Archive for February, 2013

Peace Corps Service Led Novice to Jesuits

Jesuit novice Andrew Hanson Long before Jesuit novice Andrew Hanson entered the Society of Jesus this past August, several people had mentioned the priesthood to him, but he always wrote the idea off. “I was determined to have a family and live a ‘normal’ life,” Hanson, 25, told the Catholic Messenger. But while serving in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2009 to 2011, he began to rethink his future.

“I lived a simple lifestyle in a community, which meant that I had a lot of time to read, pray and just simply be, whether it was alone or with my community members,” Hanson says. “The more comfortable I got with living a simple life in a poor community, the more disenchanted I became with the plans and schemes I had envisioned, my future family and the way I viewed ‘success.’”

Hanson said that reading about St. Ignatius, Ignatian spirituality and other faith philosophies helped him start to recognize God’s presence in all that was going on around him. “It was clear that the movements of my heart were challenging me to explore the possibility that my deepest desire and truest fulfillment might be to serve God in the Society of Jesus,” he says.

After returning to his family in Iowa after the Peace Corps, Hanson applied and was accepted as a novice for the Wisconsin Province Jesuits.

Hanson had admired the Society since attending Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where he majored in psychology and organizational communications. Though Hanson didn’t see himself becoming a Jesuit during his college days, he felt inspired to experience life on the margins, which led him to the Peace Corps.

While working as a youth development promoter in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, his religious vocation blossomed, Hanson says.

As a Jesuit novice, he spends much of his time in class, praying, tutoring immigrants pursuing U.S. citizenship and serving at a local Latino community resource center.

“It’s really easy to neglect time for silent contemplation due to our busy schedules, and I’m finding that I have to approach prayer like an exercise routine,” Hanson says. “By that I mean that if I don’t explicitly plan the hour into my day ahead of time, it’s tough to stay true to it. It has been simultaneously a challenge and a blessing.”

For more on Hanson’s journey to the Jesuit novitiate, visit the Catholic Messenger website.

Jesuit Explores God, Religion and Science in Ignatian Seminar

Jesuit Father David Collins Jesuit Father David Collins has always been “fascinated by God and religion.”  At Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he explores the relationship between religion and science in an Ignatius Seminar course he created two years ago.

Fr.  Collins says that he’s always had a theological curiosity, and as an undergraduate he began to investigate his own relationship with God. As a senior, he applied to join the Society of Jesus.

“Even during a highly skeptical phase in my life, I found the big questions that theology poses intriguing and important as in no other discipline,” Fr.  Collins says. “But the decision to enter religious life and pursue the priesthood had much more to do with an awareness of God in my heart than with any theological proposition or school of thought.”

In the classroom, Fr. Collins channels his interests into his popular seminar, “Science and Religion in the West: Historical Perspectives.” The course begins with Latin theologian St. Augustine and the dominant question of his time — should Christians study science, as the pagan Greeks do? — and ends with modern American debates about evolution.

For Fr. Collins, the most rewarding aspect of his Ignatius Seminar is that it goes against the popular Western narrative that science and religion are enemies. History, he says, shows that these two institutions work well together and that their cooperation often leads to good things for civilization.

“America’s religiously inspired hostility to evolution is the exception, not the rule, in the history of the West. It’s enjoyable to watch students’ jaws hit the floor when they see that, despite some newspaper polemic, Western scientific discovery has recurrently advanced thanks to religious insights and religious commitment of resources,” Fr. Collins says.

“The actual history of the relationship between science and religion in the West is so much more interesting than the sound bites of culture warriors on the left or the right.”

Read the full story at the Georgetown University website.

New Sacred Story Institute Brings the Examen to a Wide Audience

Jesuit Father Bill WatsonBuilding a better prayer life through research and data may sound like a strange concept, but that is exactly what Jesuit Father Bill Watson is doing through the Sacred Story Institute (SSI).

A national Ignatian apostolate founded a year ago, SSI is based in Seattle. The Institute’s focus is to bring St. Ignatius’s Examination of Conscience, known as the Examen, to modern audiences and help them use it in their prayer lives. The Institute also collects data from those using its prayer method to learn about their experiences for the purpose of shaping more intuitive and strategic spiritual formation resources.

