Xavier Magazine

On The Road

One of William Verbryke, S.J.’s, favorite stories of pilgrimage when he was in charge of novices in the Detroit Province involved two young Jesuits who decided to hitchhike together from San Antonio, Texas. Westward ho!

They began at a truck stop, sticking out their thumbs, thinking truckers would be more willing to pick up hitchhikers. No luck.

After awhile, a disheveled-looking man walked toward them. They worried that he would ask for money, and they had only $35 each to last the whole month. But the homeless man surprised them.

“If you’re looking for a ride,” he said, “you should go stand over there.” He pointed to a different part of the road.

Turns out, he knew what he was talking about.

“They were worried about having to give their money away to the old man,” says Verbryke, director of the Jesuit community at Xavier, “but instead they were learning to trust in God, because someone they thought they would have to help ended up helping them.”

The tradition of the Jesuit pilgrimage has had a long history since Ignatius Loyola experienced his own pilgrimage that led to the creation of the Jesuit order in 1540. The experience was so profound that he penned it as a requirement for men who wanted to join the Society of Jesus.

In the U.S., the pilgrimage has not always been a month-long trek on one’s own to learn how to trust in God. It has taken on various forms depending on the province, the decade and the politics of the times. Prior to Vatican II in the mid-1960s, for instance, life at the novitiates where novices first enter the Jesuit order was more insulated and monastic.

Novices were introduced to the idea of pilgrimage and might be asked to go through the motions, such as walking as a group one day from one parish to another and back, or counting volunteer work in a hospital as a pilgrimage experience. Doing an actual pilgrimage was considered not practicable—especially when the political atmosphere at the time made it dangerous.

John Heim, S.J., director of the Music Series at Xavier, recalls the anti-Catholic attitudes—directed at men who, by joining the clergy, avoided the draft—in the 1950s.

That all changed after Vatican II instructed the orders to revisit their foundations, Verbryke says.

When the Detroit province added a pilgrimage experience, it was a modified two-week trip. It has since become a month-long experience with the merger of the Detroit and Chicago provinces with the Wisconsin province, which has always practiced the monthly pilgrimage.

When Verbryke returned as a novice director in Detroit from 2002-2010, he found sending his young charges out into the world for 30 days with nothing but a little cash and a bus ticket quite nerve-wracking—for him. He required them to check in weekly to let him know they were okay. Usually the calls fall off toward the second half of the month as the novices become more accustomed to being on their own.

Novices spend time before their trip in discussion with their spiritual directors about what they want to accomplish on the pilgrimage and where they should go. Their trips vary—one novice went to Mexico City to tour the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and related sites, another spent the month reuniting with his sister. One decided he would spend the month walking, so he took the bus from St. Paul, Minn., to Milwaukee and started walking back, averaging 15 miles a day. He stayed at Catholic rectories, convents and monasteries at night and grew so scruffy looking that the novitiate received nine calls to confirm his identity.

Novices are supposed to encounter poverty and doing without typical comforts, but they are allowed to accept donations as long as it’s within reason. They carry a letter of introduction from the novice director explaining the purpose of the pilgrimage. Verbryke said he once got multiple calls from one parish that didn’t trust the novice’s story and wanted to make sure he was legit before offering him a place to stay.

“Most of our novices are willing to do it, but some are so fearful of the unknown and of being without the comforts they’re used to,” he says. “We tell them to be prudent and don’t take any risks.”

Matt Dunch, S.J., now teaching philosophy at Xavier, was one of the fearful ones. His pilgrimage was only for a week, but it nearly scared the pants off him. He took a night bus from Detroit to Washington, D.C., with plans of staying at a Benedictine monastery for the week.

“It was my first bus trip,” he says. “It was so foreign to my experience of flying with no connections. The bus was stopping in these God-awful places. I was just puzzled. It was not a negative experience, and I know that’s how most of the world works.”

When he got off the bus in the morning and made his way to the monastery by the early afternoon, he was greeted with a resounding “no” by the monk who answered the door in jeans and a sweatshirt. Dunch was stunned. This was not what he expected, but as he walked away he had an odd feeling of lightness and relief that his plan to hunker down at the monastery failed. Being rejected wasn’t so bad after all.

He got a warmer reception at a Jesuit community house, which let him stay for two nights. Then he stayed with a priest friend in Arlington who invited him to a dinner event for youth with the Archbishop of Baltimore. Dunch, who has a slim build, to borrow black clerical clothing that hung on him like a gunnysack. But he was happy to be in a place where he felt welcomed and to meet such an important member of the Church.

The next day, sitting near Capitol Hill, he was swarmed by an entourage of 200 members of Congress, led by senators Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who had just passed legislation raising the minimum wage. It was a heady moment for Dunch. He ended the week touring historic Jesuit sites and attending a friend’s wedding, happy to have survived his week of pilgrimage having learned something about himself in the process.

