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Three Jesuits Talk About ‘Answering the Call’

(L-R) University President William P. Leahy, SJ, Vice President for University Mission and Ministry Jack Butler, SJ, and scholastic Jeremy Zipple ’00, a student in BC’s School of Theology and Ministry, at the March 31 panel discussion “Three Jesuits: Who Do They Say They Are? Personal Perspectives.” (Photo by Justin Knight)

By Reid Oslin | Chronicle Staff

Published: Apr. 14, 2011

Three members of the Boston College Jesuit Community opened their hearts – and their memories — to a University audience on March 31 for a personal, insightful, and often poignant discussion about their vocations as members of the Society of Jesus.   

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, Vice President for University Mission and Ministry Jack Butler, SJ, and scholastic Jeremy Zipple ’00, a student in BC’s School of Theology and Ministry (STM), offered their unique perspectives on their lives as Jesuits. They described how their individual journeys to the order began, whether by answering a life-long call to serve God, searching for the right opportunity to share a family’s love and concern for others — or, in one case, through a chance meeting with a BC Jesuit priest.   

“The priesthood to me is about mission,” Fr. Leahy said during the hour-long panel discussion sponsored by the Church in the 21st Century Center, STM, the Theology Department, Alumni Association and Center for Ignatian Spirituality. “It’s about serving. It’s about trying to respond to God’s call.”  

That call came early in his life, he said: “Some of my earliest memories were thinking about being a priest. When I was in high school – I went to a public high school – I didn’t even know how to become a priest, so I went off to college.”   

After a year at Jesuit-run Creighton University, the young Iowa native made a decision: “I knew I was not going to return there as a sophomore. I would either go to be a diocesan priest in the Diocese of Des Moines or I would follow up in this new interest in the Jesuits. There was a desire – a sense of calling.”  

Fr. Leahy said that a Jesuit mentor at Creighton counseled him to return home and contemplate his decision for a month. “There was no big pressure,” he said. “It was all about what was in my heart.  

“At the end of the month, I went back to Creighton and went through the application process. I was accepted in July and entered a month later. In all of the time since, I have always had this abiding desire to be a Jesuit priest.”  

Fr. Butler compared his initial interest in the Jesuits to “the way that people fall in love and get married.”    

Said Fr. Butler, “I fell in love first with the concept of the God that I saw working in people’s lives. My own family – my grandmothers in particular – had all sorts of love in them. They never worried about themselves. Quite honestly – through selfishness – I wanted that. I wanted to be empowered to love others.”  

As intrigued as he was by the thought of being a religious, Fr. Butler said he resisted the idea. But long conversations with the New England Province’s James Kane, SJ, convinced him he had “found a home” in the society.   

“To be a Jesuit priest is to meet people where they are,” said Fr. Butler, who has worked in a hospital psychiatric ward, as a prison chaplain, and as a vocations counselor among many other assignments. “I have had some bad days [as a priest], but I have had far more good days.”  

Zipple recalled his 1995 visit to BC, while he was weighing an offer to enroll as a Presidential Scholar, and how he happened to sit at a table with Vice President and Special Assistant to the President William B. Neenan, SJ.   

“I just remember thinking ‘This guy is not like any other priest I had met before,’” said Zipple, who has written, produced and directed documentary films for National Geographic Television. “He had this breadth of knowledge; he was an economist – which is something I was thinking of studying; and he had just a wonderful sense of humor. Bill was the first Jesuit I had ever met and I think he is still a model for what attracted me to the society.  

“The Jesuits I have met are incredibly talented in their academic disciplines and normal, happy, joyful people,” he said. “Yet, they are also men of faith. That model of a priest appeals to me.”  

The presentation, which drew an overflow audience of more than 200 to the Heights Room in Corcoran Commons, was moderated by Michael Broughton, SJ, director of the Boston College Center for Ignatian Spirituality.