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By Rachel Amiri

Father Kevin Dyer, SJ

May 17, 2024 – Father Kevin Dyer, SJ, is the national chaplain and vice president of collegiate outreach at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). This year, he marks 25 years in the Society of Jesus. His journey as a Jesuit priest has been marked by a zeal for souls, a passion that continues to guide his life and work.

Born in St. Paul, Missouri, outside of St. Louis, Fr. Dyer completed an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Saint Louis University in 1996. During this time, he met some of the “lions” of the Missouri Province, Jesuit Frs. Walter Ong, Paul Reinert, George Ganss, Robert Henle and John Padberg. Through their example and the examples of the many other Jesuits engaged in various apostolic labors, he was drawn to the priesthood and to the charism of “being sent to go anywhere, do anything for the greater honor and glory of God.” He entered the Jesuit novitiate in what was then the Missouri Province in 1999.

“It felt very much like a leap in the dark,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone else who was entering seminary or religious life. I told God, ‘I really do think you’re calling me to this. I’m going to enter, Lord, even if I’m the only person to enter.’ And God took me up on the offer; I’m a walking class reunion.” He was ordained a priest in 2010.

Like many Jesuits, Fr. Dyer has spent a lot of time in the classroom, and it was through working with students that he began to understand the importance of relationships for evangelization. “You really care about the students that you teach, and you desire their good. You learn patience, that there’s a story involved,” he said. “There has to be the opportunity to get to know each other, to spend time with each other in order to open up those doors for the Gospel.”

He spent his regency and one of his early assignments teaching at Regis Jesuit High School in Colorado. In 2015, he was missioned to Jesuit High School in New Orleans, where he taught theology and served as chaplain for the all-boys student community. In 2021, he professed his final vows in the chapel of Jesuit High School, a powerfully memorable moment in his life.

“I see the vows as an act of trust in God,” Fr. Dyer said. “I think it’s always a temptation to take our lives in our own hands and think that we will be able to direct our lives in the best way. The vows are an expression of placing my life in God’s hands through the will of my superiors and through the Jesuit constitutions.” He has found that the vow of obedience has been essential and life-giving.

Father Kevin Dyer, SJ, speaks at a recent SEEK conference sponsored by FOCUS.

FOCUS is a Catholic organization that sends young adult missionaries to college and university campuses to evangelize and minister to students. The organization now sends over 1000  missionaries to more than 200 campuses across North America and Europe. It also hosts retreats, service trips and the annual SEEK conference.

After years of supporting the summer training with his superiors’ permission, Fr. Dyer became a part-time national chaplain while continuing to teach theology and serve as chaplain at Jesuit High in New Orleans. In 2022, he moved to FOCUS headquarters in Denver, missioned for full-time service as senior national chaplain. The transition to FOCUS was a smooth one, said Fr. Dyer. Just like Jesuit education, “FOCUS is also about a zeal for souls, which is exercised through getting to know the person and spending incarnational time with them,” he said.

Last year, he also became FOCUS’s vice president of collegiate outreach. “I feel very much a Jesuit in the mission of evangelization,” Fr. Dyer said. Offering retreats and even his frequent travel connect him to the early Jesuits, who spent a lot of time on the road.

While the early Jesuits evangelized people who had not heard the gospel, FOCUS is a ministry of the “new evangelization.” “We are mainly located in places where the seeds of the gospel have already been planted, but they’re growing weak or forgotten,” Fr. Dyer said. “We are reaching people who are either in danger of losing the faith, have already lost the faith, or have never been given the faith.”

His role supports contemporary missionaries who are sent out in small groups to college campuses. “It’s kind of like the mission of the Jesuits in how they are sent out, and they really have to take on a lot of responsibility,” he said. As a chaplain, he is responsible for the missionaries’ pastoral care through the challenges of rejection, discernment and learning to rely on God.

Father Dyer also coordinates the nine chaplains for FOCUS, eight in the United States and one in Europe, including both diocesan and religious priests. “It’s not uncommon to have a Mass where you have a Jesuit, Franciscan and a Dominican celebrating,” he said. The collaboration of chaplains in FOCUS models what Fr. Dyer calls “vital unity,” an animating element for the fruitfulness of their mission in the Church.

Additionally, his role as national chaplain provides opportunities to teach about Ignatian spirituality and to give the Spiritual Exercises to a population – college and university students – who may not otherwise have had that experience. He estimates that just last year he led retreats in the Spiritual Exercises for about 220 young adults.

Reflecting on his time in the Society of Jesus, Fr. Dyer says he is filled with gratitude.

“I appreciate most the way that God has shaped my soul through the life that I’ve lived these 25 years. Looking at the way that God’s led me, the people that he’s put into my life, and the opportunities to serve, I’m filled with a tremendous amount of gratitude, and it’s increased my zeal for souls,” he said.

Father Dyer is ready to continue dedicating himself to that mission.

“Time is short in life,” he said. “We don’t know how much of it we have, and there are a lot of people who need to know Jesus. I think being a Jesuit has increased that zeal in my heart.”

Learn more about the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) at www.focus.org.

Do you think you might be called to life as a Jesuit? Visit www.BeAJesuit.org to begin exploring.