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Garrett Gundlach, SJ, (left) with students of Red Cloud High School returning from a school pow-wow (traditional dance and Lakota hand games competitions)

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"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

By 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 movie.


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 priesthood.

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 Monday morning.




To read more A Heart on Fire profiles, click here.

Learn about the stages of Jesuit formation and a vocation with the Jesuits.

Garrett's story was also featured in the Summer 2016 issue of Jesuits magazine; click here for the Summer 2016 Jesuits magazine index. 


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Located 80 miles north of Milwaukee, the Jesuit Retreat House on Lake Winnebago welcomes men and women of all faiths to its silent preached and directed retreats.