“My overall experience was that it loosened my grip on having to plan everything in advance,” Dunch says. “I was petrified of the idea of the pilgrimage, but I’m more trusting now.”

Stories like Dunch’s prove to Verbryke the value of the pilgrimage experience.

“They realize they do have a safety net, but so many of the people they meet on the road do not. They learn about a whole slice of humanity,” he says. “The only failed pilgrimage experiment is the one they don’t process. We always ask them later, where did you meet God in this?”

Xavier Magazine

Learning to Trust

Matthew Lieser lies curled up in the dirt, shivering, his raincoat offering the only protection against the damp, chilly weather of the Pacific Northwest. Huddled between a row of bushes and a wall of St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Portland, Lieser is scared. Like so many of the homeless, he has nowhere to go and no one to help him.

Then he hears the voices.

It’s 2:00 a.m. The bars are closing, spewing their patrons onto the streets, and three drunken men are sauntering his way. Their voices grow louder as they get closer, and he begins to hear their words. They are shouting obscenities at the Catholic Church. Afraid, Lieser begins praying that he won’t be discovered. But as the voices continue to get louder and closer, Lieser begins to wonder: “Where’s God?”


The 67th paragraph of the Jesuit Constitution directs all Jesuit novices to do a month-long pilgrimage “without money… begging from door to door… to grow accustomed to discomfort in food and lodging.” The tradition is a lesson in trust that began with the order’s co-founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose own experience of pilgrimage transformed him from a warrior into a man of God.

In America, each of the nine provinces practices its own unique version of the pilgrimage, and none is closer to Ignatius’ original directive than that of the Wisconsin province. Novices are sent off with $35, a one-way bus ticket and an order to be home for dinner at 4:00 p.m., exactly 30 days later. The cash and the ticket get them only so far. The novices, most in their 20s, must rely on their faith, their wits and the generosity of others to make it through.

It’s an experience that frightens some and energizes others. But the lesson is always the same—personal vulnerability and complete trust in God. Lieser can bear witness.

“I was scared,” Lieser says, recalling his encounter with the drunken men in Portland. “That was the low point of my pilgrimage. I thought, why am I doing this? Where’s God? But it opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of people have to deal with this.”

Lieser, a 2003 graduate, is not alone. Several other Xavier alumni—Jeff Dorr, Julio Minsal-Ruiz, Ryan Masterson—have all wandered through city streets or rural villages on their way to taking their vows. All are now in the First Studies program of academic studies at Jesuit universities in the U.S.

And all are wiser for their experiences. Here are their stories:

[divider]Matthew Lieser[/divider]
On April 15, 2010, Matthew Lieser boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Spokane, Wash. He carried a book bag holding four changes of clothes, a Swiss Army knife to open bottles and cans, a rain coat, a Bible, a journal and a spiritual guide. No phone, no bank cards, no computer.

Two days later, at 5:00 p.m., he checked into Spokane’s Union Gospel Mission, where he was required to take a breathalyzer test before being allowed to participate in his required evening chores and chapel. Then he was handed a bundle of pajamas and told to get in line for a group shower. Petrified, he thought of fleeing to the safety of the Jesuit residence at nearby Gonzaga University, but in deciding to stay, he met Chuck, a homeless man in a wheelchair who lost a foot to frostbite. Chuck wanted to visit the cathedral in downtown Spokane. With nothing on his agenda the next day, which began with a rude wake-up call at 5:00 a.m. and an order to leave the shelter, they took off, Lieser wheeling Chuck the two miles to the cathedral and back.

While there, Lieser got permission from the priest to speak at the morning Mass. His talk focused on his pilgrimage and so captivated the congregation that many waited in line 40 minutes to speak with him afterward. He received invitations of places to stay, money, a rosary and a small diamond ring to keep him safe. It’s inscribed “In Christ Always.”

The gifts made it difficult for Lieser to stick to his goal “to encounter discomfort materially and to learn to trust in God’s will.” In planning his journey with his spiritual director, Lieser chose to challenge himself by experiencing homelessness and poverty. He would stay in homeless shelters in every city on his journey, but he would not ignore God’s generosity from the people he met.

“In every city, I met people who took me out of the shelters and gave me food and offered me money,” he says. “I ended up making over $2,500 from people’s generosity. One lady bought me a plane ticket.”

From Spokane, Lieser traveled to Portland, Boise, Denver, Chicago and Cincinnati before heading home to Detroit, using the money people gave him to pay for bus tickets and an Amtrak train trip to Chicago. In Portland, he visited his cousin, a Catholic priest, and worked at the parish in exchange for a few nights’ stay. People he met at a church in Boise practically fought over the chance to take him in. And in Denver, he spent the night at a shelter that did not screen for alcohol or drug use with people who were “high, drunk and fighting.” Frightened, he moved to a cheap, dirty hostel for a few days and then to the Jesuits’ Regis University to rest up before moving on.

