Michael Campbell-Johnston's first mass in Mexico
Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ

Michael Campbell-Johnson SJ

Why did I become a Jesuit ?  I suppose the most obvious answer is that I went to a Jesuit school and was thus educated by Jesuits for 11 years.  Two especially had much influence on me and I felt I wanted to be like them.   I still have a somewhat battered holy picture of Our Lady on the back of which, aged 14½, I wrote: “My dearest mother Mary, today I consecrate you ‘La Bella Donna Della Mia Mente’ and promise you I will never marry but will hold you as the one sweet-heart of my life.  Please dear mother may I be a priest”.  Shortly after I added the word ‘Jesuit’ before ‘priest’.  So it was that I joined the Jesuits immediately after leaving school with little or no experience of the world at large.  At that time this was considered a fairly normal procedure though nowadays we would not permit it. 

Looking back on my early days, I feel one of the greatest blessings I have received as a Jesuit was the opportunity to do a large part of my training abroad.  I studied two years of my philosophy in France and, after a degree in economics at the LSE, went to Mexico for my theology and ordination to the priesthood (the picture shows my first mass).  Apart from having to learn the languages, this opened my eyes to conditions in other parts of the world, especially in what was then called the ‘Third World’.  And this had an immediate effect on my future life and work as a Jesuit.  For I didn’t return to the UK and, until many years later I was appointed Provincial of the British Province, I lived and worked especially in Guyana and El Salvador in Central America.  I set up and ran a social institute that was directly concerned with problems of poverty and justice.  And even after being Provincial in the UK, I was able to return to El Salvador and continue working there for a number of years.

The other great benefit from working in the social field was to be called to Rome where I spent 9 years with Fr. Pedro Arrupe in our Jesuit Curia.  My job was to promote social institutes and work for justice all over the world where Jesuits were at work.    This involved a huge amount of travelling but also close contact with a man considered by many not only to be a saint but also the founder of our modern Society.