“And I was able to take what I learned in my theology class and bring it then into my heart … Wherever I looked, I could see witnesses to the faith. And these witnesses inspired me.”
Jake Killian, a fellow senior and student body president, told CNA that despite being raised Catholic, his faith was more of a “Sunday thing” than an integral part of his life. But arriving at Jesuit changed his outlook.
“Once I got to Jesuit, it turned from a once a week thing on Sunday to a true, actual relationship,” he said.
“I learned so many different ways to pray, and one of my favorite ones was probably Liturgy of the Hours … so many opportunities on campus to be formed.”
Killian said one of the reasons for this was simply the emphasis that the school puts on faith formation. He, too, spoke about how the yearly retreats have impacted him, mentioning the seriousness with which the retreats are treated, as a special and privileged time to build friendships and deepen faith.
“It’s pretty hard to ‘miss’ the faith. Our chapel is literally right in the middle of campus, and it’s an incredible environment … [but] it’s not forced on kids. I feel like you’ve got to buy into it, but with the culture on campus, it’s kind of hard not to,” he said.
The 17-year-old Killian said at this time in his life, he wants to go to college, possibly to play soccer. He said he has come to understand the importance of finding and joining a Catholic community in college, in order to not lose what he has cultivated at Jesuit.
“The thing I hear a lot is that if you’re able to make it to Mass the first week [of college], that’s a huge first step, because usually when kids don’t make it to Mass their first week in college, they don’t really find a time to go, ever,” he said.
Mejia said he is still discerning his next steps, mulling over religious vocations as well as various options for college. He says he’s seen firsthand at Jesuit how important brotherly accountability is to maintaining the faith and plans to continue seeking out that accountability while in college and beyond.
“I myself and many of my friends have learned that if we’re going to continue our faith in college and thereafter, we’ll have to find other like-minded people with whom we can pursue our faith … [and] I’ll have to continue growing my intellect, and my understanding of the faith and reasoning at every step of the way so that I can continue on believing and adhering to the doctrine which our faith lays out.”
Mitchell commented that forming the young men to be strong in their faith after they leave Jesuit and enter the wider community is a major focus.
“Even young people are coming from rock-solid Catholic homes, devout parents, great parishes — if at a certain point they don’t start to see the faith lived out in really cool and attractive ways, especially by their friends, it’s really challenging for them to stay committed to that faith in college and beyond,” he noted.
Hermes further confirmed that teaching the students how to live as solid Catholic men in a collegiate atmosphere is an “important part of our mission.” Amid what Hermes sees as a scourge among young people comprising “a general collapse of faith, the affliction of pornography, mental anxiety, mental depression, mental health issues,” Hermes said the school takes care to attend to the students’ mental health along with their spiritual health. And the results have been positive.
“We’re seeing more and more of these guys becoming leaders in the Church, whether in college, during their college years, or beyond. They’re making a real impact on the Church,” Hermes said.
“They’re leaving here with a mentality of being at the service of the Church, and [their faith’s] not just dying here after they get the diploma.”
‘Unapologetic and uncompromising’
Perhaps surprisingly, although there will always be a few students who don’t ultimately embrace the faith, most of the young men who come into the school as non-Catholics “don’t really come fighting the faith too much,” Hermes said.
“Most of our students come here either without any knowledge of the faith or without any experience of it, and relatively little practice of it,” he explained.
“So just introducing them to God and to the Catholic Church, to the Lord Jesus, to the sacraments, to Sunday Mass, confession, Eucharistic adoration, that’s obviously a challenge both in the theology classroom and then in retreats and campus ministry.”
The school features a “rock-solid theology department” that aims to provide truth combined with “unapologetic and uncompromising” love, Mitchell said. Teachers at the school can and do set an example of true devotion, Mitchell said, spending time on their knees at the adoration chapel, modeling prayer and faith for the young men.
“The deeper [the teachers’] interior lives run … the more the pursuit of holiness is sort of normalized … the more accessible it seems to everybody, you know?” he said.
Mitchell said he has heard about other schools starting RCIA programs and hiring full-time campus ministers, seeking to replicate Jesuit’s success. But Mitchell said it is vital to recognize that conversions and deepening of faith are really the Lord’s work — it’s always at his initiative that a person comes to believe.
The students at Jesuit appear to have bought into the idea of cooperating with God’s plan to bring more people into the Church.
“There’s a desire, I think, among many of our student leaders in this particular senior class to use their platform, if you want to call it that, to use their influence, to use their leadership ultimately for God’s glory and for the salvation of souls,” Mitchell said.