In Chicago he visited a Jesuit community where he lived for six months before joining the order. He gladly helped with mowing,

painting and in the soup kitchen in exchange for three nights on the rectory floor. And finally in Cincinnati, he came full circle with the place where his discerning about becoming a Jesuit began, when he was a student at Xavier and an employee of Chiquita. He stayed at the Drop Inn Center shelter in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, visited his brother, gave away the rest of his money and shot back up the interstate to Detroit.

It was his experience in Portland, however, that sticks with him as the most traumatic and transformative. Finding every shelter already full, he went to the cathedral and pounded on the door. When no one answered, it dawned on him that he would have to sleep outside.

He didn’t get a wink of sleep, he says. But as he waited on the ground, wondering what would happen next, he got a glimpse of what life’s like for people who are always homeless and scared. It met a goal of his pilgrimage: “to be in solidarity with the poor and experience poverty but not to ignore God’s generosity… and his care will sustain you.”

[divider] Julio Minsal-Ruiz [/divider]
Julio Minsal-Ruiz stood before a waterfall and marveled at his incredible fortune.

The waterfall was a consolation, a gift in the middle of a journey into the unknown. Ruiz and two other Jesuit novices were stumbling their way through a forest in the western Dominican Republic, taking the advice of local villages that it was a shortcut to a nearby town. The waterfall offered them a shower, a drink and a chance to regroup, but they were not quite sure of the path beyond.

“That’s what pilgrimage is,” he says. “An experience of bare, almost nakedness of humanity without technology or big-city commercialism. All of that is left behind and all of a sudden all you have before you is a waterfall, trees, a mango in your hand and a path before you.”

The companions discussed going back to the main dirt road. Though long, it was guaranteed to get them to Río Limpio and the end of their 30-day pilgrimage. But no, they decided, they would trust the villagers. So they followed the path away from the waterfall, up and down hills, catching glimpses of Río Limpio in the distance.

After awhile, however, they didn’t see the village anymore, just mountains. They began to worry. It was late, they were in thick woods, and giant thunderheads were looming. Suddenly the mountains boomed. Lightning struck. Thunder cracked. The rain turned the path into a slippery slurry. At a point of confusion, fear and near panic, the young Jesuits began emptying their packs to lighten their loads. Finally, the path just stopped. They were stranded alone at the top of a mountain in the middle of a rain-drenched forest and had no idea where to go.

Thirty days earlier, their journey had begun with a simple admonition from their novice director to put everything they had in the hands of God and surrender themselves to the experience they were about to face. They were driven from the novitiate in Santiago and dropped off in the town of Dajabon on the Haitian border. From there they fanned out in groups of three along dirt and gravel roads to various collections of villages. Each novice then peeled off to stay a week in a different village.

They carried no money or cell phones, just a few clothes, a water bottle, a prayer book and a letter of introduction from the novitiate, which proved unnecessary as the people were long familiar with the Jesuit practice of pilgrimage and welcomed the wanderers. Ruiz found just walking into a town could set off an argument over whose house he stayed in, where he ate dinner and how he spent his days.

“Many times the poorest people in the poorest towns were often the people who were the most generous,” Ruiz says. “They would move mountains to make things appear, like putting food on the table.”

Ruiz approached each community with an offer to work. “Our experience was to work alongside them and experience the work of the rural farmer,” he says. But for Ruiz, who grew up in Miami and graduated in 2009 with psychology and philosophy degrees, milking cows and plowing fields involved steep learning curves. “It was very humbling.”

He stayed in homes of simple construction—cement block with zinc metal roofs. Cooking took place outdoors around an open fire pit under a roof of cooling palm branches. The women cooked rice and beans in a big pot with a single spoon. Sometimes they had meat. Always they had mangos, which, Ruiz learned, are never in short supply in the Dominican. He always carried a couple whenever he traveled between villages, wearing his wide-brimmed hat an older Jesuit gave him to keep the sun at bay. “You could never go hungry, because mangos were everywhere. Even traveling, there was always a mango tree,” he says.

But standing at the top of the mountain, lost, Ruiz’s mind whirled with thoughts of hopelessness, even death, and the very real possibility that they would never be found. “When the path ended, we really kind of lost everything. We had no hope of anyone finding us. It was a very critical life or death situation.”

They had to do something. Hearing a river below, they decided to make their way down the mountain, follow the river downstream and hope it would lead somewhere. After about an hour, they came to a little shack with a well-tended garden. The farmer was helpful, pointing the way to Río Limpio—past oak trees and across fences, fields and more rivers in the distance.

Three hours later, at 8:00 p.m., they arrived—12 hours after they had set out that morning. They were greeted with warm food, dry beds and the company of their Jesuit colleagues. Ruiz realized that even though he had despaired, he’d been determined to complete the pilgrimage and had found hope in the process.

