Damian Howard SJ
I was born and grew up in the South East of England. After leaving university, I joined the Jesuits at the age of 23 and it took me nine years of training to be ordained a priest in Brixton Hill in 1999, a moment which has always seemed like the turning-point of my life.
I have done a variety of different jobs since then: I worked as a curate in a vibrant parish, learning from more experienced priests and the People of God themselves what priesthood means. I spent some years working in an amazing school in Glasgow where I discovered the joys of ministering to young people. After completing my long Jesuit training with a year in Latin America, I went on to do doctoral studies in Islamic thought and then to lecture at Heythrop College in the University of London. There I taught a variety of courses, specialising above all on the promotion of better relations between Christians and Muslims. One religion, you might think, is more than enough for most of us; trying to understand two is asking for trouble.
And as no Jesuit does only one thing, I have also given a lot of spiritual direction, helped out on the editorial board of our on-line journal, Thinking Faith, offered days of reflection in our centre (The Hurtado Centre) in East London, and worked in many parishes as an ordinary supply priest. Life has always been full and varied and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
No life worth living is without its trials and I can’t pretend that my Jesuit journey has been an altogether smooth ride; I could only have avoided the discomfort of growing by not growing up! But there is something about making the journey with one’s fellow Jesuits and our many friends and co-workers, people who are honest, grounded in a relationship with God, generous and eager to serve others, interesting and, not infrequently fun, that makes me insanely grateful to God for choosing me in the way He has.
And today I find myself serving as Provincial for all the Jesuits in Britain. This is definitely not something I envisaged happening when I joined! It’s a huge responsibility and it comes at a time when leadership in the Church and, indeed, the world, is in crisis. But I find more and more that if I just keep coming back to Christ every day, in the Mass and in my prayer, in some deep sense it doesn’t matter what job I have been assigned to. He is always there and with the prayers of so many good people I never feel alone.