By Jerry Duggan
In his role as an assistant professor of theology at Marquette University, Fr. Aaron Pidel, SJ, is able to use his theological mastery to draw his students closer to God while using his affinity for languages to draw himself closer.
He thinks this desire for religious scholarship came naturally to him.
“I like to say that I read my way into the Society,” Fr. Pidel said.
While majoring in Humanities and Catholic Culture at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Fr. Pidel was drawn toward texts he read from Jesuit authors.
“I was a fan of many religious texts, but when I was assigned a Jesuit text, I would get especially wrapped up in it,” he said. “It excited me in a way that’s hard to explain, but, looking back, I think that did a lot to eventually direct me toward a Jesuit vocation.”
Following his priestly ordination in 2011, Fr. Pidel added to his educational curriculum vitae by earning a doctorate in theology at the University of Notre Dame – a five-year commitment.
Since then, he has been assigned to Marquette University, where he has taught theology in addition to leading Masses, retreats and being a general spiritual presence on campus.
Father Pidel tries to make his courses accessible for students of any faith background – or none at all.
“I want my students to understand that God is an active, ever-present force in our lives,” he said. “God is not just some far-off, mythical being that we pray to when we need something; he is involved and is everywhere.”
In his time at Marquette, Fr. Pidel has taught a wide range of courses, from intro-level undergraduate theology to master’s courses to doctoral seminars.
In all of these, he aims to keep the fundamental messages the same.
“We are all sinners who need grace from God in order to be saved,” he said. “I emphasize that, of course, being a good person is important. But it’s not enough. We need God’s grace too.”
When he entered the Society of Jesus, Fr. Pidel was already at varying levels of mastery in several languages. He has continued to hone this skillset throughout his formation process and active ministry.
Today he is either fluent or at a conversational level in Spanish, German, French and Italian in addition to the “dead” languages Latin, Greek, Hebrew and a little Aramaic.
What started out as an intellectual hobby has blossomed into a meaningful instrument in both his ministerial and scholarly toolkits.
“It’s a great blessing to be able to hear confessions in Spanish, or listen to sacred music in German,” he said.
His knowledge of several “dead” languages comes in handy for research purposes.
“When I’m reading an old text in Latin or Hebrew or whatever the case may be, I am able to pick up small differences in meaning that likely would not have been picked up through a translation service,” he said. “Sometimes these small differences end up making a big distinction in terms of theological meaning.”
It is fitting that, as a “reward” for his amassed knowledge, Fr. Pidel is set to embark next fall on an assignment teaching at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Most of his courses there will be taught in Italian, but he will also be using his skills in English, Latin, Hebrew and more.
“I will be teaching men from all over the world, and that is a tremendous honor,” he said. “To know that I will hopefully be making an impact in some small way on the formation of men who will, after their time there, serve all over the world, is very moving.”