By Ignatius Plato
Father Michael Wegenka, SJ, understands firsthand the importance of a spiritual companion. He received the guidance and support he needed while discerning his own vocation to religious life; now he wants to provide the same kind of support for men considering life in the Society of Jesus. He began his new ministry as a vocation promoter for the USA Central and Southern Province on Nov. 1, 2022.
“I love the prospect of building a network of discerners across the world,” Fr. Wegenka says. “Sharing our story and our tools for discernment really speaks to my passions and is at the core of the Jesuit tradition.”
While the call to religious life comes from God, promoters accompany discerners, providing a glimpse into the possibilities of life in the Society of Jesus. For Fr. Wegenka specifically, this means living his own vocation by guiding those who are discerning a vocation to the Society in the right direction, whether that be to Jesuit life or in some other way. It also means trusting in God to work in unexpected ways through his ministry.
“He is a God of surprises!” Wegenka says, describing his excitement for the new role. “God really does like to surprise us through unexpected acts: picking a small people to build a great nation, using suffering to bring redemption, choosing unlikely people to do his most important work.”
Father Wegenka’s own discernment journey is what fostered this love for the unexpected, leading him to desire sharing God’s surprises with other discerners.
Originally, Fr. Wegenka had ambitions far outside the world of religious life. His high school experience at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston began in pursuit of becoming a business investor, like his father. It was not until Fr. Wegenka met Fr. Mark Thibodeaux, SJ, that he began to take ownership of his faith.
“I had Fr. Thibodeaux as my freshman speech teacher,” Fr. Wegenka says. “That relationship was very formative for me. On the one hand, he helped me overcome my fear of public speaking, but more importantly he introduced me to sharing stories, which is deep at the heart of what Jesuits do.”
Father Thibodeaux also acted as his spiritual director, inspiring the idea of a Jesuit vocation in a young Wegenka.
“As much as I loved computer science and business – I had promised my dad to buy him his dream car when I made my first million – all that paled in comparison to being a full-time sharer of my faith. I found that the most fulfilling thing for me was giving my faith to others.”
Father Thibodeaux’s spiritual direction built in Wegenka a sense of companionship and accompaniment. He attributes his drive to share his discernment story with other discerners to Fr. Thibodeaux’s promotion of a life in the Society, which would coalesce in Wegenka entering the Jesuit novitiate in Grand Coteau, La., in 2005.
Now, 17 years later, Fr. Wegenka feels more than prepared to begin his new assignment as a vocation promoter, contributing the same inspiration given by Fr. Thibodeaux to a new generation of discerners. Father Wegenka’s philosophy of kindness leads the way into this next chapter in his ministry.
“It costs us nothing to be kind,” he explains. “People are carrying heavy burdens, and offering them our kindness to help them bear the load is an unexpected but welcome surprise. Kindness leads the way; the Holy Spirit follows.”
Father Wegenka enthusiastically shares his story and companionship with discerners throughout the USA Central and Southern Province. He joins Frs. Robert Murphy, Joseph Hill and Michael Dooley in directing and promoting vocations to the Society of Jesus, often in unexpected ways.