Meet: Jesuit Novice Matt White
He’s here on his “long experiment” (yes, there is a “short experiment”), part of the 11-year Jesuit formation process. So far, says St. Louis native Matt White, the experiment has been a good one.
A graduate of Jesuit high school and college (DeSmet and Loyola), White made his short experiment, a sort of six-week internship, at a Jesuit retirement center in Milwaukee. He is spending his long experiment living in a Jesuit community and working at a Jesuit apostolate — in this case, at St. Xavier High School. Part of his duties include shadowing one of the Jesuit teachers and helping in the campus ministry office.
“This is an opportunity for us to be seen, and in fact to be, a full-time working Jesuit,” he says. “The long experiment provides the chance to ask, could I work and live like this for the rest of my life?”
White is part of an eight-man novitiate class for the Wisconsin and Chicago-Detroit Provinces. The first stage, the Novitiate, lasts two years. That’s followed by First Studies (three years), Regency (three years), and Theology Studies (three years). It’s a time-honored system devised by St. Ignatius of Loyola to train men in theology, prayer, and life in the world.
White says his Jesuit secondary education did just that, challenging him in both faith and social justice, while introducing him to Jesuit spirituality. “Since entering the Jesuits, the spiritual side of my life has grown, while not diminishing the more practical sides,” he explains. “As Jesuits, we hope to be essentially companions of Jesus. This for me has been powerful. An opportunity to pray and to truly find who I am in the context of the messages of Jesus is something that stirs within me the desire to follow Jesus more closely and to find Christ in others.”
Novices study Spanish to prepare for working with the poor in South America, spend two hours a day at Mass and in prayer, and participate in spiritual and community activities. The wide range of Jesuit training contributes to the diversity of the order, which includes ministries ranging from work with the world’s poorest people to operating private universities to train future business and government leaders.
Among the living Jesuits White most admires are Fr. Greg Boyle, who works in gang rehabilitation in Los Angeles, and peace activist Fr. Daniel Berrigan. His favorite Jesuit saint is St. Alphonsus Rodriguez.
“Alphonsus entered the Jesuits after his wife and three children died,” he says. “He entered the Jesuits later in life as a brother, and for years worked at a Jesuit college as the porter. His only job was to answer the door. And what makes this man a saint? People from all over the sought Alphonsus’ spiritual help and wisdom. He had such a great impact on people that they would return just to spend time with him. His outlook on life was oriented toward Jesus. When there was a knock at the door, he would say a quick prayer to himself that was, “I am coming Lord.””
Those three men, so different from each other, illustrate the diversity of the Society of Jesus. “We all come from diverse backgrounds, we have diverse talents, Jesuits operate diverse ministries,” White says. “And this diversity is a good thing and is truly animated when taken in the context of our great commonality: to live the Gospel message and to labor as Jesus labored,
“From this, everything else flows.”
Photo Courtesy St. Xavier High School.