May 7, 2019 - Father Eduardo “Eddie” Fernández, SJ, plays a critical role in forming Jesuits and lay people. A professor of pastoral theology, missiology and ministry at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, Calif., since 1997, Fr. Fernández specializes in Latino theology, Mexican and Southwestern history, social justice, intercultural ministry, inculturation and the celebration of the sacraments in multicultural contexts.
He enjoys collaborating with students, especially in writing a thesis or dissertation. “It’s my job to help students discover what they’re interested in, as one does in spiritual direction, exploring God’s great desires and invitations to them at this point in their life. When we begin to discover how we can work together, we each experience an affirming glow and encouragement.”
Born in El Paso, Texas, about five minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border, Fr. Fernández grew up around Jesuits. He attended a Jesuit parish run by the Mexican Province in the mission town of Ysleta. He worked in the rectory through high school, and during his time there he was always impressed by the generous and apostolic response of the Jesuits to people who came to the parish seeking help.
“They showed me the depth of my Mexican culture that I didn’t always get in school,” Fernández said. The profound influence of the Society made him eager to join the Jesuits upon graduating from high school. The former New Orleans Province encouraged him to take time before entering.
Though disappointed at first, Fernández was eventually grateful for this time. He enrolled at Loyola University New Orleans. There he came to know and to study with Jesuits who inspired him and helped him to grow. Father Joseph Fichter, SJ, ignited his interest in the sociology of religion, which he continues to teach and study today to some degree.
While he was discerning, his teacher Fr. C.J. McNaspy, SJ, inspired Fernández by volunteering to go to Paraguay. Fernández thought, “If C.J. can go to Paraguay at 65, I can go to Grand Coteau at 22!”
After the novitiate, Fernández spent time ministering in many places: “My dream was always that I would be a barrio priest. I admired Fr. Edmundo Rodríguez and Fr. Harold Rahm very much.” Though he desired to be one of those men in the grassroots, “It was a real surprise to me when I enjoyed studies as much as I did.”
He finished two degrees in Rome and spent time discerning his vocation within a vocation. “There are very few U.S. Latino Jesuits with degrees in theology. I saw a real need there, an area where I could contribute passionately.”
Eighteen years after he’d left El Paso for New Orleans, Fernández returned to serve at Sacred Heart Parish and teach at the University of Texas El Paso. As it happened, those were the last years of his father’s life. “It was a real blessing to be able to be near him.”
Even with his busy academic schedule, which has included several scholarly publications, Fernández strives to serve pastorally. “I like giving retreats and helping out at parishes, along with lots of workshops to pastoral agents. These opportunities get me out there with the people de la base. The pastoral feeds the academic and the academic feeds the pastoral.”
The approach he takes with his students is not unlike the approach he takes in his ministry. Fernández embodies a spirit of open readiness, which helped him understand the vow of obedience, and the mission to stand with the other: “Especially if you have your ear to the ground, and you listen to what people need, you go where you are sent!”