Boston College Star Enters the Jesuit Novitiate

Dan Kennedy graduated from Boston College (BC) last month, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and the recipient of the school’s most prestigious prize, the Edward H. Finnegan Award.

Winners of the Finnegan, given to the student who best exemplifies the BC motto, “ever to excel,’’ tend to go big – top grad schools, Wall Street, overseas fellowships. Kennedy is planning to give away his computer, recycle his Blackberry, and move to a modest communal house in St. Paul, Minn.

He will get $75 a month for incidentals. He will have no romantic relationships. He will go where his superiors ask him to go, and do what they ask him to do. If all goes well, Kennedy – “Dan-o’’ to his friends – can hope to be ordained a Jesuit priest in 2023.

Entering a religious order straight out of college is rare these days, particularly for a standout student at an elite school. One or two graduating BC seniors enter seminary each year, but never in recent memory has a Finnegan winner done so.

“Um, I could never see Dan-o on Wall Street,’’ Shannon Griesser, a junior, said, laughing. “I’ve never met such a kind human being, to the core.’’

But he is hardly a “laxbro,’’ either, as one of his theology professors, Stephen Pope, quipped. (The term is slang for a lacrosse-obsessed frat brother.)

Medium height and solidly built, the bespectacled Kennedy keeps his room in military order, his comforter neatly folded, paper clips and pens exactingly arrayed in his desk drawer. He uses words like “unitive,’’ as in, “There’s nothing more unitive than enjoying a meal together.’’ There is no self-consciousness in his voice when he talks about his motivation for becoming a Jesuit: “My personal relationship with Jesus Christ.’’

“It’s the love I feel from God, and how I want to reciprocate that,’’ he said.

“I’m not entering the church of 50 years ago or 500 years ago. I’m entering the church in 2012,’’ he said. “So you have to be realistic about the challenges of the images of priesthood in this day and age. . . . I don’t find it daunting, but it’s going to be a challenge.’’

Many of his closest BC friends are religious – but many are not. Florence Candel, an atheist who said she arrived at school with “a lot of anger at the church,’’ developed a strong friendship with Kennedy, who presented a face of Catholicism that Candel said she had never seen before – open, accepting, and embracing her questions as invitations for conversation. “Dan-o just basically taught me that to say I have a lack of faith is incorrect,’’ she said. “I obviously have faith in some things. Maybe not the same faith as people around me have, but that’s OK.’’

Candel still calls herself an atheist, but she sometimes participated in the informal “examens’’ Kennedy held for friends in his room on Monday nights. A cornerstone of Ignatian spirituality, the examination of consciousness is a ritual of prayerful reflection on daily life.

For 15 or 20 minutes, the group would sit together in Kennedy’s dorm room, a suite shared with three roommates, and silently consider questions Kennedy posed: “Where did you encounter God today? When could you have been more loving? What were you grateful for?’’

The daily examen is just one of the ways Kennedy continued to explore Jesuit life. In addition to attending Mass at least once a week, and getting to know the Jesuits on campus, he began to meet with a spiritual director, Jesuit Father William B. Neenan, BC’s vice president and special assistant to the president.

Kennedy will spend the first two years doing a series of “experiments’’ imitating the life of St. Ignatius, including a 30-day silent retreat, stints working at a hospital and with the poor. He will study a foreign language, and he will go on a pilgrimage with just $10 in his pocket and a letter from his superiors to speed his progress.

After the first two years, Kennedy will be sent to study philosophy for three years at a Jesuit university; then he will probably teach at one of the Jesuit high schools in the province. In the following three years, he will earn a master’s of divinity, preparing him for ordination.

Find out more about Kennedy’s considerations and expectations as he plans to join the Society of Jesus this August in this Boston Globe article.

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