility of finding fulfillment in an intimate relationship with Christ. The individual Jesuits who worked in the various places the Navy assigned me were a constant reminder of the Society’s worldwide mission. They, along with the example of St. Ignatius, the soldier turned pilgrim, turned spiritual guide and finally saint, who left behind a roadmap for those embarking on the same journey from military life to religious life, helped inspire my own vocation to the Society. Finally, it was my family who taught me how to love God, and that made all this possible.
Rudi Casals, SJ, teaches at Xavier High School in New York City.
Answering Christ’s Call
By Richard Nichols, SJ
There were a number of influences in my life that brought me to the Society of Jesus.
It was a thrill for me to study at Loyola Blakefield in Baltimore from grades 7 to 12. The place was set aside from the everyday. At Loyola, you experienced a measure of independence and some of the trappings of adulthood: wearing a coat and tie, being called “Mr.” by teachers, and being allowed to spend your free period however you chose. I experienced a sense of fraternity embodied by the upperclassmen, and a sense of sonship under the care of the Jesuits. The teaching and the example of the Jesuits were impressive at first, but they were soon taken for granted. I can see now what a blessing it is to be able to take role models for granted. It is also a blessing to stop and reflect on men whom you respect, and to give consideration to the course of your life. I learned how to practice such reflection in later years when on retreat.
After college, I served in the Navy for six and a half years. I was blessed with the opportunity to meet truly exemplary sailors. It was at this time that I made my first spiritual retreat. As I reflected upon the examples of good men whom I had known, and upon myself, and upon the course of my life, it became clear what God was calling me to. One of the techniques that really helped in this discernment was to imagine myself on my deathbed, looking back over the course of my life, and pondering whether I had done God’s will (Spiritual Exercises #186). I see now that being a Jesuit is the best way for me to answer Christ’s call to follow him more closely.
Richard Nichols, SJ, is in First Studies at Bellarmine House of Studies, St. Louis, Missouri.