Frank Turner SJ
I was brought up in a solid Catholic family and spent some years in the strange environment of a ‘junior seminary’ preparing to be a diocesan priest. After leaving the seminary at the age of eighteen, I gradually slipped away from the Church.
It was too late to apply to university: instead, I worked for some years in banking. Aged 22, I had fortunate opportunity of transferring to an international bank, working for 15 months in Ghana. Relatively quick promotion convinced me that banking, at any level of seniority, was not a life I wanted to live: I became dissatisfied with what I understood as the corporate ethos of the bank, and also with my own lifestyle.
Freedom from family obligations made it easy to get out with little idea of what to do next except to go back to university. During the luxurious experience of reading English Literature at Durham - appreciation sharpened by a contrast to banking - I rediscovered my faith, in a much changed, post-Vatican II Church. A close personal relationship, plus the prospect of an academic career in literature, suggested one attractive future. But meanwhile I was also reading - with no personal experience - about religious orders. I contacted the Jesuits first - and looked no further.
My experience in Africa, had highlighted the centrality of justice issues in human life. Within a few weeks of my joining the Society in 1974, there began what Jesuits know as ‘GC32’: this particular ‘General Congregation’, the supreme instrument of the Society’s government, helped re-conceptualise Jesuit life in terms of ‘the promotion of faith and the service of justice’. Subjectively I read this as a kind of providential confirmation of my vocation. The theme — the search for an integration of spirituality, good theology and the commitment to justice — has been the guiding thread of my whole Jesuit life. Jesuits understand our mission as a service of — inseparably — the Gospel and the human person, hence faith and social justice.
Within this consistent perspective, the path has twisted and turned often and unexpectedly: I have the experience, not just the belief, that the Jesuit vow of obedience can give interior freedom while offering radically unexpected possibilities. For ten years, I lived in some of the poorest housing in Britain: I did a doctorate in Political Theology and taught at the University of Manchester. I worked for seven years as principal advisor on international affairs to the Bishops of England and Wales, a role which entailed analysis, diplomacy and fieldwork. I have travelled quite widely in Africa, and Latin America, and the Middle East. Since the visits were normally to countries in crisis, they could be tense and poignant. I served for twelve years on the Board of the development agency CAFOD. From 2005 to 2014 I worked in Brussels on the politics of the European Union: reflection and commentary, plus the pastoral dimension of supporting Christians in the EU institutions in the integration of their faith and their political responsibilities. Variety and contrast, in a kind of unity.
I have now moved to the Jesuit residence in Oxford where I am a Fellow in Political Theology and hold some responsibility for the Society’s institutions in (jargon alert!) the ‘intellectual apostolate’.
I’m convinced a banking career would, in comparison have been pallid. Choices made in what seemed a hopeful obscurity can, by God’s gift, bear fruit that is limited only by our own failings.