Jesuit Father Robert Ballecer serves as the National Director for Vocation Promotion for the U.S. Society of Jesus, but in technology circles he’s known as the “Digital Jesuit.” And he likes that name a lot better than the alternative: Friar Tech.
A digital guru with a growing legion of 4,000 Twitter followers, Fr. Ballecer operates his own website, The Tech Stop, which he calls a “site with a soul.” He also hosts “This Week in Enterprise Tech” (TWiET) on the online tech network TWiT.
Fr. Ballecer, who wears a Roman collar and identifies himself as a Jesuit on the show, says it’s been amazing to read the comments in the chat room from different episodes. There’s been a shift from “Why is there a priest on the tech network?” to the same people saying, “Fr. Robert actually knows what he’s talking about.”
So how did this self-proclaimed geek from Fremont, Calif. end up becoming a priest?
“My vocation story was a little less light from the heavens and a little more gradual leading me up to the inescapable conclusion that this is the only life I’d be happy in,” says Fr. Ballecer.
A first generation Philippine American, Fr. Ballecer was focused on making his mark in business and had already started a computer consulting firm by the time he was an undergrad at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. But he quickly realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
A Jesuit priest at Santa Clara helped him recognize his calling. “The Jesuits I saw on campus were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. They were some of the most brilliant people I’d ever met,” says Fr. Ballecer. “They seemed to have what I wanted — a satisfaction in life. That’s what set me on the track to join.”
After two years of doing retreats and spiritual direction while a student at Santa Clara, Fr. Ballecer says there were “angst ridden” days where he fought against his calling to join the Society of Jesus. “I was fighting myself, thinking why would I want to do this? I’ve worked all my life to get out of poverty and now I want to take a vow of poverty?”
Once Fr. Ballecer joined the Jesuits, he said that his experience in the novitiate cemented that this was the life he wanted to live.
A Jesuit and a Techie
Before becoming the National Director for Vocation Promotion three years ago, Fr. Ballecer was assigned to parishes in California and Hawaii, and he’s also served in China, the Philippines and Bolivia. In addition to his ministries, he’s stayed active in the tech world, with projects such as “Gadget,” an online show he’s run as a hobby for the past five years, which has received over 14 million YouTube views.
Fr. Ballecer’s tech expertise is a perfect fit for vocation promotion with the Millennial Generation (age 28 and younger).
At last count his office has created over 600 hours of You Tube content — from interviews with Jesuits to videos from World Youth Day to his tech content. “The strategy has been to say anything that shows priests and Jesuits doing things that others might be interested in — that’s vocation promotion and that’s what we want to show,” explains Fr. Ballecer.
One of his projects was a video series called “Path to Priesthood,” which followed Jesuit Radmar Jao from his deaconate ordination to his priestly ordination. The popular series was picked up by CatholicTV.
Pursue Your Passion and Your Vocation
Fr. Ballecer says that the Society wants to encourage more Jesuits to show their competence in venues that will reach out to the Millennial Generation. “We want to reach out to people who are looking for something to believe in,” he says.
“I’ve been using the weekly online show as a forum to say ‘Look I’m a priest and I’m a man of faith, but at the same time I have a sense of humor and I’m very competent about my subject material. I’m willing to listen to all different ideas.’ ”
One of Fr. Ballecer’s first vocation promotion projects was “Jesuits Revealed,” a video series of interviews with Jesuits from around the country with different areas of expertise.
“We have these three-minute vignettes into the life of Jesuits and if you watched enough of them you could find someone who believed like you, who grew up like you, who had the same interests as you. It’s reinforcing that a life of faith and a life of the priesthood is not what you think it is,” Fr. Ballecer says.
One of the things Fr. Ballecer tells vocation promoters to look for is the aha moment.
“The aha moment is anything that you do, anything that you say, anything that makes someone say, ‘I didn’t know that about faith or I didn’t know that about religious life.’ It’s where old, preconceived notions are emptied out and you get an understanding that you didn’t have before. I think all vocation promotion is built on that aha moment.”
For anyone considering a Jesuit vocation who may not think they fit the right mold, Fr. Ballecer says, “We’re not calling for what you think a priest is. We’re asking who you are, and we’re saying we can use that in the priesthood.”