Posts Tagged ‘Vocations’
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has designated January 13 to 19 as National Vocations Awareness Week. Started in 1976, this annual weeklong celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States is dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering a vocation. In honor of Vocations Week, the USCCB invited a series of guest bloggers to discuss their vocation story. Today, Jesuit Father Chuck Frederico, vocations director for the New York, Maryland and New England Provinces of the Society of Jesus, shares his.
On June 10, 2006, I was ordained a Jesuit priest, a fact that likely surprised the master chefs who helped train me for two years of intensive study at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York. They predicted I would go on to great things – perhaps even own a restaurant in my home town of Philly – where my love of food first took hold. But, like any good vocation story, there’s a twist, and in my case, God had other plans.
After graduation from the CIA, I discovered that restaurant life was not what I had expected. The hours were long, the work unrewarding. To hedge my bets against the failure of a long-held dream, I began to pursue a degree in food marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
This led to my first real introduction to the Society of Jesus. While I had attended a Catholic grammar school where the nuns insisted that we write AMDG, shorthand for the Latin Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (For the Greater Glory of God) and the Jesuit motto, on all our papers, I was not personally familiar with the Society. At St. Joseph’s, I met Jesuits in person for the first time. They intrigued me because, regardless of their expertise – math, science, theology, or English – they all expressed a profound love of God through their particular academic lenses. God spoke to my heart and showed me men He had chosen to do His work. The more I learned about them, the more I found myself inspired, free, motivated to prayer and anxious to know more. I entered the Society in 1995 and never looked back.
Since the novitiate, Jesus has gently guided and taught me to turn my heart toward him daily. The people who have entered my life in ministry have reminded me that God uses us as his instrument. Finding where God calls us and responding to our own personal vocation is the key to our happiness. In my work as a vocation director for the Society now, I see how often God speaks to our hearts.
The listening heart has sustained me. As a priest, I minister to people in their happiest and saddest moments. I have learned the richness of investing my heart in God’s mission. My heart and mind recall the people who have helped bring me to this moment in my life. Family, friends, fellow Jesuits and the people with whom I have worked in the Society have played a special role, whether through prayers, conversations, laughter or actually shared work.
One final thought. As I headed off to the Culinary Institute as a 17-year-old determined to be a chef, a diocesan priest suggested I note the letters ingrained in the marble at the school’s front door: AMDG. Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam – For the Greater Glory of God. Turns out that the culinary school on the banks of the Hudson was for many years a Jesuit novitiate. Was God calling me to a vocation as I was learning how to master the five mother sauces of French cuisine and butterfly a lamb chop? My listening heart tells me that he was.
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.”
It’s not uncommon for Jesuits to discover their vocation to the Society of Jesus while attending Jesuit-run high schools or universities. But Jesuit scholastic Jason Brauninger’s vocation story is different — he found the Society of Jesus on the Internet.
Brauninger was always curious about a religious vocation, but the diocesan and monastic life didn’t seem to fit him. The more he researched the Society of Jesus, the more he felt called to it, despite having never met a Jesuit. What he learned online made an impact. He was struck by the Jesuit commitment to working in the world and the emphasis on using one’s gifts and talents to serve others.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Brauninger had started training as a junior firefighter at the age of 14 and received a bachelor’s degree in fire science before entering the Society. However, while praying during a 30-day retreat as a Jesuit novice, he felt drawn toward the nursing profession. “It wasn’t quite what I expected to hear,” Brauninger says of the discovery. “But everything has fallen into place and it all happened because of the grace of God.”
Brauninger completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Saint Louis University and became a cardiac care nurse. Now Brauninger is at Regis University in Denver, where he lives with the Regis Jesuit Community, works as a trauma nurse at a local hospital and teaches in the school of nursing.
“It is a great privilege to be at Regis. I’m able to continue my formation as a Jesuit, work as a clinician and learn how to be a professor,” Brauninger says. “I love being with the students.”
By Thomas M. Simisky
Thomas M. Simisky, a Jesuit scholastic in his third year of theology studies at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, wrote the following reflection about his connection to Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek and his own service in Russia.
“Well, I’m not really a monk. I’m a member of the Society of Jesus. This is kind of a pilgrimage, encountering God as St. Ignatius might.” Thus began many conversations in Siberia this past summer when people struggled to figure me out.
