By Fr. Matt Walsh, SJ
Actually, I don’t keep a diary. If I did, this is what I would write down for a normal day's entry: I heard numerous confessions, presided at the Eucharist at Church of the Gesu, had a community meeting and a number of pastoral visits, met a spiritual directee…it was a full day. And it was a good day.
While going through the Jesuit formation process, I never thought I would find myself in the role of a parish priest. I figured I would be a teacher and coach, perhaps similar to the work I did at Nativity Jesuit Academy before I entered the Jesuits; or maybe I would be missioned to Red Cloud High School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where I did my Jesuit regency. Retreat director was also on my personal short list, since I enjoy working in the Spiritual Exercises and doing spiritual direction. And yet, here I am as an associate pastor at Gesu in Milwaukee — and really enjoying it!
How did all of this come about? My father was Jesuit-educated at the University of Detroit Mercy in the 1950s. He always spoke with high regard for the Jesuits he had as professors. Much later, I attended Marquette University and came to know Jesuits as professors, spiritual directors, and mentors. After graduation, I taught at Nativity and came to know more of the Society of Jesus' mission to the poor and marginalized. Putting all this together gave me the impetus to apply to the Jesuits. I was accepted into the Jesuit novitiate in 1997, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Actually, the rest is a story of discernment. While in formation, I spent significant time in Omaha, St. Paul, Chicago, Pine Ridge, California, and Latin America. I taught, coached, studied, and prayed. I came into contact with all kinds of people. While in California, I helped with a Scripture and prayer group in a homeless shelter. It was inspiring and humbling to pray with people who had hit “rock bottom.” This also gave me another opportunity to read the Gospel — and to walk with Jesus — in a way I had not done before.
|Fr. Matt Walsh, SJ, celebrates Mass at Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee.||
The Society of Jesus not only allowed me, but also encouraged me, to be involved with the poor, marginalized, and excluded. In this work I have had many encounters with Jesus in the faces and lives of people. I have found it easy to identify myself with Jesus in the Gospel, who teaches, heals, prays, and lives with His disciples. In my Daily Examen and discernment, I found that I was at peace and always had a strong sense that God led me to these places and these people. God was at work all around me.
Now I find myself in a place and doing work that I did not imagine or dream. Working as a parish priest didn’t seem like a strong possibility, given how few parishes the Society of Jesus has. In the Wisconsin Province, there are about 180 priests, and only a dozen or so are assigned to parishes. Given that, I did not think I would be hearing confessions, doing baptisms, and presiding at the Eucharist, the staples of life as a parish priest. Yet, here I am. I never dreamed I would be doing this work, but I have no doubt that God has placed me at Gesu.
I suppose this life can read a bit like history: went here, did that, met these folks. Perhaps the diary, if I were to start one, would be fairly mundane. Nonetheless, I see clearly, in the work and in the faces of the parishioners and visitors to our parish, a story of discernment. It is a story of God continually at work, bringing life, blessings, and peace to His people.
I’m signing off now; it’s time for confessions.
Father Matt Walsh, SJ, is currently in the USA Tertianship program in Portland. Prior to tertianship, the final formal period of formation in the Society of Jesus, Fr. Walsh served in various capacities at Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, where he was ordained a priest in 2009, by the Most Reverend Richard J. Sklba. He wrote this reflection on his life as an urban priest shortly before beginning tertianship.