President’s Message: Reflecting on Vocation as Priest

November 16, 2011

The milestones that have marked my life are quite different from those that resonate with most people. I’ve never been married, I’ll never have children or grandchildren. This summer, however, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of the most significant day of my life, one that has had the most influence over every decision I’ve made as an adult.

My ordination as a Jesuit priest.

As the anniversary approached, I began to reflect (naturally—I am a Jesuit) on my decision to join the priesthood and the impact it has had on my personal life, my career, my ambitions, and my relationships with others. I thought about the person I was when I made this choice—in my early 20s, nearing the end of my undergraduate days at Boston College. I was reminded again of how few, if any, of the young men I know now at Loyola are even considering this path. I thought about how often I’ve heard people describe this choice and the journey that followed as one of sacrifice, of so many things to be given up.

And I wanted very much to say that that’s not the case at all. Of all the blessings, advantages, and opportunities I have had—and I have been an extraordinarily fortunate person—none has brought more joy, more gifts, and more fulfillment than my life as a Jesuit. The biggest misconception is probably that the priesthood is fraught with loneliness, and nothing could be further from the truth. The strength of our community, of a brotherhood of men who have committed their lives to building their relationships with God, has a tremendous impact not only on this journey, but on what each of us is able to accomplish in our professions.

But the biggest gift my life as a priest has offered me relates directly to my relationships with lay people—and particularly the students, faculty, and staff I’ve encountered at Loyola and the other universities where I’ve worked.

Being a priest brings you into the peaks and valleys of people’s lives in ways I never anticipated. People come to me in times of joy, of sorrow, to seek comfort and counsel. This opportunity to see people in their most vulnerable state has ultimately helped me discern what is most important in life. It’s made me a better professor, and without it I would not be fully prepared for the demands of being a university president. And I am equally certain that being in university life has made me a better priest.

When I was teaching at Holy Cross, I had a colleague, also a priest, who believed that his students asked him for exceptions and extensions they wouldn’t think to ask of their lay professors—and he resented it. I disagreed. I thought—then and now—that our students believed we were on their side in a way that’s unique, and that through us, who we are and what we represent, that God was on their side. They trust that if they are in trouble there is someone there who cares. How could we possibly give that up?

I’ve had many exceptional colleagues over the years who were not Catholic, Christian, or religious at all who took jobs at Holy Cross and Loyola for the professional potential they offered. They found themselves, for the first time in their lives, knowing and even becoming friends with priests. In department meetings, over lunch, in years of shared achievements and disappointments, we are demystified. They realize we are not judgmental, not aloof. Often, these people become the biggest champions of our Jesuit mission. Jesuits, unlike many other priestly orders, have always been “of the world,” actively engaged with people who do not necessarily share their beliefs. And I think that has been the key to our success as educators. Almost no Jesuits hold only the degrees we need for ordination—and you simply cannot continue in university life without being open to other perspectives and ideas. I have been pushed out of my comfort zone many, many times—and my life, my academic work, and my relationship with God are better for it.

And for that, I thank you. I thank our students, our alumni, their parents, and the extraordinary faculty, staff, and administrators with whom I have worked over the years. And I pray that others will continue to find the same fulfillment in this life.

Best wishes for a blessed Christmas and New Year,

The Reverend Brian F. Linnane, S.J.

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