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By Aric Serrano, SJ

In order to experience meaningful spiritual growth, people of faith need a spiritual support system.  

While I hope that, as a Jesuit, I have supported many on their faith journeys, I, too, owe a debt of gratitude to many who helped me along my way. My aunt, Sr. Teresa, played a significant role in my spiritual development and vocation. I learned about myself and where God was leading me through my relationship with Sr. Teresa. She entered the Discalced Carmelites in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, in 1993. As a result, my awareness of the austere lives of the nuns began my formation toward my own vocation. Over the years, my family formed a bond with the community through visits and letters. The sisters supported my family through prayer and food donations. As my family grew to 13 children, we could always use it.  

The idea of being a religious came to me in high school. Whenever we went to visit the Carmelites, the odd sense of peace and stability that the sisters exhibited interested me. I wanted that peace, so I thought: “I should be a Carmelite.” However, five days with a group of monks taught me that God was not calling me to contemplative life.  

Whenever we went to visit the Carmelites, the odd sense of peace and stability that the sisters exhibited interested me.  

After that experience, I remembered reading some stories about St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier from a children’s book of saints. The stories of their lives sparked something inside of me. But my family lived in Clayton, New Mexico at the time and there were no Jesuits for miles. In my correspondence with Sr. Teresa, she told me her spiritual director was a Jesuit and put me in touch with him. Thus, I began my discernment with the Society of Jesus.  

Sr. Teresa has always been a spiritual authority in my life—“spiritual authority,” as in someone I continually look to for trusted advice. She is one of the many insightful women who deepen my own vocation.  

Sr. Teresa has always been a spiritual authority in my life—“spiritual authority,” as in someone I continually look to for trusted advice. 

During first studies in New York, I had the gift of meeting various religious women. I taught music to elementary students at St. John Chrysostom Elementary School in the Bronx and got to know the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill. I was moved by the fierce love the sisters gave to the students and the wider Bronx community. I also worked with the Sisters of Life and was touched by their love, generosity and devotion to living out their mission of protecting life.  

Similarly, my time teaching at Regis Jesuit High School also brought me into contact with numerous administrators, teachers, and parents—women praying, working and loving. It is my opinion that Jesuit apostolates would not be able to function fully without women leading and sustaining them.  

Pope Francis affirms that men and women need each other in order to grow. In his words, “Experience teaches us: in order to know oneself well and develop harmoniously, a human being needs the reciprocity of man and woman. When that is lacking, one can see the consequences. We are made to listen to one another and help one another.”  

Aric Serrano, SJ, prepares to lead music at a Mass in the Bronx with two Dominican sisters and students.

From his General Audience on April 15, 2015, Francis continues: “We can say that without the mutual enrichment of this relationship – in thought and in action, in affection and in work, as well as in faith – the two cannot even understand the depth of what it means to be man and woman.” 

Indeed, the mutual enrichment of men and women through relationship allows for the flourishing of both. This flourishing allows for God’s love to be known, as the history of the Society of Jesus reflects. St. Ignatius himself corresponded with many women throughout his ministry. Women were significant in helping the Jesuits establish colleges and charitable works.  

Women have held spiritual authority throughout the history of the Church. St. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus and announce it to the disciples. St. Hildegard of Bingen was incredibly influential through her letters to people seeking her advice. Dorothy Day helped form a movement dedicated to caring for the poor. There are numerous examples of women throughout Church history—women within religious orders as well as single and married life. Many have led quiet lives of little notoriety while impacting those around them in profound ways.  

St. Ignatius writes that love is shown more in deeds than in words. Through the work women do in the Catholic Church and beyond, they demonstrate that they love much. Jesuits are spiritually impacted by the women that we meet; the many faithful women we encounter inspire us and offer us direction. They inspire by following Jesus’ example and imitating his self-emptying love. Like the Blessed Virgin, they hear God’s word, and they keep it by making space in their hearts for Jesus; no cost is asked, and room is freely given.  

Through the work women do in the Catholic Church and beyond, they demonstrate that they love much. 

Their witness of faith encourages me to follow Jesus more closely and allows my relationships to point directly to God. Without the guidance and inspiration of the many women of strong faith that I have encountered throughout my life, I would not be where I am today. 

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