Formation a journey — literally — for local Jesuit novices

| Susan Klemond | November 10, 2016 | 0 Comments
Nine Jesuit novices prepare to make their first profession of vows at St. Thomas More in St. Paul Aug. 13 ­­— from left, Michael Bartlett, José Camacho, Pierce Gibson, David Inczauskis, James Kennedy, James McGivney, Jack McLinden, Thomas O’Donnell and Christopher Williams. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Nine Jesuit novices prepare to make their first profession of vows at St. Thomas More in St. Paul Aug. 13 ­­— from left, Michael Bartlett, José Camacho, Pierce Gibson, David Inczauskis, James Kennedy, James McGivney, Jack McLinden, Thomas O’Donnell and Christopher Williams. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Standing near the entrance of the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Alberto Hurtado in St. Paul is a statue of the patron of Jesuit novices: 16th-century St. Stanislaus Kostka, who as a teenager embarked on a 350-mile pilgrimage on foot from Vienna to Rome.

Modern Jesuit novices follow in his path, taking a pilgrimage in which they aim to leave comforts and depend on God. They begin with $35, a one-way bus ticket and a 30-day timeframe. From there, their compass is the Holy Spirit.


National Vocation Awareness Week is Nov. 6-12

National Vocation Awareness Week is an annual weeklong celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations.


Novice Billy Critchley-Menor, 20, ended up spending four days and nights traveling cross country by bus during his pilgrimage in April. It wasn’t his plan, he said, but God’s.

During that long, uncomfortable trip to attend a funeral in New York City, God gave the Duluth native insights for his formation to become a Jesuit priest. He learned about offering himself to God, the essential role of prayer and seeing Christ’s incarnation in his poor traveling companions.

“When everything familiar falls away, your prayer is the only thing that is familiar,” said Critchley-Menor, who is among 29 men completing the two-year novitiate in St. Paul.

The group is the largest the novitiate has ever housed, said Jesuit Father Thomas Pipp, director of novices.

“People talk about ‘the Pope Francis effect,’ and I think that’s part of it,” Father Pipp said. He also attributes the increase to the assignment of more full-time vocation recruiters.

Located on Summit Avenue next to St. Thomas More, a parish in the care of Jesuit priests, the novitiate serves the provincial territory from Kentucky to the Dakotas. The novices, mostly in their 20s, come from a variety of backgrounds and education levels.

Those interviewed said they joined to serve the marginalized and oppressed, and they were attracted to the order’s spirituality. As part of their formation, they complete a rigorous program of “experiments” or learning experiences in prayer, study, community life and apostolic service to people in need. While learning the importance of “contemplation in action” and reliance on God, the novices discern whether they are called to be brothers or priests in the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits.

In the novitiate’s comfortable “upper room,” novices share community life without smart phones, which aren’t permitted. St. Paul native and first-year novice Mark Hakes, 28, said the idea of this shared life made him both excited and nervous.

“It’s the most beautiful thing, but it’s also the most difficult thing,” he said.

Hakes will make his pilgrimage next spring. “I just feel like it’s going to be very liberating,” he said. “You have the clothes in your bag and you’re at the mercy of other people — a total dependence and surrender to God.”

Looking back to look inside

While Pope Francis may be the best known living Jesuit, the novices are strongly influenced by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the order’s founder. While praying in a Spanish cave in 1522, the 32-year-old began developing his Spiritual Exercises, a series of meditations, prayers and contemplative steps that now comprise one of the most influential spiritual books.

The prayers offer “an experience that reaches down in the foundations of how you understand yourself, your relationship with the Church and with those the Church serves,” said Taylor Fulkerson, 23, of Lanesville, Indiana, a second-year novice.

The exercises and prayer lay the foundation for the apostolic work the first-year novices will offer during a 30-day retreat, Father Pipp said.

Reaching into the community

The novitiate’s patron, St. Alberto Hurtado, was a 20th-century Chilean Jesuit priest who wrote about Catholic social teaching and service to the poor. Novices minister to those in need by serving as Catholic grade school catechists, teachers and helpers to immigrants, and chaplains at the Ramsey County Correction Facility and Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center.

The novices are “outstanding in their devotion to their faith; they’re very much people of prayer,” Father Pipp said. They’re “searching for faith and community life, they’re very zealous, compassionate toward the poor.”

First-year novice John Weinandy, 25, of Bowling Green, Ohio, has found it challenging to tutor middle school kids, but the experience helps him discern his vocation.

“It very much is a house of discernment, so with all the things we’re doing, it’s really looking at Jesus’ life and … illuminating that,” he said.

Novices have served at Learning in Style School for adult immigrants in Minneapolis for more than 10 years, said its director, Sister of St. Joseph Agnes Foley. The school is a ministry of her order.

“We profit greatly from them [the novices], but on the other hand, they have an opportunity they’ll never have again to find out what it’s like to be without an education, and what is it like to try and communicate with someone who doesn’t speak or someone who doesn’t know what letters are,” she said.

St. Ignatius’ prayer of surrender, the Suscipe, which informs novices’ prayer and life, goes with them as they continue their formation — a process of study and apostolic service that can take up to 10 more years.

The prayer includes the lines, “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty … . All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it.”

Speaking about the prayer, Hakes said, “Everything is yours, do with it what you will. You know everything that I have, Lord. You’re the one who gets to use it … . If that’s what you feel that I need to do, then I guess that’s what I’m praying for. Everything is yours.”

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Category: Vocations