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Keeping the Door Open

Manresa House is a continual hub of activity, with an important purpose: helping students think about vocations to the religious life

Special Assistant to the President Terrence Devino, SJ, in front of Manresa House, Boston College’s center for vocational discernment. (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Oct. 20, 2011

Special Assistant to the President Terrence Devino, SJ, who will mark 25 years as a priest this coming spring, remembers the strong stirrings he felt for the priesthood back when he was a college student — feelings he wasn’t sure anyone else could understand.

“I was scared to death to talk about it,” he recalled.

Fr. Devino doesn’t want anyone at Boston College who may be mulling a vocation to the priesthood or religious life to feel scared or alone. To that end, he works diligently directing Manresa House, BC’s center for vocational discernment, where an abundance of warmth, hospitality and spiritual guidance awaits for anyone seeking to explore a religious calling.

“College students spend lots of time searching. This house offers a place where students are encouraged to look at how to serve the Church,” he said.Communication and economics major Christopher Knoth ’14 is grateful for Manresa House and its director.

“Fr. Devino is a man who is more than just someone to talk to because he talks back. I have never met a man who is as dedicated. He selflessly gives all his energy to anyone who enters the doors of the Manresa House,” said Knoth, an Ignatian Society member and graduate of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.

“He has given me so much direction in my life and I am beyond blessed to call him a friend. He has gotten me through my hardest times at school and I have celebrated some of my highest of highs with him as well. My college experience would not be nearly as personal and influential on my life if it were not for Fr. Devino.”

Established by University President William P. Leahy, SJ, in 2007, Manresa House takes its name from the town in Spain where St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed for more than 11 months, leading to the ultimate creation of the Spiritual Exercises. The house originally was under the direction of then-Campus Minister Jack Butler, SJ, and was located at 24 Mayflower Road. In 2010, Fr. Devino became Manresa House director when Fr. Butler was named vice president for University Mission and Ministry. Later, operations were moved to the current location at 58 College Road.

Manresa House bustles with activity, providing a place for 4Boston participants to conduct their weekly reflection on their service, for the Sons of St. Patrick to prepare sandwiches that they will take into Boston for the needy, and for the social, service and spiritual programming of the Ignatian Society, a group of some 700 BC students who are graduates of Jesuit high schools.

At Manresa House, Fr. Devino hosts visits from vocational directors of various religious orders, such as Xaverian Brothers, Sisters of Charity and the Dominicans, who give talks and meet with students. He is organizing a program that will connect BC freshmen who are graduates of Jesuit high schools with retired Jesuits living at Campion Center. A group of 10 undergraduates seriously contemplating a call to the priesthood meets regularly with Fr. Devino and Fr. Leahy for pizza and discussion about religious life.

Every Wednesday evening at 9:45 p.m. begins what Fr. Devino calls “the best 15 minutes of my week.” Fr. Devino and students gather together for the Examen, reflecting on God’s presence during the past week and offering thoughtful prayer. For Knoth, who began attending the Examen as a freshman, the Wednesday nights are a blessing.

“[At first] I was a bit timid and kept to myself, simply coming in on time and leaving right when it was over,” he says. “However, one night Fr. Devino noticed I wasn’t myself. I don’t know how he was able to judge that I wasn’t myself since I had barely talked to him or gotten to know him.

“Nevertheless, Fr. Devino was right and ever since I have felt more and more comfortable stopping in whenever I need help or just to say hello to a friend. The doors are always open. I see it as a place where I can escape the pressures and fast pace of school and take time for myself to figure out where I am in life.”

Knoth adds that he has met a number of Fr. Devino’s colleagues and attended talks by several Manresa House speakers addressing both the priesthood and vocation discernment.

Fr. Devino’s life as a priest has included prison and hospice ministry, working with candidates for confirmation and with high school and college students in campus ministry, and serving in a parish. Asked what is his favorite part of being a priest, he responds: “meeting people in their search for God.” A call to the priesthood has “never been an easy call. It is a challenging call,” said Fr. Devino.

But for the right person and right circumstances, the priesthood is “positive and life-giving. As a companion of Jesus, we can do great things.”

Fr. Devino admits that the life of a priest has its struggles — with occasional loneliness and with a culture that doesn’t always hold the priesthood in an exalted state. But that pales in comparison to the overwhelmingly positive moments, such as a recent weekend in which he celebrated a wedding, and then a baptism of the child of another couple he had married. He said he enjoys the “uniting and reconciling” found in the sacraments.

“I am pulled into the fabric of people’s life, their joys and struggles and sorrows,” he added. “How fortunate am I, how blessed am I?”