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By Rachel Amiri

Fr. Anthony Wieck, SJ

When he was missioned to the White House Jesuit Retreat Center in 2017 after spending over a decade of his Jesuit life serving in Jesuit schools and colleges, Fr. Anthony Wieck thought, “Retreat ministry… isn’t that for older Jesuits?  I’d like to do that when I’m older and half-retired.” But he found his talents well utilized at White House, and coupled with his work with men in formation for the priesthood at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in the Archdiocese of St. Louis,  he has found a good fit within his Jesuit vocation.

“I love sharing the riches of our spirituality. When I share Ignatian insights, I don’t have to be very original,” he quipped during a recent conversation. “I love to share the truths offered by Ignatius. People have their eyes opened. Ignatius’ careful guidance in discernment, in practical, helpful ways speaks to the heart of the Church.”

This year, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his entrance into the Society of Jesus, Fr. Wieck reflected on his vocation, as well as his hopes for the future.

Growing up the sixth of nine children in a Catholic family on a farm in Oregon, Fr. Wieck didn’t always want to be a priest. He wished to marry and raise a family on a farm, much like his parents did. But God’s persistent call to him, working through others along the way, led him both to the priesthood and to the Jesuits. It also led to his becoming a retreat director at the very place where his father made his own annual retreats, decades ago.

Father Wieck’s preparation for Jesuit life began well before his novitiate, as he completed undergraduate degrees in philosophy and mathematics from the University of San Francisco and began a career teaching in Catholic schools. This experience would serve him well later when he taught at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School, both in Houston, and Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas.

After promptings from the mothers of his students, as well as a Dominican spiritual director, he entered the Casa Balthasar, a house of discernment in Rome, in 1994. There, “You live the life of a religious and kind of feel it out from within, to see if that life fits.” he said.

His experience of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s discernment of spirits eventually led Fr. Wieck to discern God’s call to a Jesuit vocation. “As I read Ignatius, I thought, ‘Wow, he is such a father to me.’ Then, meeting Jesuit saints—50 of them—and blessed—some 150—what an amazing charism!” he said. Getting to know the “great guys” from the province studying there in Rome – priests who helped him feel at home – inspired him to join them. He entered the novitiate in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, in 1999.

After 25 years in the Society and 14 as a priest, he remains enthusiastic about the mission. “It’s amazing to be a Jesuit; there are so many different opportunities for us: the social apostolate, international works, high schools, colleges, retreat houses. The variety of our ministries is extraordinary,” he says.

Father Wieck’s daily life now involves splitting his work week between the White House, where he directs groups as retreat master, and Kenrick-Glennon, where he offers spiritual direction to some 20 diocesan seminarians. His work with seminarians began in 2020 and has included teaching courses on anthropology, prayer, the Trinity and spiritual direction, both at the seminary and at the Aquinas Institute of Theology.

“We have quite a history of Jesuits working in the seminary over the last decades,” he said. “It’s quite wonderful to carry on that tradition.” He sees his role as a vowed religious priest offering direction to diocesan seminarians as a vital and enriching one. “Critical for these seminarians is to learn the discernment of spirits. They are all trained in Ignatian discernment of spirits, but I bring existential experience of this,” Fr. Wieck explained.

He also guides them on an Ignatian path to freedom and healing through deep knowledge of God’s love. “A lot of men  struggle with thinking, ‘I’m not enough.’ They don’t know their goodness and how the Lord comes for their healing. They also need to be open to God’s way of seeing them, the objective view,” he said.

“My hope is that as they gain the human formation and appropriate confidence in themselves, such that they can become more magnanimous and thus offer a generous response.”

Ignatian spirituality isn’t only a tool for discernment for these men in formation, but a gift that they will carry into their ministries as future pastors, says Fr. Wieck. For him, it is a “seamless fit” to work in a diocesan seminary as a Jesuit: “These future pastors will appreciate Ignatius from within and will encourage their parishes to be engaged in White House retreats, as well as engaged in Jesuit apostolates. It is a wonderful connector between those who are leading their local parishes and our Jesuit life.

“And it has a huge multiplier effect,” Fr. Wieck points out, highlighting a saying of Ignatius regarding consideration of Jesuit apostolates. “We should consider the multiplier effect a work can have on more people. The more universal, the more divine the work is.”

He sees forming those in seminary who will form thousands of people through their own parish ministry to manifest that impact in the universal Church.

This “multiplier effect” is already coming to fruition in Fr. Wieck’s ministry through the local archdiocese. He delivered Advent reflections in December 2023 to all the heads of the three newly-formed vicariates in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and is slated to give talks at both the Catholic Men for Christ and Catholic Women for Christ conferences in early 2024. “I’m going to throw my heart and soul into these talks,” he says of the men’s and women’s conferences during the Lenten season, which will be about reconciliation and non-sacramental healing. “I plan to emphasize the desires of God’s heart for us. I’m not going to focus so much on our own felt need for reconciliation as God’s desire for our flourishing. It pleases his heart to no end when we go to reconciliation, and reconcile with one another too.”

Noticing how the trajectory of his own life and vocation has mirrored the Spiritual Exercises, he is hopeful and enthusiastic for the future of the Church and the Society of Jesus. Drawing on the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, he said, “My hope is that we become more Marian in spirit as a Church, that we can learn the radicality of the Marian ‘Yes.’ We often associate Mary too much with devotion and piety, as a distant model for us, but that’s not particularly helpful. She lived a radical ‘Yes’, allowing the Holy Spirit to pray from within her. This we can do also.”

“I’m a Jesuit, so I know I’m biased in this—but I don’t believe there’s any charism in the Church that is more apropos to the needs of our day than the Ignatian one. Ignatius speaks to everyone,” he said. “What a gift he is to the Church today!”

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