On Friday as I concluded taking my final vows in the Society of Jesus, I read the phrase, ‘At the altar of St Mary in St Mary’s Chapel, Boston College, Massachusetts, April 20, 2012.’ When I joined the Jesuits in 1993 at Canisius College, Pymble in Sydney, little did I know that I’d be halfway around the world almost two decades later.
On the occasion of my first vows, which were pronounced at the end of the novitiate in February 1995, along with three other men (including Br Kevin Huddy SJ and Fr Minh Van Tran SJ), I spoke the words ‘I vow to your divine majesty, before the most holy Virgin Mary and the entire heavenly court, perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience in the Society of Jesus. I promise that I will enter this same Society to spend my life in it forever.’ At the end of the formula there is another prayer, which entreats God with the words ‘as you have freely given me the desire to make this offering, so also may you give me the abundant grace to fulfill it.’
They are wise words as the promise made then is that when one is called to final vows many years later one will then be ready to enter the Society completely, to be incorporated as a fully professed member of the Jesuits. Thus, our training and our testing, as envisaged by Ignatius and then experienced by countless generations of Jesuits, can indeed be long and arduous. Little did I know that as I gazed out over the deserts of the Kimberley region during a novitiate placement in 1994 (pictured, right) that I’d then end up being an academic in a Jesuit, Catholic university on the east coast of the United States of America.
And yet, in a way, this makes perfect sense in a Jesuit world. As we desire to enter the Society, so the Society desires to enable us to be all that we can be, for the good of our mission, which is to serve Christ’s poor and in so doing help build a better and more just world. Our congregations have articulated this desire in ever-more sophisticated (and lengthy!) ways over the past decades and one articulation of this that resonates with me is that we seek to be men on a mission, who seek a faith that does justice.
My Jesuit life has indeed been a peripatetic mission and has seen me live in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra, as well as Paris, Hong Kong, Beijing, San Francisco and Boston. I’ve also had the opportunity to visit Pakistan, Cambodia, the Philippines, South Korea and Indonesia. My Jesuit journey has truly taught me that the faith that does justice surely also has to encompass the whole world, and as a Society we have to engage with the myriad and beautiful cultures of this world, at the same time as opposing those forces which prevent all people from being the glory and vision of God.
My own training and lifelong interest has focused on China – when it is not focused on watching rugby and other such things of import – and so it is that I am now teaching Chinese and Asian history at Boston College. I get to introduce non-Asians to the beauty and challenges of these cultures and in so doing help build bridges between China and the outside world. In my research I try to reclaim and retell – or even just tell for the first time – the wonderful stories of faith that have been and are being lived out in China and hopefully through that make such lives of faith a little easier, if only through their knowledge of being in solidarity with the universal church.
It is not where I imagined I’d be twenty years after driving in the front gates of Pymble all those years ago, and the physical distance from my Australian family and friends never gets any shorter (which is hard for all of us), but it’s been a great life. No life is ever perfect and full of laughter all the time, but I can safely say I’ve always been happy to be a Jesuit, a companion of Jesus.
The graces I’ve received through the people I’ve lived with - the Jesuits who’ve been my formators and companions along the way – and through the people I’ve been lucky enough to serve as a novice, a scholastic and now a priest, have indeed been abundant enough for me to fulfill my desire to enter the Society of Jesus as a fully professed member.
And so it was that on Friday, I did so enter the Society (pictured, below). Given the importance of that, the Mass was solemn yet celebratory. Tina Grant, an alumna of Boston College, wife of an ex-Riverview student Charlie Grant, and well-known to Australian Jesuit visitors to Boston because of the great hospitality the Grant family offers to all stray Aussies, read the first reading.
Then my brother Jesuits from Africa processed the gospel up the front chanting in Swahili where a Chinese Jesuit then proclaimed the gospel in Mandarin. (These men are all in graduate studies here at Boston College). Fr William Clark Russell SJ, a New England Jesuit, preached the homily.
Much of the music was written by Australian Jesuit Fr Christopher Willcock SJ (the 2011-2012 Gasson Professor at Boston College), including a piece that was written for my diaconate ordination in 2001 (when I was ordained deacon with Fr Minh Van Tran, S.J.). A small schola of Jesuits and musicians associated with Boston College helped with all the music. The principal celebrant was Fr T. Frank Kennedy SJ, Superior of the Boston College Jesuit community, and the Provincial of New England, the Very Reverend Fr Myles Sheehan SJ received the vows. We were joined in prayer by many Jesuits and some lay colleagues and friends, both from BC and from other places, and after dinner Fr Gregory Kalscheur SJ gave a toast.
For me, it was not the ending of a journey but rather a wonderful and joyous celebration of a grace-filled vocation. It is my privilege to be but a small part of this least Society and for that I am grateful beyond words.
Fr Jeremy Clarke SJ is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Boston College in the US.
Top: Jeremy Clarke at Balgo, Western Australia, in 1994. (Courtesy of Fr Robin Koning SJ, imitating an earlier photo by Michael Coyne)
Bottom: Jeremy Clarke pronouncing his final vows in Boston. (Courtesy of Fr Harvey Egan SJ)