“We’d almost completed the objective of the pilgrimage which is to put everything we had in the hands of God,” Ruiz says. “Even the path we first thought we had was taken from us. The clothes were lost, the food was gone, but somehow God was there and leading us. All these things we thought were ours, but actually they’re things He has given to us. Everything we have is a gift, and that’s the main objective.”

[divider]Jeff Dorr[/divider]
Jeff Dorr stepped off the Greyhound bus and into the hot, humid air of Atlanta, tired and wrinkled after a 24-hour trip from Detroit. Wearing a plain brown T-shirt, khaki pants and flip-flops, Dorr intended to walk 20 miles southeast to a Trappist monastery where he was planning to spend his pilgrimage in prayerful, contemplative solitude amidst the natural beauty of the monks’ pine forests, lakes and blooming trees.

Within minutes, however, his plan vanished.

The first person he stopped on the street to ask for directions had just gotten out of prison. They talked for a few minutes, and Dorr was so moved that he gave the man $10 for train fare. A few steps farther on, he met Kenny, a homeless man with health problems. They talked, too, and Dorr ended up giving him the remainder of his cash so he could eat. He also dug a pair of socks out of his backpack to give him.

That’s when it hit him.

“I realized that I felt drawn to a new focus,” Dorr says. “I knew what homeless people looked like and sounded like, but I never knew experientially what it meant to be homeless. I thought maybe that’s where this should go. Something of that experience of being on the street and being without was what I was meant to be doing.”

So Dorr shelved the security of the monastery and took to the mean streets of Atlanta. He checked into the Atlanta Union Mission where he discovered that life at a shelter is unpredictable at best. Each day hundreds of Atlanta’s down-and-out check into the shelter, while across the street the Atlanta Aquarium welcomes the better-heeled into its underwater wonderland, and the World of Coca-Cola museum entertains the paying public at its “Home of Happiness.” The irony didn’t escape Dorr.

Among the dozens of people Dorr met was Vince, a big, tall friendly guy whose stories and engaging personality drew people to him. He hung out every morning at the CNN Center food court and sold cell phones he bought off the black market. Dorr tagged along, and when he asked where the phones came from, Vince simply said, “I don’t ask questions.”

Vince, a former drug dealer, was also fighting lung cancer. One night—after a man tried to pick a fight with him—Vince decided to leave the shelter and go to the hospital emergency room where he could get a bed and a check-up. Dorr went along and slept in the waiting room. In the morning, the hospital gave Vince a free prescription for his pain and discharged him back to the streets.

“I looked at Vince as a real friend,” Dorr says. “He was there with me as I was being exposed to the shelter. I presume that 50 percent of what Vince told me was lies, but I hung out with him half the days I was there. We’d wander around the city together. One thing I gained from the shelter was a whole new appreciation for who ends up there.”

A lot of shelter residents have addiction or mental health issues. Others were like Vince—people who had houses and jobs and then something went wrong, like a divorce. “And now they’re here,” Dorr says. Mark was another example. His strong, fit build and decent clothes—as well as his cell phone—made him seem out of place. One day, Mark looked at Dorr:

“What’s your deal?” he said. “You don’t belong here.”

“What do you mean?” Dorr replied.

“Look around. You’re different.”

Dorr told him his story. The next morning Mark woke up Dorr at 3:30 a.m. to walk to a Waffle House. At breakfast, Mark told Dorr his story—he was a divorced father of two from Chicago and was in Atlanta looking for a job.

In all, Dorr spent 18 nights at the shelter—more than half his pilgrimage. He eventually reported to the monastery, spending seven days digging a ditch, mowing the lawn, eating lunch in silence, attending four of the five daily prayer sessions and learning how to chant. He also stayed in the homes of five different families he met at churches or at the soup kitchens where he volunteered.

“The point of the pilgrimage is to spend the month letting go of our typical securities of home, money, community, and in doing that, come to trust more fully in God,” he says. “I realized how blessed I am, and that no matter what I do, I can’t experience life on the streets the way these guys do. It changed the outlook I had of what I was striving for and what God was calling me to. His message to me was to be with them, but you can’t be them.”

[divider]Ryan Materson [/divider]
Ryan Masterson was hungry, so he walked from the bus station in downtown Louisville, Ky., straight into an Applebee’s restaurant he spied nearby. It was a long bus ride from Detroit, after all, and a good lunch would give him energy for the next leg of his trip. He ate alone and enjoyed every bite, but when he went to pay the bill, it was like a sucker punch to the gut.

The bill was $17—half of the $35 he’d been given for his entire two-week pilgrimage. How was he supposed to get through the next 12 days?

Masterson was sent “to do time,” as he puts it, at the Trappist monastery, the Abbey of Gethsemani, south of Louisville. He’d been moved by The Seven Storey Mountain, a book by Thomas Merton, who left his position as an English professor at Columbia University to become a Trappist monk at the abbey in Trappist, Ky. So Masterson requested to spend time at the abbey connecting with the elements that had drawn Merton into a monastic, religious life. For Masterson, the abbey not only connected him to Merton, it became a door to his past—and the oddest place to run into old friends.

