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By Erin Kast, SJ
“If it weren’t for Fr. Filella, I would never have come to the United States.” I grew up in Northern Wisconsin but my mom is from India and Fr. Filella was a Jesuit who taught her psychology at Xavier’s College in Mumbai. After my mom had finished her degree Fr. Filella encouraged her to get her PhD in psychology at Fordham University. She said she couldn’t afford it, but he insisted and did whatever it took to turn her dream into a reality. Many years later and shortly before he died I got to meet Fr. Fillela in an infirmary in Spain. By that time I was almost finished with my degree in biology and religious studies from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and the time was fast approaching when I would have to make the big decision of what I wanted to do after I graduated.
Ever since middle school I had loved science, but I also remembered many of the stories my mom told of the Jesuits she knew in India. So in high school when I first thought of a religious vocation the Jesuits came to mind immediately, even though I’d never met one! Before I left for college I got in contact with the vocation director for the Midwest Province and told him I wanted to learn more about the Jesuits. My discernment in college took all four years and most of the time I was pretty unsure about taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. But the more time I spent in prayer, the more time I learned about Jesuit spirituality, and the more Jesuits I met, I began to see something more than sacrifice in a religious vocation: I saw an opportunity to discover answers to questions I always wanted to ask but never knew how to; I saw a richness and beauty to my faith that I had never before seen nor ever so much desired to understand. By my senior year I knew I couldn’t be honest with myself without taking the leap and entering the novitiate in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Now I’m studying philosophy at Loyola University Chicago and I can say with confidence that I didn’t make a mistake, God has been good. How many people get to share faith and companionship with incarcerated young men every week and look forward to it because every face just looks like Jesus? How many Americans get to spend a summer in the mountains of Northeast India teaching and doing pastoral work with Jesuit missionaries? How many pilgrims get to walk fifty-four miles from Selma to Montgomery with nothing but a fifty-cent bedsheet, an harmonica, the New Testament, and a rosary, content in doing nothing more than follow in the footsteps of the saints who walked before them? Not many, but those who have will know that to follow Jesus as a Jesuit isn’t just a transition in lifestyle, it’s a transformation in heart-style:
“Take my heart, Jesus, and make it like Yours.”
Erin Kast, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic in the first studies stage of formation at Loyola University Chicago. He entered the Society of Jesus in 2015.
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