David Smolira SJ
“Have you completely lost your mind?” That was the comment made to me by my course tutor at university while I was studying for my Post-Graduate Certificate in Education when I told her that I was not going to be applying for teaching jobs, but rather entering the novitiate of the Society of Jesus! I had previously completed a degree in Zoology at Manchester University and throughout those three years I had been considering a vocation to the Jesuits. The idea first came to me in the 6th Form at my school, Wimbledon College – a Jesuit school in South London. When I eventually plucked up enough courage to tell one of the Jesuits teaching at Wimbledon College about my possible vocation, he told me to forget about the idea for the time being and go to university. If the idea persisted there would be plenty of time then, he said, to act on it. Wise advice!
Towards the end of my time at Manchester, where I seemed unable to lose the persistent notion of a Jesuit vocation, I decided to talk to my parents about what I sensed God was asking of me. They too expressed surprise (to put it mildly) and suggested that even if God was indeed calling me to this way of life, it could do no harm to get a professional qualification so that if (when) I left the Jesuits, I would be ready to earn a living.
With all this ‘support’ I entered the novitiate in September 1978 and very quickly felt at home. The more I read about and understood the Jesuit vocation, the more enthusiastic and peaceful I felt about the choice that I had made. That was nearly 40 years ago and I still feel enthusiastic and at peace with my vocation, certainly even more now than before. What attracted me most then, and still does, is the Jesuit commitment to a faith that does justice. I have always felt drawn to working with people on the margins of the Church and society and the Jesuits continue today to be committed to this mission.
Over the years, I have worked in Britain, the United States and South Africa and most of that work has been as a social worker and a psychotherapist, as well as some time in province leadership roles. Now, for the first time in my life, I am working in a parish – St Ignatius in Stamford Hill. It is a wonderful, vibrant, diverse and rather socially disadvantaged area and I could not be more happy, working with the people I have the privilege to encounter every day in this ministry. My only wish is that I could be a better pastor and spend less time on administration and more time on pastoral care. Perhaps with time and experience I will be able to get a better balance.