Although he arrived at the abbey unannounced, the monks let him in, offering him a room that contained a desk, a cross on the wall and a bed with a box spring “that was made before Patton took Germany.”

During his stay, Masterson ran into a woman who was there for a retreat whom he knew from his home parish in Columbus, Ohio. As they talked about his decision to enter the priesthood, Masterson began to feel an anxiety that gnawed at him in college about his career choice. “I was feeling the conflict of whether to continue on with the Jesuits or go back to medicine.”

The woman offered him a ride to Cincinnati, but he declined. He needed to experience the abbey. For the next four days he lived like a monk—prayers, chants, eating in silence. He thought about relationships he lost, about a cousin killed in Afghanistan, about friends from Xavier he left behind. He was feeling cut off from his world.

“Part of my second-guessing was boiling down to a lack of trust in God or a sense of being unable to trust in that way,” he says. “Our pilgrimage model was about trust but also about where are you lacking in trust and in your real ability to say where you put faith in God and his provenance, and for me that was in a sense of relationship with others.”

Then two things happened. One morning, while strolling the grounds, he walked into a graveyard, and the first grave he came upon was Merton’s. He knew Merton died accidentally in 1968, but he didn’t know he was buried there.

“It was a complete surprise to me,” he says. “I knew he left the monastery and died in Thailand. He was electrocuted, and his body was brought back to Kentucky, and he was buried with all the other monks. I actually got to pray next to where he was buried, and one of his things, his issues, was trusting.”

He also attended the funeral Mass of a monk who died of cancer.

“To see the care these men had for him and his fulfillment in his life was powerful for me,” he says. “They had different prayer periods during the day, and I went in at 3:00 a.m. and even then, I saw an old man reading prayers with a monk who had just passed. I gained a lot from being there for the funeral of someone who died in obscurity in the hills of Kentucky and was utterly happy with his decision to do that.”

When it was time to leave, he began walking down the road in front of the abbey toward Louisville. Just then, a farmer in a pickup truck pulled up and offered him a ride. Upon hearing his story, he gave him a $10 bill, half of which he spent on a modest sandwich at a nearby diner. Coming out of the diner, he looked across the street and saw John, one of his best friends from Xavier.

John offered him a ride to Cincinnati, and it was like a homecoming for Masterson. He saw all his old friends and stayed with a different one each for four nights.

They took him out to dinner and talked long hours late into the night. They not only asked Masterson to let them care for him, they told him they admired his choice of the priesthood. “One of them said, ‘Ryan, I am so proud of you, and what you are doing right now matters and needs to be done. You are happier now than I have seen you in years.’ ”

“It confirmed for me I was making the right decision, and I was ready to go back,” he says. “It was a very intimate pilgrimage through my own experience and learning to trust in the graciousness and charity of others and to trust the relationships I put so much importance on,” Masterson said. “It was a pilgrimage into myself really.”

Xavier Magazine

A Superior Gift

What looks nice with a black suit? How about a blue and gray Xavier hat—the flat bill variety, of course, so it’s stylish as well as fashionable.

That was what business professor Tim Kloppenborg thought in March, anyway, when he met with Adolfo Nicolas, S.J., the Superior General of the Jesuit order, during a Colleagues in Jesuit Business Education conference in Rome. Kloppenborg is president of the CJBE’s global faculty group. Some of Kloppenborg’s colleagues teased him for upstaging them by presenting Nicholas with the hat, but Father General was quite happy to be the owner of the second nicest hat in the Vatican.

Mostly, though, Nicolas was happy with the efforts of the business faculty. “Father General encouraged us to use technology to expand our reach and encouraged networking in many forms,” Kloppenborg said. “He also said ethics education is so critical—even saying business without ethics is a disaster. He wants education to be in greater depth and wants our graduates to be better people, not just better at business. And he has great respect for creativity and would like our graduates to change from thinking about work as a job to thinking of it as a vocation.”

Xavier Magazine

Extra Credit: Matthew Dunch, S.J.

Matthew Dunch, S.J., is completing his first year at Xavier as a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy after working as a prison chaplain and teaching pre-school (the latter being the tougher gig) while also spending two summers “excruciatingly sick” serving in Third World nations.

Dunch was raised “on a steady diet of ‘Star Trek’ ” near Youngstown, Ohio, earning his bachelor’s degree at Catholic University of America and MA at the University of Chicago Loyola. He writes a column for The Jesuit Post blog postulating on such topics as the universe, Sweet 16 and postal deliverers.

“I started out working for a former Xavier professor, James McCann. He was my boss at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. That was my junior year of college and my first serious introduction to the Jesuits. Now, I’m living in his old room in the Jesuit residence on campus. It’s kind of a creepy connection.

“I was impressed with the Jesuits because of the breadth of competencies, their mission, their spirituality and the lightness with which they carry themselves.

