By Jerry Duggan
Throughout his youth, Orlando Portalatin, SJ, felt a call to religious life. As a young man, he joined a faith-based youth group in his native Puerto Rico, where he made lifelong friends and connected with Christ. He continued to put his faith first when he moved to the continental United States, where he attended the University of Central Florida.
“I remember feeling differently about my faith than many of my peers,” Portalatin explained. “I found myself wanting to take time for personal prayer and reflection and asked myself ‘What is wrong with me?’ I guess it didn’t quite feel ‘normal’ for someone my age.”
Portalatin knew there was something there, and so he applied for and was accepted to seminary before deciding not to attend.
“In my early 20s, I felt I should experience life a little more,” he recounted. “I felt a desire to be a father and advance my career.”
After starting out in sales, Portalatin began working in human resources and was promoted time and time again, from recruiter to compensation analyst to senior analyst. Eventually, he managed human resources operations and systems for a county government. During this time, he also dated. When a particularly serious relationship did not work out, he fell away from the faith. He became more self-indulgent.
In time, he began to seek something more. He was astonished to find that, after all these years, God was still there, still inviting him to pursue something deeper.
“God never gave up on me,” he said.
He started to listen to podcasts on spirituality and eventually began to see a spiritual director. He had heard of the Jesuits, but they were not part of his discernment until he was introduced to Ignatian Spirituality.
He connected with St. Ignatius’ teachings, particularly the idea of freeing oneself of earthly possessions and material desires to follow God.
“I had professional success, and a ‘fun’ lifestyle, but at the end of the day, God was calling me to something more,” he said. “I felt that, after all these years of putting off God’s invitation, I, like Ignatius, should put all of that behind and follow God.”
He attended several discernment events and entered the Jesuit novitiate in 2015 at the age of 43.
After studying philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, Portalatin is back in Puerto Rico, teaching at Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola in San Juan. This assignment, he says, is a dream come true.
“To be back where I grew up, surrounded by family is a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “In addition, to view Puerto Rico through a new
lens after being gone all these years is eye opening. To be back in Puerto Rico as a Jesuit confirms my identity as a Jesuit and has strengthened my desire to serve.”
Portalatin teaches senior theology classes at Colegio San Ignacio and cannot wait for what comes next.
“Whatever God is inviting me to do in the future, I will continue to let go of all of my attachments and follow Him.”