Optometrist to Jesuit Brother

Through the Lens of Faith: From an Optometrist to a Jesuit Brother
By Br. Ralph Cordero, SJ

Before joining the Jesuits, I practiced optometry for 10 years. Since I was a child, my dream was to be a doctor. I believe this desire originated after visiting my family physician. I was attracted to the way my doctor showed a very caring attitude toward me and other patients, and I left that office with a great conviction that I wanted to do the same.

After finishing high school, I followed my dream by going to Howard University in Washington, D.C., for a summer and taking prep courses to enter a pre-medicine program at Kent State University. It did not take long to realize medical school was not the place for me. I did not like physicians’ hours and couldn’t stomach the thought of surgery. I was faced with the dilemma that my dreams might not be what God intended.  

During this time, I visited my local eye doctor, who informed me that there were two providers for eye care: optometrists (primary eye care) and ophthalmologists (eye surgeons). After four years of optometry school, optometrists serve the public by diagnosing and treating eye conditions. I felt God directing my path toward my dream.

Brother Ralph Cordero, SJ (left), serving at the Kino Border Initiative on the US-Mexican border.
Brother Ralph Cordero, SJ (left), serving at the Kino Border Initiative on the US-Mexican border.
After graduating from optometry school, I began my own practice in my home town, Lorain, Ohio. The first few years were challenging, but the hard work eventually paid off. Since Lorain had a significant Latino population, my bilingualism was advantageous. At the same time, I was very involved at my home parish, La Capilla del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús. I participated in RCIA and youth ministry and also began incorporating my practice with my faith, doing optometric service work at schools and nursing homes. After going on a mission trip to El Salvador in 1998, I realized the Lord was drawing me to another way of life. The work I saw the priests and religious brothers and sisters doing at my parish and in El Salvador had the same effect on me as my family doctor had.

I began discerning a religious vocation, recognizing my joys and satisfactions as I went through my daily activities. 

A Franciscan sister, Suzanne Susany, OSF, pointed me toward the Jesuits.  After reading about their apostolates — especially the Cristo Rey schools — I was intrigued and met with the vocation director, Fr. Dan Reim, SJ. In 2000, 

I entered the novitiate and decided to become a brother a few years after joining.

Just as there are two separate eye care professions (optometrists and ophthalmologists), there are two separate Jesuit vocations (priests and brothers). When I was an optometrist, people would say, “Oh, so you didn’t go all the way to be an ophthalmologist.” I would explain that those are two different paths, like Jesuit priests and brothers: they are two different tracks, not one that leads to another. Just like optometry, a Jesuit brother’s vocation has value in its own right.

I have had many joys and opportunities since joining the Jesuits 17 years ago. I have taught mathematics at two Jesuit high schools, ministered to inmates at prisons with an RCIA program, served as an optometrist at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and ministered to migrants with the Kino Border Initiative on the US-Mexican border. What God implanted in my dream as a child has opened many doors in how to bring Christ into the world. All I had to do was follow my dreams. 

Br. Ralph Cordero, SJ, was raised in Puerto Rico and moved to Lorain, Ohio, as a child. He currently serves as socius to the director of novices at the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Alberto Hurtado in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Return to the Jesuits Magazine Fall Winter 2017 Index
New Novices
Lessons from Prison Ministry
Creating Brave Spaces
How Ignatian Spirituality Has Influenced My Life
Collaborating with God


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