“Philosophers struggle with the insistent question of ‘being.’ My sense of religious identity seems to come out of curiosity. And I try to make my students curious. They sometimes roll their eyes when I use props [such as Nietzsche and Socrates, in the photo] or switch from Descartes to quantum physics, but truth can’t go against truth. The best science, the best literature, that’s what I try to get across.

“I find I’m not a very good teacher unless I’m confused, too. That emptiness in the pit of your stomach, that’s what lets you be empathetic with students. If I’m not a little confused and unsettled, then

I know I’m wrong.

“My favorite living philosopher is Charles Taylor. He enters deeply into the complexities of human meaning. My favorite dead philosopher is Socrates. He exemplifies what philosophy is all about.

“Some philosophers claim that contemplation is the highest form of life, but then don’t practice it. We’ve been trying for over 2,000 years and haven’t gotten it quite right yet. It’s about finding God in all things. Science is great, but science won’t talk about this Gatorade bottle I’m holding. Science will talk about the mass of this Gatorade bottle. Philosophy has the same interest as science, but takes a broader lens that tends to capture the thing itself. The view can be blurry, but it’s broader.

“The Jesuit confidence in the world is to venture as far as we can, and we’ll still find God. I keep looking, and I haven’t found it not to be true. There’s

a little restlessness at the core of Jesuit ideals, the Jesuit desire to push a little

further at the frontiers. And that’s wonderful.

“I love traveling, I grew up traveling. I come from a long line of adventurers.

“On campus, I find I really do love basketball. I think of basketball games as almost liturgical, almost a rite.

“I was a total nerd as a child. I still am, but it seems more acceptable now.

“You don’t graduate out of a university. You graduate into it, into that long line of thinking before and after you.”

Xavier Magazine

Extra Credit: Kent A. Beausoleil, S.J.

Kent A. Beausoleil, S.J., has served as an emergency room orderly, bartender, pastry chef, governmental budget officer and assistant city manager. He was born at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Waukegan, Ill., the second youngest of seven children.

After earning his BA in political science/public service and MA in public administration at Northern Illinois University, he served stints as an assistant village manager in Palatine, Ill., and as budget and risk management officer for the city of Rockford, Ill., as well as an emergency room orderly at Mercy Hospital Detroit. He entered the Jesuits in 1997, earning his MA in philosophy from Fordham University and an MDiv from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. He was ordained to priestly ministry in 2007.

“I came to Xavier right after ordination, and I started working both in campus ministry and as associate pastor at Bellarmine. My second year, I moved over to Brockman Hall and became resident chaplain. My third year, I started a doctoral program in philosophy of education.

“Right now there’s a lot on my plate, a lot of good stuff. My average day is pretty much catch as catch can.

“At the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice, I do a lot of retreat work and spiritual direction, liturgical functions, prayer services and the like.

“I also do different things for Bellarmine: Masses, daily works in the parish, baptisms and weddings, residence hall blessings and such. Weddings are a big ministry. I do 12 to 15 a year and really enjoy that.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel. I have taken a lot of trips to Guatemala, Mexico and Paris to learn languages. I spent four weeks in Israel. I took a comparative education course where I toured all the different universities in New Zealand to see how they provided for student services. This past summer I studied in Europe—London, University of Oxford, Belgium­—for a paper on their best practices of higher education.

“Before I entered the priesthood, I worked in some Chicago restaurants, as a waiter at first, and as a bartender, and then moved over to pastry chef. I considered a career in restaurant management. Instead I went from serving tables to serving at a different table.

“Once a month, I bake cookies for the students since I used to work in restaurants as a pastry chef. In Brockman, I cook all the time.

I will make pies, brownies or cakes for the Jesuit community. For Manresa, I used to make desserts to accompany the dinner out in Milford.

“I came from a family where both my parents loved to cook. We had family dinner parties all the time. Faith for us as a family was very important. I remember the dynamism and mystery present during Mass and worship.

“The heart of the ministry is caring for each other. For me, it’s a move away from being physically fed, to being spiritually fed.

“Some of my profound moments have come through listening to a person suffering with HIV or coming out of emergency surgery, helping a person face a difficult decision or being with a student struggling with tests,dating, fitting in.”

Xavier Magazine

Extra Credit: Robert Buetuer, S.J.

After serving as editor of the National Jesuit News and associate editor at America magazine, Bueter joined the Xavier faculty in 2007 as associate director of the Center for Catholic Education and specialist on the history of secondary education in the United States.

“The scholarly research about secondary education has fallen on hard times. The Church has not done a good job of pushing the Catholic school advantage. We do schools better, and I’m proud of it. I’m a cradle Catholic, a product of Catholic education from grammar school on.

Two things about Catholic schools: One, Catholic schools were not founded to teach religion, and, two, they were not founded to teach virtue. The cornerstone should be academic excellence, not religion. Early on, this was a Vatican priority. What emerged was the best school system in the United States. We ruled the playing field, from the athletic courts to the SATs and ACTs, no question about it. I’ve seen this story with my own eyes.

I had an eight-year run as principal at St. Ignatius Prep in Chicago in the 1980s. It was in danger of closing. Parents asked me if their kids would make it through, and they didn’t mean were their kids smart enough. They meant, will you be open for four more years? We made it co-ed. We saw it as a way to provide a better opportunity for everybody and a better environment for girls education.


As president of Lexington Catholic High School in Kentucky from 1990-1999, I taught religious studies and I coached a lot—basketball, track, football. That was very important to me. I started the school’s development effort. The current wisdom was I didn’t know jack. I was not a trained educator. My experience was as a coach. Then I moved out to the front office and we grew the student

body from 321 to 855 while establishing funding for a $10-million expansion and facilities addition.

[It includes the Robert J. Bueter, S.J., Athletic Center.]

Catholic education is starting to, more and more, model itself on the failed model of the public school system. We’re getting away from what brought us to the dance: rigorous curriculum and school discipline. The major issues are, are we doing a good job of getting students ready for college, and are our colleges doing a good job of moving that forward?

The Center for Catholic Education is a new center at Xavier. We offer a deeply discounted master’s degree for teachers in Catholic schools. Another major outreach is we do a lot of consulting and try to serve on boards when we can. Our current project is we have developed a board of advisors to develop Catholic education in the region, but also to turn over some rocks for funding.

The other thing I am doing is teaching Latin. We had two graduate students trying to get licensed in Latin. I’m finding that intriguing. Why should someone take Latin? It’s the only chance you will ever get, and it’s a fun thing to do, to read Cicero, Horace, Catullus.”

Xavier Magazine

Life in the Second 50

J. Leo Klein, S.J., one of Xavier’s longest-serving Jesuits, knows a thing or two about aging, and he has two artificial knees and an artificial hip to prove it. Getting old ain’t for sissies, he likes to say. But he also knows there’s more to life as an elder statesman than new body parts, which is why he created “The Second Fifty: Spirituality in Later-Life Issues,” a program that seeks to offer meaning, direction and spirit to those in the second half of their lives. The program meets nine times in the evenings for two hours and touches on issues such as God, prayer, spiritual mile-markers and legacy/heritage by utilizing books such as Man’s Search for Meaning and films such as “Oh God!” The next Second Fifty program begins Tuesday, Oct. 4. Cost is $110. Interested alumni should reserve a place in the program by contacting Laura Allen at 513-745-3571 or

Xavier Magazine

Extra Credit: Bill Verbryke, S.J.

Bill Verbryke, S.J., is a new face on campus but a familiar one in Cincinnati’s Jesuit circles. The 58-year-old is a Cincinnati native and former president of St. Xavier High School. He joined Xavier in the fall after an eight-year assignment in metro Detroit.

Like rectors or superiors before him, Verbryke’s job is to lead the Jesuit community by managing the spiritual and personal needs of its members. Unlike most of his predecessors, however, Verbryke has the additional responsibility of consolidating several smaller Jesuit communities scattered throughout Cincinnati into a single community on Xavier’s campus.

With a flock of priests whose ages range from the mid-20s to early 90s, most of whom are accustomed to living on their own or in smaller groups across the city, it could be a challenge. “It’s hard for people to change. It is going to be different. Some will say, ‘Why didn’t we do this sooner?’ Some will resist.”

Verbryke is perhaps an ideal choice to lead the move. He hails from the Cincinnati suburb of Clifton and is a 1971 graduate of St. Xavier High School. In addition to serving as president of St. Xavier between 1991-2001, his other experiences as a high school teacher and leader among Jesuits-in-training in Chicago and Detroit have prepared him to rally the local Jesuit troops.

He says the consolidation within the Jesuit communities in Cincinnati is similar to what is happening overall in the Catholic Church, as parishes merge to accommodate the shrinking ranks of priests.

“The mission of the Jesuit community is a mission in itself,” he says. “It used to be thought that the Jesuit community was present for the apostolate, but now the Jesuits are an apostolate themselves.”

The plan is to nearly double the size of the current Jesuit residence hall by summer 2012 to provide enough space to accommodate as many as 35 priests. Currently, 16 live in the two-story house on campus, Verbryke among them.

“The sacrifices required will be worthwhile because the benefits, strengths and support of a combined community will anchor us all. Bringing together our different apostolates will create a sense of rubbing shoulders. Our worlds will be expanded.

“What’s exciting for me personally is helping to shape a community environment that will help us live as companions to help us in our ministries.”

Xavier Magazine

Extra Credit: Ken Overberg, S.J.

The distance is vast between Peru and Sweden—in miles and memories—for Ken Overberg, S.J.

The longtime theology professor and Cincinnati native visited Peru as a young seminarian in the summer of 1972. That immersion experience changed his perspective on life and heavily influenced his decision to specialize in Christian social ethics. His semester teaching in Sweden, from which he recently returned, exposed him to another facet of the Jesuit mission, though in a starkly different environment.

