By Jerry Duggan
Connor Smith, SJ, feels a tremendous sense of consolation in his life as a Jesuit. For several years, he has felt sure he was made for this purpose.
As a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Smith was involved in the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). In the summer after his sophomore year, he went on a mission trip to Uganda with a group of peers. His work, which focused on providing comfort and aid to persons with disabilities, was at once difficult and fulfilling
“Persons with disabilities are a marginalized group in our country, but in Uganda, they face even greater challenges,” he explained. “To accompany them and be of service for several weeks brought me great joy.”
He began to ask himself questions like, “Why can’t I spend my whole life in prayer, going to daily Mass, serving the poor, and living in community”? At first, such questions seemed impractical.
Upon returning to the United States, Smith had an internship in Washington, D.C., for the remainder of summer. He spent much of his evenings in prayer, thinking about the transformative experience he had just had. One evening, he felt God speak to him in a most intimate way.
“While praying the Rosary, I experienced a call from God, in which he said: ‘I want you to be my Jesuit’.”
Such a specific call was not out of nowhere – Smith was familiar with the Jesuits from his time as a student at Regis Jesuit High School in Denver.
In his senior year, a Jesuit in formation – Michael Wegenka, SJ – joined the coaching staff of Regis’ cross country team, of which Smith was a part.
At the time, Smith knew little about the Jesuit formation process.
“I initially called him father, and then brother, but he explained that I should just call him Mr. Wegenka, because he was a Jesuit in formation,” he jokingly recalled.
While running at practice, Smith often picked Wegenka’s brain about any number of topics, including theology, philosophy and the lives of the saints. He felt like an annoyance.
“I told Mr. Wegenka I was sorry for always going off on these long conversations with him, but he told me that, in fact, such conversations brought him great joy,” he said.
“He told me that one of his favorite things about his Jesuit vocation was the opportunity to discuss faith and related topics with others.”
That clarifying conversation planted a seed in Smith, but he put a potential Jesuit vocation on the back burner for several years while beginning his undergraduate studies. A few years later, the call came to him directly, and that’s how he knew it was real.
“After several years, I found the call from God returning and even strengthening,” he said. “It was not going away, and that’s when I knew it was something I had to act on.”
After graduating from college, Smith entered the novitiate, pronounced first vows and completed his first studies at Fordham University. This fall, he is at Jesuit High School in Tampa as a regent, teaching theology and helping coach cross country. In this role, he will be for Jesuit High students what Fr. Wegenka was to him.
“To be able to connect with young people, to discuss the faith and be of service to such a great community is a dream come true,” he said. “It’s interesting how things have come full circle.”
Five years into his formation process, he has found that God’s direct call to him was real and fulfilling on a deeper level than he ever realized possible.
“I feel that I was made to be a Jesuit.”