Russia is overwhelmingly Orthodox, which means people are familiar with married priests and celibate monks living in monasteries. Religious life in our Western tradition is hard to grasp. The fact that I lived vowed life in community pointed towards monastic life. However, I spent my days working with Russia’s poorest populations and my weekends socializing with friends. Plus, I smiled too much.
So the question kept arising: What was I doing in Russia and why did I even want to be there? After Jesus and Ignatius of Loyola, Walter Ciszek gets the credit.
Reading His Story
During the first year of my novitiate in Syracuse, our Novice Master asked us to choose an inspiring Jesuit saint. I came across Walter Ciszek, SJ, and immediately felt a connection. Fr. Ciszek described himself as a tough, stubborn Pole and an unlikely candidate for priesthood. As a former Marine artillery officer, I still had many of my own rough edges. Though not a canonized saint, he fulfilled my criteria of holiness. He clearly possessed the missionary zeal that I hoped to emulate in my Jesuit life.
I appreciated his direct style, especially the quotation: “Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next. That is the fact of the matter; you believe it or you don’t — and that is the end of it.” These words have inspired me at various times when I find myself getting down about something. I hear Ciszek’s advice as: “Tom, quit complaining. Get grateful. Put the focus back on Christ.”
After the novitiate, I spent three years in Bolivia and Chile studying philosophy. There I met a couple of Chilean Jesuits who had been missioned to Russia. I was fascinated by their stories. Later, I taught theology at Cheverus High School in Maine. Just for fun, I signed up for Russian classes through Portland’s adult education program. (Yes, Maine winters are long and one needs hobbies.)
During my second year of teaching, I discussed some chapters of “He Leadeth Me” with my senior theology classes. His story also intrigued many of my students. The consensus seemed to be, if he can find God in Soviet gulags, we should be able to find God in our lives.
Meeting the People He Loved
I am currently in my third year of theology studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and progressing toward priestly ordination. When I arrived, I asked to continue my Russian studies with a private tutor and to do apostolic work there during the summers.
My first summer was spent in Moscow in 2011. There I volunteered in an orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa sisters) for children with severe disabilities. I also helped organize books in the St. Thomas Institute library, a Jesuit school that grants bachelor’s degrees in religious studies.
On Sundays, I would attend different masses and be amazed by the enthusiasm of the Catholic community. There are only three Catholic churches in Moscow, each holding masses in various languages (Russian, Polish, French, German, Lithuanian, Spanish and English). Every mass was standing room only and very international, the beauty of our Catholic faith.
This past summer was spent in Novosibirsk. There, the Society of Jesus runs a retreat house, as well as a pre-seminary for candidates who will move on to the diocesan seminary in St. Petersburg or the Jesuit novitiate in Poland. My task was to work with street alcoholics living at the Missionaries of Charity home. I taught a daily spirituality class in Russian to 15-20 adults whom the sisters had rescued from the streets. The rest of my day would be spent in pastoral conversations and simple housecleaning.
Another privileged encounter with Christ was the “Maly Kovcheg” (Little Ark) summer camp for adults with disabilities. This is a L’Arche-inspired community of Catholic and Orthodox volunteers who have been working together for the past 11 years. While physically challenging in many ways — transporting patients in a rural setting and the labor involved in setting up the camp — it was a place of overwhelming joy and gratitude.
What Kind of Jesuit?
So, I’m not a monk. I am a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus as Ignatius was (General Congregation 32). St. Ignatius always referred to himself as the pilgrim and dreamed of going to the Holy Land to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.
Walter Ciszek found God in Russia, and I too have found it to be a holy land because of its people. Russians face many challenges today, much of which comes from its history and the devastating effects of alcoholism on so many families. But I am grateful to Fr. Ciszek’s spiritual guidance, pointing me East so that I too might share in the love he had for the Russian people.
Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek’s life is being celebrated during National Jesuit Vocation Month, and the Ignatian News Network (INN) has released a new video to highlight his story. “Father Walter Ciszek: A Jesuit at the Frontiers” gives an overview of Fr. Cizsek’s life, from his youth to his time in prison and labor camps in the Soviet Union to his release, which was orchestrated by Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy. INN did extensive archival research to produce the video, which includes an interview with Jesuit Father Daniel Flaherty, Fr. Ciszek’s co-author on two books about his life.
“If there was one thing Walter prided himself on, it was being tough, so he always wanted to do the harder thing. If you could do it, he could do it better,” says Fr. Flaherty of Fr. Ciszek, whose service on the frontier of Russia still inspires Jesuit vocations today.