By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY —As guests filed in to the Morning Glory Café downtown on a bone-chilling morning, the smiles of three young men warmed them as much as the hot oatmeal and coffee. The young men, Jesuit novices in the early years of formation in Grand Coteau, La., were in Kansas City serving the poor and the homeless, volunteering in a hospital, visiting in a prison, all part of a formation “Experiment.”
The Experiments, lasting two weeks to three months, allow novices to try on and try out the Jesuit life and helps them discern if that life is what they are called to. While they are experimenting and considering, Jesuit Father Mark Thibodeaux, Novice Director for Jesuits in Formation at St. Stanislaus Kostka Novitiate at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, evaluates them. Jesuit lives begin with two years at a Novitiate.
The novices, Matt Hearly and Chris McCoy, both from Denver, and William Manaker, a native of Washington, D.C., all started their formation years about 5 months ago. A novice spends much time in prayer as well as in a variety of apostolic experiences, such as “the Experiments,” as he tries to be sure that he has a vocation as a Jesuit. The Society of Jesus also studies the novice to be sure that he can be allowed to take vows of religious life at the end of the novitiate. The years of formation, including continuing education, average between 8 and 13 years.
Matt said he liked that Jesuits supply “more than just spiritual care.” Members of the Society of Jesus “are contemplatives in action,” he said. “They are spiritual, yet serve the people. Every Jesuit I’ve met or known are real, approachable people. Besides, I’m a graduate of Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora. I know a lot of Jesuits and the order attracted me.”
While the three novices are serving in the metro area, they are spending much of their time in the urban cores of both Kansas Cities. They are staying at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan., and working part-time at Resurrection Catholic School, singing in the African-American choir at Our Lady and St. Rose parish; promoting vocations at Rockhurst University and Rockhurst High School, the Jesuit schools in Kansas City, Mo., visiting prisoners at Lansing, and working with recently released prisoners. They also assist at Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Kansas City, Kan.
Father Thibodaux said that Matt, Chris and William will leave Kansas City Feb. 16, to spend a few days in retreat and “debrief.” At the end of their debriefing, he said each novice will receive a gold envelope, containing a location, a bus ticket and a $5 bill. They must go on a pilgrimage: travel by bus to the location, whether a shrine, a church, or perhaps a person, sit down and pray for an hour or two. They then must make their way to the next place of service. They will have no cell phones or additional money, merely the clothes on their backs and the $5. They must rely on the kindness of strangers, beg food, shelter and transportation, and return to the novitiate within two weeks. The experience of homelessness and hunger helps build empathy for those in need.
When he was asked what if a novice, usually a 19 or 20 year old, ran into trouble or wasn’t able to get to the next place in time, Father Thibodeaux smiled and said it was amazing, they all made it back. “They have no phones, but they have my cell number and can call if necessary, but so far no one has.”
He added that the novices who served in Kansas City last year were now in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Guyana, Belize and Guatemala.
As the novices helped clean up after breakfast, Karen Miller, director of Morning Glory Ministries, told The Catholic Key that the three young men were so friendly and kind that even Morning Glory Café guests that were standoffish or shy smiled and chatted with them. “We love having them and Father Mark,” she said.