Tim Byron SJ
I am currently chaplain to the Universities of Manchester, and priest at the Holy Name Church, Manchester. We serve the largest conglomeration of students (approx 85,000) in Western Europe, and are endeavouring to build up an important community in the midst of a sprawling city-centre university campus. The students are successfully engaged in an inspiring range of voluntary activities, from soup runs, to providing a breakfast club at a local primary school, hosting meals for the elderly to running the first student-run foodbank in the country. As Jesuits our job is to accompany them, and encourage them to reflect on their engagement with the poor, often using Ignatian Spirituality. This helps these experiences become as important for them in terms of personal growth as their more formal experience of learning. It is a privilege and joy to be here in Manchester and serve them as a chaplain and priest.
Where did my vocation come from? Well growing up in a big family, in a comfortable suburb North of Liverpool, I was always interested in the big questions. I think I viewed religion in a very positive way because of the faith and commitment of my parents. I remember Dad letting me have a (very small) glass of wine when I was about 11 or 12 and telling me that it was in the Bible - St Paul said to Timothy (my name) have some wine for your stomachs sake! My two younger brothers and two older sisters were very jealous! I remember thinking maybe I should take this Bible a bit more seriously.
My Father was a great man and my hero - holding positions is business and charity of local, national and occasionally international importance. He was incredibly generous with his time, often coming to watch me play football and then shooting off for some important meeting. So when he died when I was 17 it was probably a turning point in my life. I took my faith a lot more seriously and starting thinking about a call to the priesthood. After an experience as a student living and working in the shanty towns in Peru I decided it had to be the Jesuits.
And since then - apart from a crisis in my first year as a novice - I have never looked back. Jesuit formation is an incredible experience, spending time in prisons, schools, living with gypsies, with lepers, living in Madrid and later the Philippines. But most of all it was the experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius - a thirty day silent retreat, that I look on as my foundational experience, helping me overcome the crisis and taking my prayer and my experience of God to a whole new level. When I entered the Jesuits I was a happy lad - but since my vows I have experienced Joy, at different levels and it is something I will always be grateful for.