Fr. Watson’s ultimate goal is to help people pray and connect personally to Christ, so as to know how best to serve the Kingdom — the goal of the Spiritual Exercises. “We tend to focus on our spiritual life when we’re in a spiritual context, like Mass on Sunday,” he says. “I’m focused on how can we take Ignatian spirituality and use it for evangelization to a much broader audience than just those who may come to a retreat center.”

Fr. Watson has been engaged in retreat work for three decades, including as Director of Retreat Programs at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Vice President for Jesuit Identity & Mission at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

Through his retreat work, Fr. Watson says, “I became keenly aware that you can give people the best retreat experience, but the big challenge is to keep people spiritually connected to God after the retreat when they go back to their busy lives.”

Since recommitting to the Examen while on sabbatical 20 years ago, Fr. Watson has focused much of his work on this five-step reflective prayer.

During the Sacred Story Institute’s first research project this past year, hundreds of people from six Seattle parishes took part in a 40-week Examen course based on a new method of the Examen that Fr. Watson developed in his recent book: “Sacred Story-An Ignatian Examen for the Third Millennium. They also did weekly surveys, providing the Institute’s research director, Mr. Joseph Youngblood, with data about their experiences.

“We’re research-focused,” says Fr. Watson, “but the purpose of the research is to build smarter spiritual resources that can help people grow.”
Sacred Story cover

In addition to developing and offering the Examen course and collecting data from those who participate, the Sacred Story Institute decided to do its own publishing. Fr. Watson said the Institute plans on doing quite a bit of publishing, and managing its own book portfolio gives it greater flexibility. In the spring, the Institute will publish its second book, “Forty Weeks—An Ignatian Path to Christ with Sacred Story Prayer,” a popular version of the short Sacred Story method in the book of the same name.

In its second year, Fr. Watson says the Institute is using the Sacred Story Examen method to construct K-8 Conscience Formation resources for K-8 students. As part of the project, the Institute, through the Archdiocese’s Offices of Adult Faith Formation and Catholic Schools, is offering its 40-week program to all K-8 teachers in the Seattle Archdiocese’s schools.

The Institute will also customize the prayer program for different audiences: pastoral ministers and teachers;  married and engaged couples; persons contemplating vocations; people with addictions; and other groups that approach the Institute for special research applications of the Sacred Story method.  A long-term goal is to have research offices in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Learn more about the Sacred Story Institute at, where a web-based version of the 40-week Examen course is available for individual use.

Jesuit Says Confusion Over Vatican II Is Normal, Even 50 Years Later

Jesuit Father Ladislas OrsyJesuit Father Ladislas Orsy served as an expert at the Second Vatican Council, which opened in 1962, but he admits, “I’m just beginning to understand the depth and breadth of the council.”

Fr. Orsy, a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., told an audience at a recent speech in Rome that while every ecumenical council in church history led to debate — and sometimes even schism — it has always taken more than 50 years for a council’s teachings and reforms to take root in the Christian community.

Fr. Orsy, 91, said he hoped to live a “few more years” so he could try to understand more about where the Holy Spirit is leading the church through the teachings of Vatican II and the continuing process of that teaching taking root in the lives of Catholics.

In his talk, Fr. Orsy looked particularly at “Dignitatis Humanae,” Vatican II’s declaration on human dignity and religious freedom.

Fr. Orsy, a canon lawyer, said the document, approved on the last day of the council, takes the visions of the church, the world and the human person expressed in the other Vatican II documents and applies them to “real-life situations.”

The document insists on “respect for the truth, but asserts that charity has its own priority, sometimes even above truth,” urging the church to model itself more closely after Christ, “who never imposed with any kind of violence the truth that he proclaimed,” said Fr. Orsy.

The council, he said, articulated a “fresh view of the human person” and affirmed that “by acknowledging the freedom of the human person, we honor a divine quality in the human person,” who was created in God’s image and likeness.

“The ultimate conclusion is not to enforce the truth, but to embrace the person,” Fr. Orsy said.

For more of Fr. Orsy’s reflections on Vatican II, read the full article at the National Catholic Reporter.