October 26, 2011
Some Jesuits take a fairly straight path to their vocations. For others…well, not so much. Lorenzo Herman would fall into the second category, having come to his calling by way of a somewhat circuitous route.
Herman, who arrived at SU this summer as a scholastic to study in the School of Theology and Ministry, was raised a Baptist and spent the first part of his life in Georgia. His family relocated to Cleveland, and while he was still in middle school, he was strongly encouraged to attend St. Ignatius, the city’s Jesuit high school. He did, and got very involved in campus ministry, even helping to lead retreats.
When Herman was a senior in high school, he was invited to dinner at the Jesuit residence. To Herman, it was simply an opportunity to see the newly built house and get a good meal. His hosts had something else in mind. They started talking about vocations and asked Herman and the other classmates who were attending the dinner to consider becoming Jesuits.
“This was bizarre for me,” Herman remembers. “For one, I wasn’t Roman Catholic, and number two, I thought, ‘Maybe there’s something wrong with me that they think I don’t want to get married and have kids.’”
Herman let the Jesuits know he was not Roman Catholic. “They said, ‘Yeah, we know. We’ll take care of that later.’”
Driving home that evening with his mother, he told her about the invitation. She asked what he thought. “I don’t want to be a priest,” he replied. “But maybe I’ll be Catholic.”
The following year, 1993, Herman went through the Right of Christian Initiation of Adults program at Spring Hill College where he was a student and was confirmed as a Roman Catholic. For financial reasons, he had to leave the Jesuit college in Mobile, Ala., and wound up enlisting in the Air Force.
He was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base just outside of Spokane. Although he was right in Gonzaga University’s backyard, Herman didn’t realize the school was Jesuit. It was only when he started doing theater in Spokane in the late 1990s that he became acquainted with a few Jesuits, including Jack Bentz, S.J., current adjunct professor in Fine Arts. Herman started asking questions about becoming a Jesuit. Bentz put him in touch with the vocation director, Steve Lantry, S.J.
Herman decided to apply to be a Jesuit. “But I had a lot of anxieties about it. I was losing sleep.” Venturing further into the discernment process, Herman came to see he wasn’t quite ready to jump from one highly structured organization (the military) to another (the Society of Jesus). He needed some time to enjoy his newfound freedom.
Just as he was coming to that realization, Herman received a call from Father Lantry. “He said, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news, Lorenzo,’” Herman remembers. Lantry delivered the bad news first—Herman’s application was deferred.
“I was relieved,” he says, laughing and leaning in as if to convey a secret. “That wasn’t bad news to me.”
The good news was that he could enter the following year. But that didn’t happen either. Herman wound up moving to San Diego, where he worked for an HIV-AIDS health clinic and served as board president for a nonprofit organization. He joined a local parish that, unbeknownst to him, was run by the Jesuits. “I was thinking, ‘OK, I just can’t get away from the Jesuits.’”
He found his work and life rewarding. “But there was something that was still missing.” In 2006, he called Lantry to say he wanted to reapply to the Jesuits. “Well, I’ve been waiting,” Lantry told Herman, before sending him the PDF of the application.
“This time, I was yearning (to join the Jesuits), I was impatient with the process and was like, ‘Let’s do this now!’”
One of the most meaningful experiences Herman has had as a Jesuit so far is the 30-day silent retreat, on which he was invited to reflect upon the question, “Who am I?”
“I didn’t know much about my family history. I could only go back to my grandparents. I think that’s common for many African Americans because most of us don’t know where our family came from because of slavery. The fruit of the Spiritual Exercises was for me to do my genealogy, and it’s still ongoing. I’ve gone back to the 1700s for my African ancestry and back to the 15th century for my European ancestry." Herman has learned that he is descended from slaves on both sides of his family.
“The graces of that retreat are still working through me now as I learn more about not just who I am but my family and discover God’s graces and movements even in traumatic events like my family’s history, and dealing with the tensions of living with the questions and not having all the answers. This has been very important in the development of my identity as a Jesuit.”
Having earned his B.A. in philosophy and African studies, Herman is now enrolled in the School of Theology and Ministry’s Transformational Leadership program. He feels very much at home.
“I think what makes Seattle U and STM so special is that people from all kinds of backgrounds feel welcome to come here, even if they’re not Catholic. I just find that very amazing. I would argue that what Seattle U is doing is frontier ministry. We’re working with people who are not Catholic, or may not be Christian, and finding a way to build relationships so we can find God in our own personal experiences.
“That’s how I became Catholic. When I was in high school, I was never proselytized or told I had to be one. It was always just an open invitation to participate, and that was part of my conversion experience. I always felt welcome at the table. So being here in this way, reminds me of my introduction into the Catholic faith through the Jesuit lens.”
In his spare time, Herman likes to cook, hike, write poetry and act. He took up the violin a couple years ago. And yet what he most enjoys doing is likely to surprise you.
“People may consider this mundane, but I really enjoy organizational development work. I like to write grants and bylaws and do strategic planning.”
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