June 11, 2022 – Four Jesuits of the USA Central and Southern Province – Thomas A. Croteau, David A. Kiblinger, Jonathon E. Polce and Juan P. Ruiz – have for 11 years journeyed the formation path set down by St. Ignatius Loyola, testing their vocations through studies, teaching, service to the Church and accepting the guidance of their Jesuit superiors. On June 11, 2022, these four Jesuits were ordained priests at St. Francis Xavier College Church in St. Louis.
The Most Reverend Mitchell T. Rozanski, Archbishop of St. Louis, presided at the sacred liturgy of ordination. During his sermon, he reminded the men that the very heart of the priesthood is found in the words of Jesus in the Gospel the ordinands had chosen for the Mass (John 15: 9-17): “Love one another as I have loved you.”
“Your priestly ministry must be anchored in the love that Jesus has for you and the love you have for him,” Archbishop Rozanski said. “Firmly rooted in the love of our Lord Jesus, you are able then to live out your lives in sacrificial love for the sake of God’s people.”
Fathers Croteau, Kiblinger, Polce and Ruiz have been assigned to Jesuit parishes and a high school to begin their priestly ministries. They are among 17 Jesuits to be ordained in the United States, Canada and Haiti this year.
Meet this year’s ordinands for the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province:
Thomas Croteau, SJ, was born in Denver and attended Catholic elementary and high schools. It was in middle school that he began thinking about a religious and priestly vocation. While researching saints for his Confirmation, he learned about St. Francis of Assisi and felt drawn to his life of simplicity, piety and service to others.
“I thought how I might one day be drawn to a similar life,” he recalled.
He attended Ave Maria University, where he met many religious and priests, including several Jesuits.
“They stood out for me because I could tell that they really enjoyed their ministry,” he said. “They invested in the campus community and sought to connect with students in simple, yet profound ways. I could see myself as one of them.”
Still drawn to the life of simplicity that Francis of Assisi modeled, Croteau considered other religious vocations, particularly monastic life. He spent time shadowing at a monastery while in college and found it moving, but it was missing the personal connection he wanted.
“It was incredible to see men so devoted to prayer, but I kept thinking about how I wanted to be able to see and interact with those I was praying for on a regular basis,” Croteau articulated. “That real-world interaction, and the ability to connect with others on a human level, was something I strongly desired.”
In time, he realized that a Jesuit vocation was his best chance at getting that personal connection with others that he craved while still serving God in a religious vocation. After graduating from Ave Maria in 2011, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Grand Coteau, La.
“It was a beautiful two-year period of prayer and community life and service,” he says of his novice experience. After professing vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, he was sent to study philosophy at Saint Louis University. Then, from 2016 to 2019, he taught theology to sophomores and juniors at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas. During his time there, he received the grace he had long sought.
“At Jesuit Dallas, I prayed for each one of my students regularly and got to interact with them in the classroom, too,” he said. “It was a confirmation of the grace I had been seeking.”
It is this same interaction and spiritual intimacy that Croteau looks forward to as a priest.
“Listening to and speaking with others, growing in faith alongside them, and drawing them closer to Christ is what I am most excited for, whatever my active ministry assignments end up looking like,” Croteau said. “Saying Mass, hearing confessions, celebrating the Sacraments, and being part of a community of faith with others is what excites me the most.”
Croteau earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and classics and early Christian literature at Ave Maria University; a master’s degree in philosophy at Saint Louis University; and a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University.
Following his ordination, Croteau will serve at St. Peter Claver Parish in Punta Gorda, Belize.
Born and raised in Cape Girardeau, Mo., David Kiblinger, SJ, attended Catholic schools through high school, then enrolled at Truman State University to study math and physics. After completing a semester-long math program in Budapest, Hungary, he spent the summer backpacking in Europe. Through God’s providence, he was led to Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he felt the call to deepen his faith. Upon returning to Truman, he started discerning whether he was called to religious life.
Kiblinger cites the director of campus ministry at the school, Fr. Bill Kottenstette, as a mentor. He influenced Kiblinger simply by sharing his views on the Church, the priesthood and priestly ministry. The two met regularly for conversation.
“His homilies had an uncommon authenticity about them,” Kiblinger said. “He knew what it was like to be found by God in a place of absolute brokenness. His main message was about the goodness of God’s grace. For him, though, this grace was never abstract. It was present and concrete in daily life. He exhorted us to do an examination of consciousness to see how God was loving us that day. In addition to counting him as a mentor and friend, I can attribute my own introduction to Ignatian Spirituality to him.”
Kiblinger graduated from Truman in 2009 with a degree in mathematics and physics and a level of uncertainty about his religious vocation. So, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in theology at Villanova University. He was welcomed by the Augustinians into a discernment community, with whom he lived and prayed for a year. During that time, he found he was more drawn to the Society of Jesus through Ignatian Spirituality and the apostolic life of the Society. He entered the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Stanislaus Kostka in August 2011.
Kiblinger’s formation experiences highlight the diversity of Jesuits’ training: During novitiate, he celebrated the election of Pope Francis with Mayan Catholics at the Jesuit parish in Santa María Chiquimula, Guatemala. He studied philosophy at Saint Louis University and taught middle school math at Colegio San Ignacio in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, he also coached soccer and chaperoned a trip to the Ignatian sites in Spain and World Youth Day in Poland. He did coursework in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame before moving to Boston to complete his theological studies and formation for the priesthood. He also enjoyed serving as a deacon at St. Cecilia Parish in Boston.
While it has been a lifelong aspiration of his to work in higher education, Kiblinger hopes his priestly ministry will rely less on books and more on heart and human connection.
“The most effective method to show the way to God is to accompany the person shoulder-to-shoulder,” he said.
