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Edward Vacek, SJ

50 Years a Priest
Duffy Professor of Catholic Studies at Loyola University in New Orleans

Father Edward Victor Vacek, SJ, serves as the Duffy Professor of Catholic Studies at Loyola University in New Orleans. This year he celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

An Omaha native and a member of the Jesuits USA Midwest Province, Fr. Vacek entered the Society of Jesus at Jesuit College in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota. Following initial Jesuit formation, he began teaching in 1967, at Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. He then taught philosophy at Creighton University and Seattle University and theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago and bioethics at Northwestern University Medical School.

In 1981, Fr. Vacek was assigned to the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught theology until 2008. He briefly taught theology at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, during his time at Weston (1995).

From 2008 to 2011, Fr. Vacek taught theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. He has taught at Loyola University of New Orleans since 2012.

Father Vacek earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and licentiate in philosophy from Saint Louis University. He also holds a Master of Divinity in theology from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, a Licentiate of Sacred Theology from Loyola University Chicago and a doctorate in theology from Northwestern University.

Father Vacek’s Reflection on 50 Years as a Priest

The Church was in crisis when I was ordained 50 years ago. In the years after Vatican II, the role of a priest was changing rapidly. Choosing to be ordained was to accept a role that had lost much of its rigidity and other-worldly purpose. Put much too simply, Catholicism was shifting from understanding the priesthood in terms of the first great commandment focus on worship. The priest had been seen as the one who could pray in Latin to God. His role was to consecrate the Eucharist and administer the sacraments, especially that of “hearing confessions.” To be a priest had meant to accept and assume an honored role in a unique profession. Medical doctors could help bring babies into the world, and priests helped bring baptized persons into the heavenly realm of God and the saints.

In my first years as a priest, the meaning of being a priest at first dramatically and then gradually changed. It focused more on helping people change this world. In an image, life before death, life in society became more a focus than life after death, life in heaven.

After Vatican II, it was made clear that God is involved with everyone. And God wants to improve human life. As a priest, I began to see that my purpose in life was to cooperate with God in God’s project. That includes work in social justice.

In my early years as a priest, I came to realize that God had given me the intelligence and the education to devote myself to changing the Church as it changed its role. I was asked to teach future priests, and then to teach lay women and men who wanted to serve in the world. I was charged with helping to create a new theology. For the next 45 years, I taught ethics that included vastly more than what is in the ten commandments. The emphasis shifted somewhat from what we human beings might do wrong to how we might find God in all things.

I retired from teaching this year; I still do some pastoral work; now I am engaged in writing a book on how our emotions engage us in cooperating with God’s emotion of love for this world. I hope to change a few minds. Our human and divine emotions play a central role in ethics and in theology, and even more fundamentally in our moral and religious living. I hope to finish this task before it is “time to go.”

~ Edward Vacek, SJ