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Q&A: A Few Minutes with Jeremy Clarke, SJ

Jeremy Clarke, SJ (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: May 10, 2012

With his Australian origins and travels to China, Cambodia, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Indonesia, History Assistant Professor Jeremy Clarke, SJ, brings a decidedly Asian-Pacific perspective to his courses on China and Asia. He also serves as the faculty advisor for the Chinese Students Association and BC men’s rugby club, and as co-chaplain for the men’s basketball team. Chronicle’s Kathleen Sullivan recently caught up with the busy priest from Oz.

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about Australia?
I miss not being able to speak freely, both in terms of accent and nuance, as I often have to modify much of what I want to say. I miss Aussie sarcasm and wit, suburban rugby games, good coffee, bodysurfing, driving on the left, schooners of Reschs and meat pies. I also notice that I’m not living in an Asian-Pacific world, and I miss that. But, for all that, life at the Heights is great and I’m very happy to be here.

Your research and teaching interests center on China, particularly Chinese Christian history and East-West cultural exchange. What spurred your interest in China and what is it about China that you hope to educate students most about?
I started studying Chinese language when I was 13 years old and loved it. I then lived in China for a year after high school and made lifelong friends with some Chinese classmates. I’d go to their homes, play mahjong, kick a soccer ball and eat too much food. And then I returned to Australia and watched the events of June 1989 unfold at Tiananmen. All these experiences have spurred my interest in China and keep me committed to what can be a difficult situation. I would hope to provide some tools for our students to learn about the history of China in order to be better able to interpret and understand the contemporary reality. I’d encourage them to be neither dragon slayers nor panda huggers, but somewhere in between.

You’ve been a keynote speaker at a number of University events of late (Undergraduate Research Symposium, Admitted Eagle Day, Student Leadership Awards). What message do you try to get across to these undergraduates and soon-to-be undergraduates?
I emphasize that the Society of Jesus (and our fabulous colleagues with whom we work alongside) has been involved in education for a very long time, ever since 1546. Thus, an incoming student is welcomed into a network and a tradition that stretches back over centuries and that exists throughout the world. We’re very international in scope because we’re about serving the whole world. We can then draw on these resources and connect students to them. Simply, we want to educate students to be people of competence, conscience and compassion, with a concern for all. While it’s nice to see graduates get Fulbrights and Rhodes Scholarships, and maybe even Pulitzers, Bookers and Nobel Prizes, we’ve done our job if they become women and men for others. I invite them to embrace this holistic view of education – the education of the whole person.

Last month you professed your final vows on campus at St. Mary’s Chapel, capping a journey in the Society of Jesus that began in Sydney, Australia in 1993. What have been among the greatest gifts of Jesuit life?
I’ve been privileged to know some amazing Jesuits from all around the world, living in community and working for a common mission: a faith that does justice. Thus, being a companion of Jesus, with brothers from around the world is one of the greatest gifts. The Society has also given me so many opportunities to help me be a better person and better priest — be that sending me to doctoral studies in Asian and Pacific history to asking me to lead retreats for nuns in Pakistan. If I were not a Jesuit I would not have done these things. Finally, to be invited into genuine deep relationship with others through the sacraments and casual conversation is a great gift and blessing.

What would you say to someone contemplating a vocation to the priesthood or religious life?
Our much beloved former Superior General Pedro Arrupe said it best regarding a vocation to the Society of Jesus: “...Come and join us if, for you, serving Christ is at the core of your life. Join us if you possess broad shoulders, a free spirit, an open and prudent mind, and a heart bigger than the world. Join us if you have a sense of humor and you know how to share a joke...and if, on certain occasions, you are also able to laugh at yourself.”

In today’s age and today’s church, where our frailties are painfully obvious — although maybe not to all folk — a big heart and a big sense of humor are musts. There are still lots of people wanting to hear the word of God and to experience the love of Christ in their lives, thus workers are sorely needed. And, as an old Jesuit in Australia once said, “Hey, the food’s good!”