By Brian Harper
The Catholic Church may be seeing fewer vocations to the priesthood worldwide, but it is receiving a major boost from the Midwest Jesuits. On June 3, 12 Jesuits were ordained priests by Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, at Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee. Another, Fr. Cyril Pinchak, SJ, was ordained in the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church — one of the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches that share full communion with the Roman Catholic Church and with the other Eastern Catholic Churches — at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Parma, Ohio, on June 24. These 13 Midwest Jesuits are part of a larger class of 29 Jesuits being ordained in the United States, Canada, and Haiti this summer.
This bumper crop of new priests is all the more remarkable considering the long road Jesuits travel before arriving at their ordination day. Most of the Midwest Jesuits ordained this summer first entered the Society of Jesus in 2006. Two of them entered in 2005, and one entered in 2007. Since then, they have received multiple master’s degrees; taught in high schools and universities; served in parishes; worked in Poland, India, and other countries throughout the world; and — to paraphrase St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus — learned to find God in all things.
As their ordination day approached, the new priests expressed an overwhelming sense of gratitude for their families, friends, fellow Jesuits, the Society of Jesus’ benefactors, and, most of all, God.
“I often reflect on how St. Ignatius considered ingratitude to be the worst sin,” said Fr. Michael Rossmann, SJ. “Lord knows I am a sinner, and yet as I look back on my path to priesthood in the Society of Jesus, it is hard not to be extremely grateful.”“Words aren’t really adequate for the thank you I feel,” said Fr. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ. “I hope that all those who have helped, loved, taught, corrected, and supported me thus far know that when, as a priest, I offer the Eucharist, they will always be there in the thanksgiving that I give.”
The Jesuit formation process is famously rigorous. A Jesuit first spends two years as a novice, living in community and learning about Ignatian spirituality, the distinct collection of spiritual practices and prayers developed by St. Ignatius and his companions, while also experiencing work in Jesuit ministries and making a 30-day silent retreat.
After pronouncing vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Jesuits begin studies as a brother or scholastic, taking courses in philosophy and theology for three years before entering another two-to-three-year period called regency, during which they work full-time in a Jesuit ministry, usually as a teacher in a high school or university. Jesuits who are called to priestly ministry spend another three years in formal theology studies before being ordained. Priests and brothers later spend a year in tertianship, a time during which they review their formation, make another 30-day retreat, and profess final vows in the Society of Jesus.
Though the stages of formation are the same for every Jesuit, they look different in practice for each. While most Jesuits from the United States take philosophy and theology courses in California, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Boston, Toronto, or Rome, Fr. Christopher Staab, SJ, traveled to Peru for philosophy and Brazil for theology. Father Christian Wagner, SJ, who was born in Germany, spent two years of his formation learning Mandarin in Taiwan and China.
The work the newly ordained Jesuits undertake will also be diverse. Most will spend the upcoming summer serving in Jesuit parishes. In the fall, some will finish degrees or start new ones, including Frs. Pinchak, Rossmann, Lusvardi, Staab, Wagner, Matthew Dunch, Luke Hansen, and Joseph Simmons. Others will remain in pastoral ministry, including Fr. Stephen Wolfe, SJ, at Gesu Catholic Church in Detroit and Fr. Richard “RJ” Fichtinger, SJ, at Saint Thomas More Catholic Community in St. Paul. Father Jacob Boddicker, SJ, will work on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Fr. Brad Held, SJ, will serve in campus ministry at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, and Fr. Brian Taber, SJ, will teach and work as a sports chaplain and coach at Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, while also helping at Saint Giles Catholic Parish in Oak Park, Ill.
Signs indicate that sizable ordination classes might be an ongoing trend for the Midwest Jesuits. The novitiate in St. Paul is at capacity with 26 novices, and more than 40 other Midwest Jesuits are in various stages of formation.
Two days after the ordination at Gesu, the Chicago-Detroit and Wisconsin Provinces of the Society of Jesus officially joined to become the new USA Midwest Province. The new province consists of roughly 530 Jesuits, inclues more than 66 ministries, and spans 12 states.
Despite the many changes and developments happening throughout the Midwest, Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ, provincial of the USA Midwest Province, indicated that the factors that matter most will remain the same.
“There will be continuity of mission with the Chicago-Detroit and Wisconsin Provinces as well as with the mission of the Society of Jesus that has continued since 1540,” he said. “The Jesuits will do what we have always done, serving where others will not and finding God in all places and bringing God’s love to all people.”
“I think Ignatius was right about ingratitude,” said Fr. Rossmann. “And yet, as I call to mind the ‘cloud of witnesses’ that have supported my Jesuit vocation, it’s difficult not to be abundantly grateful.”
The 13 new priests of the Midwest Jesuits are: