When the Pope speaks, people listen. So in June 2013, when meeting with the writers of the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica at the Vatican, the Pontiff said, “Your proper place is on the frontiers. This is the place of Jesuits.”
For 2003 grad Eric Sundrup, S.J., those words were music to his ears. He had already helped stake a Jesuit claim in perhaps the most untamed frontier on Earth—the Internet.
It was while studying philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago, that Sundrup and fellow Jesuits-in-training Paddy Gilger and Sam Sawyer also pondered a project familiar to many 21st-century hipsters—launching a website. Their topic: Life in the Jesuit world. Content? Not a problem. It was as easy as recruiting other Jesuits in formation to write about their lives, aspirations, observations and challenges.
[lightbox link=”http://xuxtraprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/jespost.jpg”][/lightbox]Thus were the humble beginnings of The Jesuit Post, or TJP, a digital digest where phrases like cura personalis and “Come at Me, Bro!” mingle. It’s that mix of the sacred and urbane that has made TJP a cyber hit with Jesuits, the spiritually curious and website trolls looking for a good fight. It’s a reasonable question to ask why Sundrup—who serves as editor-in-chief as well as author of posts like “Come at Me, Bro! (Why I Love The Crazies)”—would bother to wander into cyberspace when there’s a real world in need of ministering. Surprisingly, his rationale springs from the very origins of the Jesuits themselves.
“The idea of The Jesuit Post evolved from one of the exercises of St. Ignatius—‘We should speak as one friend speaks to another,’” Sundrup says. “We weren’t seeing young Jesuits speaking to each other like if we had just called them up or posting on Facebook.”
Every Jesuit experiences his own unique calling and takes a different path into the order, and Sundrup’s path was not without its own interesting digressions. Originally enrolled at Xavier in the Honors Bachelor of Arts program, Sundrup’s aim was squarely pre-med. Then he got bit by the Jesuit bug and almost dropped out—not to join the circus, but the Jesuits.
“I wanted to do what a Jesuit did, but I didn’t know why they do what they do.”
He stuck it out, graduated in 2003 and joined the Society of Jesus. In May 2014, Sundrup was fully ordained and assigned to the Newman Center at the University of Michigan. He continued to see the value of social media as a space and a way of talking about all things religion.
[lightbox link=”http://xuxtraprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/sundrup2.jpg”][/lightbox]“We looked around and said ‘How do we communicate with our friends?’ and for us, that was social media,” he says. “In social media, most stuff spreads through a friend of a friend. We were hoping to tap into the very impressive alumni network of the Jesuit schools.”
And tap they did. As preparation for the “soft launch” of the site, they sent a preview link to Jim Martin, S.J., himself a social media guru, author and “resident chaplain” of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.”
“He launched us inadvertently,” Sundrup says.
Martin shared it on Facebook and Twitter, and while the founders expected to have perhaps 15 or 20 views at its launch, they had 20,000 visitors in the first two days. Martin still serves as chief cheerleader.
“The Jesuit Post is one of the best things that U.S. Jesuits have done in the last 10 years,” Martin says. “And what’s most amazing is that it was done by young Jesuits—men still in formation.”
[lightbox link=”http://xuxtraprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/jespostbook.jpg”][/lightbox]“As a brother, Jim has been phenomenal,” says Sundrup. “I can call him anytime, he can give great advice. He’s always helping out in any way he can.”
Which is a good thing, since TJP is only picking up momentum. It has a new book anthology available at Amazon, and discussions are taking place in providences like Rome and Spain on how to replicate the TJP model.
TJP video coups include coverage of the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, the Pope’s first visit to the Americas since his election and rare access to interview Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus—which is where Sundrup learned that pushing the envelope occasionally leads to the painful paper cut.
“I got a bit of furrowed brow from Father General when I said ‘Join the Jesuits and See the World,’” he says. “But we joked about it later in our video interview.”
[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pM-rAzKeW9c&list=PLgYkRQF4sGG3BUXtyHGPdE0lewK9WdSLw”][/lightbox]Two years after its launch, founders Sundrup, Sawyer and Gilger are passing the Post on to a new editorial staff of Jesuits in formation. They’ll leave behind “a crazy idea from a bunch of Jesuit scholastics” that today attracts more than 100,000 page views per month. Sundrup also leaves behind no regrets.
“We founded The Jesuit Post to talk to our friends who had one foot in institutional religion and one foot out. One of the side effects to that has been it’s helping to train Jesuits to be more effective at talking to young adults in a wide variety of places that allows us to provide content they can share with a person that’s even further on the fringe than we can reach.”
And online, no worries. The fringe will find you.