By Tracey Primrose
Discerning a vocation to religious life is one of the most important decisions anyone can make, and often there are many individuals playing supportive roles behind the scenes. A new video series from the Jesuits West Province’s vocation promotion team explores how critically important friends and family are in individual vocation stories.
Three Jesuits are profiled in the series: Frs. Tim Breen, SJ, and Eddie Ngo, SJ, who were ordained last month; and Fr. Christopher Calderón, SJ, who was ordained in 2017 and was recently named president of Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. The series was produced by Fr. Martin Ngo, SJ, and Jesuit-run Loyola Productions, a nonprofit film, video and multimedia production company.
Fr. Chris’ video, “Called to Closeness,” opens with his mother, Lupe Buchanan, talking about how even when Chris was a child of seven or eight, she would find him playing Mass. When he wanted to join the Jesuits right after high school, Lupe said no — he had to go to college first. Lupe doesn’t pull any punches when she says that she worries sometimes that Chris is lonely but that she is grateful for his Jesuit family, who have become her family too.
We also hear from Chris’ stepfather and his best friends, Ryan and Sarah Hubbell. Chris was one of the first people to hold the couple’s infant son, Hudson, at the hospital on the day he was born. Hudson, now in middle school, is also interviewed in the video, saying about Chris, “It’s one of those relationships where it’s just like he was there and there was no in between. I didn’t ever meet him. I just always knew he was there.”
Because so many candidates to the Society of Jesus look to the internet and social media for information about vocations, Fr. Andrew Laguna, SJ, the head of vocation promotion for the Jesuits West Province, says it is important to invest in developing content. “We are always trying to find opportunities to share our Jesuit charism in a way that is both authentic and, hopefully, inspirational. And with this series we wanted to communicate to discerners that you are not alone in this. It’s not about taking away relationships, it’s about making them richer.”
He adds, “A lot of the time we forget about the family and friends of candidates, and we felt that we should broaden our audience because these people can be so influential in encouraging young men who they think might have potential. It’s the idea that Jesuit vocations aren’t in a vacuum, and behind every Jesuit is a village of support.”
Fr. Tim Breen’s village is front and center in his video, “The Community that Carries Me.” Like Fr. Chris’ video, we hear first from his mom. Liz Breen says, “I love to say that Tim is a living example of the Jesuit motto of finding God in all things. Tim always loved to serve on the altar. As soon as he was allowed to train as an altar server, he was never happier than when he was serving on the altar.”
As a student at Loyola High School of Los Angeles, Tim began thinking about a vocation to the priesthood. Among the friends interviewed for the video is Fr. Greg Goethals, SJ, the president of Loyola High. Fr. Greg says of Tim, “We have to be who we’re formed to be, and we have to give that back to the world in order to save the world. And Tim is at the forefront of that. He’s talented, he’s generous, he’s loving, and that flows out of him at every moment of his life.”
Patti Williams, a family friend who is also the religious education director at the American Martyrs Catholic School in Manhattan Beach, California, talks about the strength that God has given to Tim. He called upon that strength when, as a healthy young man in his 20s, Tim needed a kidney transplant. “From when I first was diagnosed, when I first was struggling to adapt to my body not doing what I wanted it to do, when I was really grappling with this, learning to deal with this, and learning what my relationship with God looks like through this, I’ve been really blessed by my family, village, community and this Jesuit life.”
The third video, called “The Expansiveness of Love,” profiles Fr. Eddie Ngô, SJ. Unlike Frs. Tim and Chris, Eddie was not raised Catholic, and the first person interviewed in the video is not his mom, but his friend, Ann Ngô. Ann talks about Eddie’s journey from Buddhism to Catholicism, while another friend, Sr. Kitty Carter, OP, shares how Eddie, a practicing physician, started discerning his call to the priesthood.
Eddie’s sister, Gigi Ngô, says that she was not surprised that Eddie made the decision to join the Jesuits because “he really loves people, and he really loves catering to people’s spiritual needs.” Still, the path has not been easy. In the video, Gigi talks about how, years ago, members of the Ngô family had been assaulted and discriminated against by the Catholic regime in Vietnam. She said that she and Eddie had disagreed about this decision to become a Catholic priest but, ultimately, she “was happy for Eddie because I know it took a lot consideration to come to this place. I felt like he was lost for a long time.”
For his part, Fr. Eddie says that when he first converted, he used to think only about his relationship with Jesus, but now he knows that God made us to be in relationship with others. “God made us to be with people, and I really know what it means that it takes a village to raise a vocation, to see the expansiveness that Jesus would include all these people as a part of his body. That is God’s expansive love, God’s expansive mercy.”