By Jerry Duggan
Reynaldo Belfort’s family raised him to have a strong faith. Still, there came a time when he had to make that faith his own. In doing so, he arrived at an unexpected place: a Jesuit vocation.
Although his parents and much of his family hail from Haiti, Belfort was born into a devout Catholic family in Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“I’ve missed Church maybe five times my whole life, just because there was a hurricane or something came up like that,” he joked.
As a young man, he was an altar server, got involved in community service and joined the choir. All these things solidified his faith, but he still didn’t take personal ownership of it.
“When I was younger, I went to Mass and did all these other things, but I did it mostly because of family tradition,” he explained. “As I got older and became more independent, I realized I had to make my faith life my own in order to experience any growth.”
An exemplary student, Belfort enrolled at the Bayamon campus of Interamerican University of Puerto Rico to study computer engineering. When much of his family moved to the United States, he found he began to gain independence and maturity. He transferred to the Mayaguez campus of the University of Puerto Rico to complete his undergraduate degree. What followed were a series of, in Belfort’s words, “small steps” that led him to discern a Jesuit vocation.
First, Belfort joined a Catholic student organization, mainly to find community at his new school. The group met for Mass on Thursday evenings, where Belfort sang and played the guitar.
“At that point in my life, I was pretty much by myself and didn’t have that many friends,” he said. “I knew that, in order to be successful at my new school, I needed a sense of community, and I thought joining a Catholic religious group would help with that.”
The second “step” involved Belfort attending discussions that focused on issues of faith with the Catholic student organization. The discussions were sometimes led by Fr. Luis Jiménez, a Jesuit who happened to be one of Belfort’s engineering professors.
Until this coincidental encounter, Belfort knew nothing about the Jesuits.
“Father Jiménez made himself available to me as a professor but also as someone to discuss my faith with,” he said. “Eventually, he introduced me to Ignatian Spirituality, and that’s when things really took off.”
This third “step” in Belfort’s vocation journey proved to be enormous. Father Jiménez became Belfort’s spiritual director and introduced him to the Spiritual Exercises, which he stretched out over a year. The transformation over the course of this year was gradual, but powerful.
“At first, I was just excited about this new way to encounter God,” he said. “Once God started revealing himself to me, I became convinced that I was meant to follow God’s call as a Jesuit. I went from not even thinking about a vocation to saying: ‘Where do I sign up?’”
Belfort completed his engineering degree in February 2018 amid his application process to the Jesuits. He entered the novitiate that fall and has only fallen deeper in love with his vocation since.
“The novitiate was everything I expected, but more,” he said.
He was especially fond of the novice “experiments” – or service experiences. Through these, Belfort was able to see Jesus at work.
“Each experiment is a different situation, but in all of them, I was able to see Jesus revealed in the people I served,” he said. “This made clear to me that Jesus is not someone we pray to in a distant way, but that he is an ever-present, intimate friend.”
Last August, Belfort professed first vows and is currently studying philosophy at Saint Louis University as the next stage in his formation process.
For his ministry, Belfort would like to work with issues of racial justice, in music ministry or a new passion of his: writing and communications work. He is hopeful all these interests could intersect within the context of his Jesuit vocation.
Whatever lies in store, one thing is for certain: Belfort has made his faith his own; and that’s the way he wants it.
“To know that I have chosen this path not because someone made me but because I desired this life puts me at peace,” he said.