Jesuit Daniel Gustafson is a second-year novice who just finished his long experiment — a key part of the Jesuit novitiate, as it enables the novice to work in a Jesuit ministry and “test out” his vocation. For his experiment, Gustafson taught religion and worked in the Mission and Ministry Office at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, but he found that was just his official job description.
In addition to those duties, Gustafson was made assistant tennis coach, and he also helped by chaperoning mixers, leading the weekly Examen over the intercom and helping to plan, lead and direct retreats and service events. Once, he even found himself cutting tiles to be installed in a house that Prep students helped to build over spring break.
Another part of his unofficial duties were the many conversations he had with students throughout the day, at a retreat or during a tennis match or service trip. As Gustafson came to know the students better, he had two realizations.
The first was that “each and every student was looking for essentially one thing and one thing only — acceptance. A place and person or group with whom they could be themselves, relax, take a deep breath in the midst of a typically busy high school day, and know that they are cared for,” he wrote.
The second realization he had about these talks was that as the students became more comfortable around him, every now and then the seriousness of the conversation would deepen, from discussing a student’s fears about moving away to college to a struggle with believing in God to a difficult situation in the student’s family life.
“In seeking acceptance and an opportunity to share something challenging in their lives, these students helped me to recognize that this is a universal human characteristic,” Gustafson wrote. “These are the same thirsts that I feel and that all of us feel. And it is exactly where God wants to meet us: listening to us, helping to carry our burdens, loving us at each and every turn.”
Through these students, Gustafson found that “God showed me that being a companion of Jesus will also bring me to what may be a run-of-the-mill conversation or may lead to listening to someone vulnerably share an issue that has been plaguing him or her for years.”
Read more of Gustafson’s reflections on his long experiment at www.jesuitvocation.org.