When Jesuits decide to leave the Society, as a result, it can be an extremely jarring moment for us when we hear the news. This past year, we saw many men in our company who chose to leave their lives as Jesuits. We ask the question ‘why?’ and wonder what events transpired that led to such a decision. There is that feeling that a member of our spiritual family who has been with us for so much time has decided to leave us. These departures inevitably challenge the vocations of us who continue on with this life as we ask ourselves why we stay. This vocational challenge, however, is not necessarily a bad thing.
About a month ago, while I was taking my day off from my work in LA, I was relaxing at our LA villa house near Redondo Beach when I received a phone call. I was excited to see that it was from John and very much looked forward to sharing our summer experiences and how it was going so far. John first asked about how my summer was, and I shared a little bit about what I was doing at Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industries. After I was done sharing, John went on to remark: “So Ryan, I’ve made my decision…”
I knew exactly what John meant when he said that, but I didn’t expect this phone call would be “that” time.
I remember feeling devastated back in January when John mentioned to me that he was thinking about leaving the Society. During my time at Ciszek Hall, he became one of my best friends in the house, and last year we became next door neighbors. John was one of the type of friends you would have who often poked fun at you, but deep down you knew he really valued and respected you (although he would never admit that easily). Not only could we have fun and joke with one another, but we could also vigorously argue about philosophical/theological viewpoints and eventually also discuss highly personal things. When he told me that his leaving was a possibility, I remember feeling myself enter a place of deep desolation and the need to talk to my superior and spiritual director about it. In those talks, I recognized a desire to want what was best for John—even if that meant that he would leave. I often prayed for Christ to lead him in his discernment and to follow where God was leading him at this time of his life.
Over the next few months, we would have a few conversations where I would ask him how things were going with the discernment. Sometimes, he didn’t want to talk about it, but I respected that. I only wanted him to talk to me about if he felt free to have the conversation and wanted to discuss it. In those conversations, it was apparent that John’s leaving was a possibility, but not necessarily a certainty. John spent quite a bit of time thinking about this because it was not clear to him during the semester what he would do.
So when John remarked that he made the decision, I became very aware that his subsequent words would be big ones for him to share with me. I did not have a clear sense in me what he had decided, so I awaited anxiously to hear what he would say. Finally, he said: “I’ve decided to leave the Society…”
Upon my arrival back to the Bronx, I have recognized a real sense of loss within me. When I walked past his door, I was deeply reminded about those words he shared with me a month ago. But, on the other hand, I carry with me a lot of gratitude for the friendship and brotherhood we developed over the past two years at Ciszek. I also carry with me a sense of peace, because I believe in this specific situation that John would not have left unless he felt that God was calling him into a different place. John was open with his superior, his spiritual director, and his formation assistant for quite some time, and so I trusted his discernment and those who were leading him at this time in his life.
Although men enter and leave the society for various reasons, I think John’s time in the Jesuits served as a special time for his own development and growth as a person. I had the opportunity to speak on John's behalf about two weeks ago, since he asked if I could be one of his references for a full-time youth minister position he is seeking. I remarked to the pastor that John's time with the Jesuits and being formed by Ignatian Spirituality was a major asset to this position that makes him quite unique among the pool of applicants. Although his decision to leave is difficult, I pray that John is able to flourish in this time of major transition and that he may always know and experience the love of God who constantly pours forth his grace.