“We don’t think of Sweden as mission territory because we think of that,” he says, pointing to framed pictures of Peru on a shelf in his Hinkle Hall office. “But in terms of religious reality and the Church, it is.”

“Religious reality” is the spreading of Catholic Christian beliefs. In Peru, faith and Church missionaries help the underprivileged cope with dire economic circumstances. In a developed country like Sweden, the goal is to provide a voice of faith.

“Catholics are a very distinct minority in Sweden,” Overberg says. “It’s a very secularized country. The Jesuits there consider themselves missionaries in terms of the mission’s reality. We’ve been there for quite some years in two parishes, but what else do we do? We do education. That’s what Jesuits do. We start schools. Therefore, it makes sense to be a Catholic presence in the intellectual discourse.”

Overberg spent the semester in Uppsala, the fourth-largest city in Sweden, about 40 miles northwest of Stockholm and home to a famous European university founded by the pope in 1477 but taken over by Lutherans after the Reformation.

In 2001, a group of Jesuits established the Newman Institute for Catholic Studies in Uppsala. The Institute was recently accredited and now qualifies as a “university college.” Overberg taught a course on Christian ethics there last fall. He got the teaching position through a former Jesuit colleague who is president of the Institute. The two reconnected after Overberg first visited Uppsala in 2007 as a guest speaker at an AIDS conference.

“I got to experience the Church in lots of different ways, through different cultures,” he says, which included traveling to Finland and serving as a guest speaker for a daylong series of talks at a Dominican institute in Helsinki. He also presided at weekly Mass in English in the lone Catholic parish in Uppsala. Overberg’s services were well received as one of the few native English speakers in an internationally diverse congregation. “People from around the world made up the worshipping community, so that was quite an experience.”

What kind of impact did the experience of teaching in Uppsala have on Overberg, who was nervous about going in the first place? “I prayed a lot about it because, at age 66, I was going to become a missionary, not in the same image as you think. I was starting this mission effort in terms of higher education and moving into a culture I did not know with a language I did not speak.”

“It’s probably too soon to tell,” he says of the lasting impact Sweden has had on his life compared to Peru. “I have come up with five words to describe it: satisfying, enjoyable, challenging, difficult and rich.”

Xavier Magazine

Extra Credit: John LaRocca, S.J.

A transplanted New Yorker, John LaRocca, S.J., joined Xavier’s Department of History faculty in 1977 convinced he would return to his native East Coast within two years. He’s been at Xavier ever since.

“After my first semester here I was back in New York for Christmas, and I went to dinner with some Jesuits who had gone through Jesuit formation with me. One of them looked at me and said, ‘You still going to be back here in two years?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘No, you’re not.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘You’re falling in love with the school. You have no idea what your face looks like when you talk about Xavier.’ ”

“It gave me a place to teach, and I love teaching. I found some excellent students here and a lot of very good people who allowed me to enter their lives. I also saw myself as someone who wanted to do research, and the University and Jesuit community offered me the support to do that research. And one of the essential parts of who I am is that I am a priest, and they valued the ministry I did as a Jesuit priest on the campus.”

During his 33-plus years at Xavier, LaRocca has taken on many responsibilities beyond teaching history courses. He has twice served as chair of the history department and has been a member of and chaired numerous University committees. He’s been chaplain to athletes, continues to take turns presiding at Bellermine Chapel Masses, and is well known for his Friday night pasta dinners at Kuhlman Hall and his beloved beagle, Isabella, whom he routinely walks on campus. He is an avid, opinionated Xavier basketball fan. Most recently he was named trustee emeritus to the Xavier Board of Trustees and completed a six-year term as rector of the Jesuit community at Xavier this past fall.

LaRocca says he enjoyed serving as rector because he got to spend time with his Jesuit brothers, to find out more about their lives, their hopes, expectations and disappointments. Still, he says he’s relieved to be free of the paperwork and regional traveling associated with the job. He hopes to spend his newfound free time—liberation, he calls it—doing research for a book on the theology of Mary Tudor and the Council of Trent.

“I’ve been on all sorts of committees that have done things from the trivial to the really important. I was on the core curriculum committee 20 years ago, the academic vision statement committee, the first one. I was chair of the faculty committee when we purchased Edgecliff College. Is that more important than when I presided at liturgy at Bellarmine Chapel or visited a suicide victim on life support in the hospital? I don’t know what’s more important. Maybe God knows that, and maybe I haven’t done it yet.”

To be sure, one lasting legacy of LaRocca’s is an endowed scholarship he established in 2008 for a first-generation college student. The Joseph and Constance LaRocca Scholarship is named in memory of the only child’s first-generation Italian-American parents.

“I figured they aren’t going to have any grandchildren or great grandchildren to remember them, but at least at Xavier University, somebody will remember that these people once existed, and there will be a college student who benefits.”