Kiblinger has a bachelor’s degree in physics and math from Truman State University; a master’s degree in theology from Villanova University; a master’s degree in philosophy from Saint Louis University; a Master of Theological Studies from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry; and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
His first assignment as a priest is a pastoral year at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Belize City, Belize.
Jonathon Polce, SJ, was born and raised in Connecticut, the fourth child in a family of five brothers and sisters.
“I learned my faith from my mother, manners from my sisters, my love of sports from my brothers, and my love of cooking and literature from my father,” he says.
After graduating from the University of Dallas in 2009, Polce went to work for his alma mater’s program in Rome. It was this job that introduced him to the first Jesuit he ever met: Fr. David Brown, SJ, a Jesuit of the USA Central and Southern Province assigned to the Vatican Observatory. It was through Fr. Brown that Polce came to know more about the Society of Jesus, learned of the life of St. Ignatius Loyola and Ignatian Spirituality, and discerned a call to the priesthood as a Jesuit.
“I had some fears,” Polce says now about his discernment. “I wondered about how a religious vocation would impact my relationships with family and friends and worried that I was called to have a wife and children. It seemed like such a huge commitment.”
While weighing his options, Polce returned home for Christmas in 2010. While there, he had a transformative conversation with his father, who had returned to the Church several years before, after years of not practicing.
“He encouraged me to pursue a religious vocation and got that message through to me by reframing my anxieties about the long-term commitment as, ‘Is this what God is calling me to do right now?’ Once I saw a religious vocation through that new lens – of being a ‘next step’ in following God’s plan as opposed to worrying about lifelong implications – I made up my mind,” he said.
After two years of discernment, he returned to the U.S. in 2011 to enter the Jesuit novitiate in Grand Coteau, La. As a novice, he worked at Cristo Rey Jesuit College Prep in Houston, where he worked closely with Fr. TJ Martinez, SJ, the school’s first president, who died of cancer at the age of 44.
“TJ impacted my vocation in how he lived his, and the staff helped kindle my fire for Jesuit education. Seeing Fr. TJ’s total self-sacrificial care and love of his work and the students and co-workers at the school with his characteristic joy and passion was a key experience in my discernment to take vows and to give my life to Christ as a Jesuit.”
After pronouncing first vows in 2013, Polce was sent to study philosophy and theology at Regis College in Toronto, Canada. His next stop was Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston, where he taught theology, coached freshman baseball, worked in campus ministry and led students on pilgrimages in the footsteps of St. Ignatius.
“Organizing and leading these pilgrimages with a fellow teacher and seeing the students getting to walk where Ignatius walked and pray where Ignatius prayed was a joy to behold,” Polce says. “Their insights and prayer on both trips left me humbled as I heard how the Spirit was in their prayer through the trips.”
While studying theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, he also served as a deacon at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Brookline, Mass.
Initially daunted by the length of the Jesuit formation process, Polce has found it to be one of the greatest blessings in his vocation, for it has allowed him to focus on following God’s plan, one step at a time.
“The Jesuit formation process is intentional,” he said. “Every step of the way, I have been given assignments where the Lord has pushed and stretched me, and come out of each experience a better man, a better Catholic and a better Jesuit.”
Polce earned a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Dallas; a master’s degree in philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Canada; a Master of Theological Studies at Regis College, University of Toronto; and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
Following his priestly ordination, Polce will serve at Jesuit High School of New Orleans.
Juan Ruiz, SJ, was born in Baltimore to a Cuban father and Dominican mother, but raised in Memphis, Tenn. He is, he says, “Hispanic by nature and American by nurture,” a heritage that has prepared him well for ministry as a Jesuit of the USA Central and Southern Province, which includes Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, and other states with large numbers of Hispanics.
A self-acknowledged perfectionist, Ruiz said his decision to pursue a Jesuit vocation was not an easy one. It took trust in God and the certainty that God would provide for him no matter what that allowed him to make the leap of faith.
As a novice, Juan accompanied migrants, youth and the dying. One transformative experience was his assignment at a Catholic Worker house in Houston. “I learned the meaning of compassion and generosity on a higher level from the wonderful people at the Catholic Worker house,” he said.
While studying philosophy at Loyola University Chicago after pronouncing his first vows, he also taught seventh and eighth grade religion classes at St. Procopius Elementary School. “The philosophers revealed a limitless universe of possible worlds,” he said. “But my students kept me grounded in the present reality.”
Ruiz was next missioned to teach Spanish at Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School in Houston. Armed “with solid philosophical training, spiritual formation and some theology,” he says he spent most of his time “slicing away at humble pie.” He also found personal fulfillment by encouraging his students to open up to him about personal struggles.
“I learned a lot about what it means to console others, and that’s what I hope to do in my vocation, wherever I may be assigned,” he said. “By acknowledging the harsh realities of life and laboring through those difficult times with others, I hope that we both can come out stronger and closer to Christ.”
Ruiz says that his own spirituality has shifted since he became a Jesuit.
“I entered thinking I had many wonderful gifts to share with others and that God had given me a superabundance of love with which to share them,” he said. “I believe both of those remain true to this day, but the great shift in my spirituality is not that I have strengths to share, but weaknesses as well. My flaws, shortcomings and faults are gifts to God when given over in surrender. The more that I have handed these over to God, the less bitterness, frustration, resentment or anxiety I have felt in connection with them. Instead, I find God pays me back with the strengths that I share with others.”
Ruiz earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Saint Louis University; a master’s degree in social philosophy from Loyola University Chicago; and a Master of Divinity from Regis College, University of Toronto.
Ruiz will spend his first year after ordination as an assisting priest at the Gesú Church in Miami.