Classic ex-Jesuit Life Journey
Having read John Lounibos’ faith journey (“Roads Taken…”) and having known John from many CTS conventions these past twenty years, I realized what a great Jesuit faith community has emerged from those of us ex-Jesuits who “checked”—to use the word current in the late 50s at Milford where I entered the Jesuits in 1958 with 26 others from the Detroit Province and at least that many from the Chicago Province!
Like many from the Detroit Province class of novices in 1958, I was born in Cleveland and graduated from St. Ignatius H.S. It is amazing that about 18 of the 26 new Detroit Province novices were graduates from St. Ignatius! Our faith journey had begun with our prescribed religion classes at Ignatius as well as weekly masses, once a semester retreats, and a community of students engaged in lots of extra-curricular activities where we got to know Jesuit teaching scholastics like John O’Neil who taught geometry but also sponsored the Art Club—that made posters for athletic games and events. My classic Jesuit formation included two major moves: first, the move from Milford, Ohio to the new Detroit Province novitiate in Clarkston, MI—where we Detroit Province novices were instructed to stop wearing rosaries with our cassocks lest we scratch the brand new pews in the chapel! Then, later, during the classic three-year philosophy program, the united Chicago-Detroit philophate and theologate moved from West Baden, IND to North Aurora, ILL where we could also take courses in downtown Chicago to complete Master’s degrees needed to teach during the three-year “regency” between philosophy and theology. As I write this, I realize how old this news is to my many class mates, yet how it’s in danger of becoming ancient history in the light of recent Jesuit reforms in seminary education.
In my regency at U. of D. High School I taught French, after spending summers during philosophy studies in Quebec. This led to my request to do theology while continuing to improve my French (at Eegenhoven near Louvain in Belgium, not in France—which had a limit on American scholastics). After my ordination in Brussels in 1971 and my return to John Carroll university as campus minister, my love of French led to my doing a doctorate in theology in Paris—at the Institut Catholique, then a job teaching theology at Marquette university.
The second stage of my “classic ex-Jesuit” journey began at the University of Scranton, where I was teaching theology—after not being given tenure after five years of teaching at Marquette. There I met an older student who was returning to school after several years as a nurse, and was active in campus ministry and the charismatic community: Maria Merli—my future wife. My decision to leave the Jesuits—rather than take a year of leave—was helped by an enlightened Detroit provincial, Fr. Howard Grey. It also took place after the University of Scranton did not renew my one-year contract and I had to find a job outside the Jesuits. After a year at LaSalle University in Philadelphia I was hired by Our Lady of the Lake university here in San Antonio and have been here ever since (twenty-six years).
As part of a spiritual journey my marriage to Maria and my experience raising two children has enabled me to see Catholic life from both sides—celibate and married! I can now sympathize with Catholic couples who live their faith while coping with house mortgages, job security, and (at times) insensitive priests! My main “ministry” continues to be my career in teaching theology at a small Catholic college that still clings to the liberal arts tradition, sometimes endangered by contemporary emphasis on getting a job and the STEM skills even at a Catholic university.
A final reflection on my own journey as similar to many other ex-Jesuits: those of us who have been enriched by the classic Jesuit formation, I see, are in a sense another community. And, with the election of a Jesuit as Pope—and a revolution in thinking about former Jesuits and priests—I feel proud to be part of the Jesuit tradition. I also realize my responsibility to share these values.
James Zeitz, email@example.com
Our Lady of the Lake, San antonio