By Jerry Duggan
Juan Ruiz had put off exploring a Jesuit vocation long enough. He knew he would be restless until he took action. At every major turning point in his life, he had pondered a religious vocation. God’s call would not go away.
In 2011, he surrendered all to God and entered the Society of Jesus. A decade later, he is an ordained deacon and is finishing up theology studies in Toronto in advance of priestly ordination in summer 2022.
He has felt great consolation in his Jesuit vocation and aims to pass that sense of consolation on to others through faith.
“I was always a bit of a perfectionist, and still am,” he admitted. “But, in prayer, I felt that was the one space that I could relax – I felt consoled and at peace.”
Juan has a Jesuit uncle, so he was already familiar with the Society of Jesus. In addition, the Memphis native’s years at Saint Louis University helped him imagine what a Jesuit vocation might look like.
Anxieties persisted and doubt lingered.
“I began attending discernment events my senior year of college, but I did not want anyone else to know that I was thinking about a religious vocation, so I would get to the campus ministry events early and close the blinds so that no one walking outside could see me in there,” he jokingly recalled. “My discernment process was private, and, at that point, I was strong in my faith but did not want to be seen by others as excessively zealous or even zealous.”
After graduating in 2010 with a degree in finance and concentration in IT management, Juan found gainful employment in his field. It was everything a graduate of his degree program could hope for: a good starting salary, positive work environment and flexible schedule. He describes himself during this year as very happy, but the question lingered.
“Everything was going pretty well for me in my career and in life, but I still felt a restlessness within me,” he said. “I knew that, once again, the idea of a religious vocation was coming to light. I could not ignore it any longer.”
At the time of his decision to enter the novitiate, Juan was excited for all that was ahead, but admittedly anxious about what might happen if he decided that a Jesuit vocation was not right for him after all.
“I wondered how, if I decided to leave the novitiate after a year, I might explain that gap on my resume,” he acknowledged. “I worried that I might be sacrificing my career ambitions by doing that.”
(Watch a video on Juan’s dilemma, and some advice on how he got through it, here).
Through his two years at the novitiate, studies at Loyola University Chicago and a ministerial assignment at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Houston, Juan has learned the value of providing that same consolation to others in difficult times that God always provided him through prayer.
“As a Jesuit, I have learned how to be there for people at some of their lowest points,” he said.
As a novice, he worked at a Catholic worker house in Houston, where he learned that it was far better to show compassion and generosity to those in need than to take care of the house’s bottom line.
“I learned the meaning of generosity on another level from the wonderful people at the Catholic worker house,” he recalled.
At Cristo Rey, he encouraged his students to open up to him about personal struggles. One young woman shared that she had to shoulder primary caregiving responsibilities at her home for an extended period of time. Juan consoled her and made a schedule that worked for her, allowing her to get her work done while still caring for her family.
After the student’s graduation, Juan received a handwritten note from her, thanking him for the compassion he showed that helped her graduate high school. For Juan, that letter served as a sense of a “job well done.”
“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.”