Four Seattle University Jesuits are celebrating very significant milestones this year. Pat O’Leary, S.J., chaplain for faculty and staff, is marking the 50th anniversary of his ordination; Stephen Sundborg, S.J., president, and Pat Howell, S.J., rector, are both celebrating 50 years as Jesuits; and Dave Anderson, S.J., chaplain for alumni, is marking his 25th anniversary of entering the Jesuit Order.
Collectively, the four have served nearly 200 years as Jesuits. It’s a staggering statistic, especially when you stop and think about all the lives they have touched through the years in their various ministries.
One recent afternoon, the four jubilarians, as they are known, sat down for a conversation about why they decided to become priests, what they remember about the day they entered the Jesuits—or in Father O’Leary’s case, his ordination—and what they treasure most about the lives they’ve chosen.
O’Leary’s call to the priesthood had a lot to do with family, he says. His mother died when he was young and so he moved in with relatives in Tacoma. He lived a half a block from St. Leo’s parish and went to Bellarmine Prep, which meant he had a lot of opportunities to interact with Jesuits. “The example of the Jesuits I knew there and the faith of the family I’d come from were the seeds of my vocation,” he says.
The Jesuits, too, influenced Father Sundborg—in his case, the Jesuits of Alaska.
“I always had this sense that they were already sort of welcoming me (as a young person). That was the biggest influence,” he says. In high school at Georgetown Prep, he found himself identifying particularly with his young Jesuit teachers who were not ordained yet and only about a decade his senior.
Father Howell says he “had a very strong sense of the presence of God from when I was seven onwards. It was at that time that I thought I would really be a priest, and that never diminished.” The North Dakota native wound up at Gonzaga University, which, he says, “was quite a leap in itself when you consider we lived 1,100 miles from (Spokane). In a lot of ways, I feel I was led to Gonzaga and I had just a wonderful, rich experience there.”
Father Anderson says he’s a Jesuit today because of “God’s persistence. I always felt a sense of attraction to being a Jesuit—and also a lot of resistance—but there was just this feeling that God kept calling me. I remember my grandmother, when I was five or six, looking me in the eyes and saying, ‘I want one of my grandsons to be a priest.’ I don’t know if she ever said that to anyone else, but I never forgot that.”
In high school, Anderson made a Search Retreat at which he had “a deep experience of God’s presence and a call to the priesthood that was really clear to me.” Echoing Howell, he says his interactions with Jesuits when he was an undergraduate at Gonzaga University solidified his decision to follow in their footsteps.
O’Leary has vivid memories of his ordination 50 years ago. “You’d think I’d have all kinds of pious and spiritual thoughts of that day,” he says, with a laugh. “The night before (the ordination), all of a sudden I get a knock at my door, and it’s one my best friends who was to be ordained with me, and he said, ‘I can’t go through with it.’ So, I was more concerned about what he was going to do than my own ordination.” In the end, O’Leary’s friend got ordained. As for the ordination itself, O’Leary remembers it mainly as one of the hottest days in Spokane history. The following day was as much of a scorcher, and so he recalls fighting through a steady stream of perspiration as he celebrated his first Mass.
Sundborg and Howell joined the Jesuits the same year. Sundborg remembers taking a flight from Washington, D.C., and then getting on a Greyhound bus from Portland to the novitiate, which was 50 miles southwest in Sheridan, Ore. The bus left him off at the base of a hill where he was met by a pickup truck that took him up to the farm on which the novitiate sits. Sundborg and another novice jumped in the back of the truck with their suitcases. “You wind up through the prune orchards and you go past this bull, and for me it was just a totally different world. I’d never been on a farm. I never will understand how I ever got on that airplane in Washington, D.C., a month after my 18th birthday and left my family behind. I don’t know how I did it. I was a very naïve, green 18-year-old.”
Most of the novices, like Sundborg, were fresh out of high school. At 21, Howell was considered the “old man” of the group. He remembers getting to the novitiate and hearing about this fellow that he just had to meet nicknamed “Borg.” It wasn’t long before the future SU rector would make the acquaintance of the man who would become the university’s 21st president.
A quarter century later, Anderson took a somewhat different route to that farm in Sheridan. After attending the 1986 World’s Fair in Vancouver, B.C., he and his parents drove down I-5 to the novitiate. “I remember wanting to take every exit possible,” he says, chuckling. “There was a lot of reluctance on my part, but once I arrived, there was a connection with the six of us in our class and the three in the class ahead of us. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of joy, and I felt that I was really at home.”
Reflecting on his life as a priest, Howell says this: “I look back now, 50 years after entering the Jesuits and think ‘Wow, what a great decision to have made at 21. I’ve never had any doubts about my vocation.”
Read the full article, as originally published, in The Commons.