"I can only do what I do now because of my two years as a Jesuit novice and three years as a philosophy and social work student: there is so much to learn."
A Heart on Fire: Garrett Gundlach, SJ
Behind the Scenes and Below the Surface
Garrett Gundlach, SJ I remember the high school immersion trip that jump started my relationship
with God — a God who suddenly felt so close. I remember the hope and the
thrill of asking new questions when I got home: "What if I went 'all in,'
surrendering my next steps to God’s desires?"
Thus began my “discernment,” a scavenger hunt that sent me running through
college, Spanish and theology studies, a semester in El Salvador, poetry,
service, late-night Masses, and spiritual conversations with friends and
mentors. Some days, I daydreamed of life as a Jesuit priest, giving my whole
day's work and whole heart's love to God. Other days, Jesuit life seemed crazy
compared to marriage and family. As a postgrad Jesuit Volunteer in Portland, I
felt another tide turn within me, and with a sense of surrender and possibility,
I applied to the Jesuits.
Fast forward to 2016. It is Monday morning. I open Red Cloud Indian School’s
campus ministry office. Five minutes later, two students are napping on the
office’s couch, while another strums a ukulele. Soon, another student arrives
to discuss the new Star Wars
Even with the “SJ” after my name, things can feel pretty ordinary. Monday
mornings are still Monday mornings. But as a Jesuit, I know to look below the
surface; after seniors hustle to lunch following our faith and justice class, I
kneel to pray and unpack the morning. At Red Cloud High School, we call this
"Give God Five.” Jesuits call it the Examen, a prayer that helps us
recognize God’s extraordinary behind-the-scenes work in life. A few minutes
later, I am reenergized and ready for the second half of the day.
Garrett Gundlach, SJ,
receiving his ceremonial vow crucifix from his novice spiritual director, Fr.
Chris Manahan, SJ (left)
The Examen is a small but poignant example of why Jesuit formation is so long —
there is simply so much to learn about balancing work and prayer. Six years in,
I am a Jesuit regent working as a teacher and campus minister at a
Lakota-Catholic high school in South Dakota. I will be here for three years
before (God-willing) studying theology in preparation for ordination to the
One step at a time, though; I can only do what I do now because of my two years
as a Jesuit novice and three years as a philosophy and social work student: there is so much to learn.
Who knows how this step will prepare me for the next stages of my Jesuit
formation. For now, I just count my blessings as they come into my office
To read more A Heart on Fire profiles, click here.
Father Ed Sthokal, SJ, had never considered becoming a retreat director; he never even specifically trained for it. The plan for the young Jesuit was to teach English literature, perhaps go on to run a university department in the field. So how did he end up spending 58 years as a retreat director at Demontreville Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota?