I was accepted by ACE Teaching Fellows in March of my senior year, just before the pandemic began. I had spent much of that year in discernment: what did I want to do with my life? On the one hand, consulting companies hadn't been biting on the pitch I was selling on my philosophy and Catholic studies major. On the other hand, I was racking my brain over a thought that had been looming since back in high school: should I be a priest?
ACE’s acceptance presented the best of both worlds: a two-year commitment without joining religious life right away. ACE would give me time to see where my faith led me after college. I accepted the offer to teach middle school English in New York City, and as our Lord would have it, it was just what I needed.
In Harlem, it only took about one week for my image of the idyllic faith-centered classroom environment with myself at the helm to go up in flames. Mere proficiency—let alone the perfection I had envisioned – would not happen overnight. Not despite these challenges, but because of them, these past two years have been great. Sure, there was a pandemic, and teaching looked funny with half the class on Zoom and the other half wearing masks and sitting six feet apart. Still, our Lord willed it, and the challenge led to some much-needed growth and maturity. This came in the form of deeper trust and commitment to prayer—my relationship with Christ— as the primary object of my life.
Some guys are cut out to enter seminary after high school, others right out of college. I was not one of them. The desire was certainly there, but a desire and passion for ministry is a far cry from actually ministering. If I were to distill what ACE has reinforced in me, it would be that ministry is challenging, and challenges are to be met with prayer and persistence.
In ACE, I found myself not only praying more but in new ways. There was new joy in praying with my students and community members and sharing in their spiritual journeys. And as a teacher who lives by his routines, the school day naturally lent itself to set times of personal prayer:
- A Bible podcast during my commute
- Morning offering in front of the Church
- Evening meditation on the couch
- The rosary
- The nightly Examen
Nearly two years after I got the call from ACE, I received another call. I had been accepted to the Jesuit Novitiate for the coming fall. Slowly, over the course of ACE, I had come to trust more and more in the call I had long since felt. Teaching, community, and prayer all helped. But most important was time. ACE gave me time, sacred time—two wonderful years to gather innumerable glimpses of all God was promising.
Frequently, I have been asked if my call to the Jesuits is grounded in the Jesuit charism for teaching. While I have fallen in love with education and will likely spend the rest of my life teaching in some capacity, that’s not where I felt the call. Instead, if I were to pinpoint why I want to be a Jesuit, the main focus of my answer would be the Spiritual Exercises and the Examen, or in Jesuit speak, "finding God in the everyday."
ACE has taught me to be a teacher, but far and above this, ACE has allowed me to practice finding God in the everyday: in the friends spread out across the country, in the students that I teach, in the community I have been so blessed to be a part of, and in the Catholic faith that underlies it all. It is these things that I have found so life-giving in ACE that I hope to continue to seek and find as a Jesuit.