Province: USA West
Birthday: May 18, 1986
Hometown: San Carlos, California
Bachelor’s degree, philosophy, Boston College
Master’s degree, philosophy, Saint Louis University
Master of Divinity, Regis College, University of Toronto
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
Served as a hospice aid with the Missionaries of Charity in Pacifica, California
Served as a classroom assistant and bus driver at Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota
Taught theology at Jesuit High School and gave retreats with Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life in Portland, Oregon
Will return to Regis College to complete his Master of Theology and Licentiate in Sacred Theology
Robert Van Alstyne, SJ, grew up in San Carlos, California. His family attended St. Charles Borromeo Parish. After graduating from Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, California, Robert met the Jesuits at Boston College, where he fell in with a community of Catholic students, professors, Jesuits and priests who would meet regularly for Eucharistic adoration and spiritual and theological discussion. With the support of this community and its culture of prayer and study, he discovered a vocation to Jesuit life and priesthood. In 2008, Robert entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus. He served as a hospice aid with the Missionaries of Charity in Pacifica, California, and as a classroom assistant and bus driver at Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. After professing his first vows in 2010, he headed to St. Louis, where he earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Saint Louis University. During this time, he also served as a student chaplain to undergraduates at the university. In 2013, Robert began two years of teaching theology at Jesuit High School, in Portland, Oregon, where he also gave retreats to adults as part of the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (SEEL) ministry. In 2015, his next mission took him to Munich to learn German. From 2016–2018, Robert completed a Master of Divinity at Regis College in Toronto and, since his ordination to the diaconate in May of 2018, has been serving as a deacon at the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy and Parish at the University of Toronto. After ordination, Robert will return to Toronto to complete his current studies for his Master of Theology and Licentiate in Sacred Theology degrees. (USA West Province)
Who’s your favorite saint, and why?
St. Peter Faber, SJ, who repeatedly made the journey between Germany and Portugal and undertook a behind-the-scenes ministry to theologians during the Reformation, offers the example of a dedicated and faith-filled "helper of souls." His journal shows us what generous and joyful service comes from a life of continual prayer. With the help of St. Ignatius' spiritual direction, he overcame his early struggles and found freedom in a life devoted to Christ.
Robert (third from left) at his diaconate ordination with (from left) Fr. Penn Dawson, SJ; Fr. Alex Llanera, SJ; and Chris Grodecki, SJ.
What was one particularly meaningful experience you had during your
formation, and why was it meaningful to you?
When I was living in Germany, there was a priest who would tutor me weekly in philosophy. He had been very sick for many years, and I did not realize at the time how close he was to death. In the patience, kindness and counsel he gave me during the small events of those tutoring sessions and at dinner table conversations, he offered a great example of how one might fully integrate teaching, priestly ministry and Jesuit brotherhood.
What is your favorite
book, movie, music, or TV show you’ve encountered since entering the Society
and why do you love it?
When I was still in the novitiate, a priest and former professor of mine introduced me to Bach's partitas and sonatas for solo violin. At the time, I didn't have the ear for them, but he had pitched them as "good Lenten listening" and so in the years following, whether out of curiosity about what he had heard in them or because they somehow contributed to a penitential atmosphere, I returned to them during Lent. Eventually, I could no longer confine my listening to them within that 40-day window. Now the 15 minutes of Bach's “Chaconne” never last long enough. As another professor of ours used to say, such music has a way of giving your soul "a tune-up."
What do you love about
the Society of Jesus?
The tradition of giving the Spiritual Exercises continues to be a fruitful ministry that helps people respond to God's call. St. Ignatius challenges us to cultivate a way of discerning God's will at a depth that exposes the superficiality of many of the criteria that vie for our allegiance.
To this end, Ignatius offers us in his Spiritual Exercises a program for a spirituality rooted in the continually renewed encounter with Jesus Christ in his Scriptures and in his church. This seems to me a spirituality capable way of helping many today find that freedom and joy that we tend to seek in many ways, but which ultimately only the love of Christ can bring.