By Therese Fink Meyerhoff
When Ian Peoples, SJ, made the 30-day Ignatian retreat as a novice, he wrote in his journal that he heard Christ tell him in prayer that his Jesuit ministry must be to the poor, for the poor and with the poor.
As he completes his regency assignment in Belize, he has a better understanding of what he’s opened his heart to by answering this call. He recently left the Central American nation with a heart battered and broken – and full of gratitude.
Regency is the third stage of Jesuit formation, in which a Jesuit serves in full time ministry while living in a Jesuit community. Peoples’ assignment was to Wagner’s Youth Facility (WYF), a part of the Belize Central Prison in Belize City. He ministered mostly to young men who grew up financially poor in neighborhoods infested with gangs. The boys joined these gangs because they thought they had no other options, and gang life led to crime.
“My ministry in Belize was accompanying a crucified people,” Peoples says. “It’s broken my heart time and time again, because I love these guys. My heart feels like it’s gotten bruised up. And the temptation when walking with this kind of community is to become calloused, to protect yourself from the pain. I’ve tried to avoid that. It’s a difficult grace.”
Peoples knows that his regency experience will remain with him throughout his life, including the next stage of Jesuit formation, theology studies at the Jesuit School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College.
“A lot of my ministry has been accompanying people for whom there’s no easy answer,” he says. “What does hope look like in seemingly hopeless situations? It’s something I’m going to take with me into theology. What does our faith tell us?”
Peoples grew up in Texas, one of four children in an active Catholic family. He felt called to priestly ministry from a young age, but also wanted to have a family. As a college student, he fell away from practicing his Catholic faith and soon realized that he was deeply unhappy living a life without God. He began a spiritual exploration.
“I began a search,” he said. “I explored other faith traditions and spiritualities, but everything I felt drawn to was incarnate in the person of Christ.” This realization prompted him to embrace anew his Catholic faith.
Peoples left college before graduating for financial reasons. His job at a Boys & Girls Club gave him the time to attend daily Mass, and the call to the priesthood arose again. While on an 8-day retreat at Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas, Texas, he had a revelation.
“God cleared away the clouds of doubt and confusion and just gave me a very clear sense of his desire for me, which was my desire, which was to become a Jesuit,” he says. “It was a profound call, in which I still find strength to this day.”
Peoples also finds strength in the support of his Jesuit brothers. “I think one of the greatest graces of this life is community,” he said. “I love my apostolic work, but there have been a lot of tough days. My Jesuit community sustained me. To be able to come home to men who are supportive and joyful is a great grace. I’m so thankful for the men I get to call brothers.”