By Jerry Duggan
Jimmy Mitchell grew up in a Catholic family in the Atlanta area. An accomplished student, he was accepted to Vanderbilt University and studied Human & Organizational Development. In time, he felt pulled away from a career in business and gravitated toward what really set him on fire: his faith. After twelve years of traveling the world as a Catholic speaker and missionary, he has found a home at Jesuit High School in Tampa, where he aims to awaken a burning love of Christ in the hearts of young men.
Upon arrival on Vanderbilt’s campus his freshman year, Mitchell met a Jesuit chaplain and plugged into both retreat and music ministry on campus. He found something within the school’s Catholic community that was missing in his encounters with the rest of campus.
“Vanderbilt is a secular school, and I did not have many Catholic friends,” he explained. “Because Catholic community on campus was fairly small, we felt a true sense of belonging.”
He began centering his life more and more on the faith instead of building a career in business. A missionary trip abroad between his sophomore and junior years sealed the deal.
“To see God at work in the world and have the opportunity to serve others in His Name overwhelmed me with joy,” he said.
He became more familiar with shining examples of the faith, such as Jesuit martyrs, and these only intensified his desire to serve.
“Learning about guys like St. Edmund Campion, seeing the depths of their faith, and the way they centered everything on Christ, really inspired me in my formative years,” he explained.
Upon graduating from college, Mitchell immersed himself in all kinds of ministries – an amalgamation of roles he best described as “part missionary, part motivational speaker.”
The overarching goal of his various projects, which took him on mission trips, pilgrimages and retreats all over the world, was to help set young souls on fire for Christ. He engaged in service work and spoke at many high schools – including Jesuit Tampa twice annually. His work was Ignatian in nature.
“When I think of Ignatius, I think of his early work in founding the Society and his companions, with whom he formed such deep trust and such close bonds,” he said. “Those are the type of relationships I tried to cultivate in my work, by setting a foundation in trust and faith that leads to authentic discipleship over time.”
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Mitchell was at home, all of his trips and assignments cancelled. He had planned to use this time to reset and perhaps write a book on his experiences.
Then he got a call from Fr. Richard Hermes, SJ, president of Jesuit Tampa, that changed his path entirely.
“Their head of campus ministry had decided not to return for the following school year, and they had a month to fill the position before the school year started,” he said.
Father Hermes had gotten to know Mitchell well from his past speaking engagements at the school. Mitchell was well versed in Ignatian Spirituality and had the desire to do this kind of work, but it would entail a drastic change in focus.
“My heart was bursting with excitement, but it was a shift in gears, no doubt,” he said.
Within a week, Mitchell accepted the offer, and moved to Tampa later that month.
Upon his arrival, Mitchell picked up where he left off in all of his previous work, setting Jesuit students on fire with the love of Christ and continuing the school’s longstanding “culture of conversion.”
“Ever since Fr. Hermes arrived, Jesuit has seen students convert to the faith every year,” he explained.
This year, the school welcomed 22 young men into the Church. He attributes these gains not to his own efforts but to a hunger that the pandemic awakened in many young men.
“This year, more than ever before, I sensed that guys were excited to return to campus and were more open to deepening their faith or trying new things,” he said. “That so many guys joined the Church this year is a reflection of that hunger.”
Mitchell also takes great consolation in the day-to-day encounters he has with students.
“Connecting with students, growing as brothers in Christ, and being there for them as a companion has brought me great joy,” he said.
Jesuit Tampa is marked by the depth of the faith of many of its students. A large group of students, sometimes numbering several dozen, attends a daily after-school Rosary group. Peer ministry groups help students discuss challenges in their faith.
Mitchell finds the richness of the faith expressions the most meaningful part of his job.
“Being there for guys on their good days and their bad, fighting through the temptation and struggle, and setting guys on fire with the love of Christ is what keeps me going every day,” he said.
Mitchell says he has been so touched by the campus community he plans to stay for the long haul.
“What could be more rewarding than engaging in discipleship with young men and setting them on fire for Christ?”