By Jerry Duggan
It’s the little things about priestly ministry that Thomas Croteau, SJ, is most looking forward to.
“Listening to and speaking with others, growing in faith alongside them, and drawing them closer to Christ is what I am most excited for, whatever my active ministry assignments end up looking like,” Croteau said.
Two years into his more than a decade long formation process, Croteau took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These vows communicated a lifelong commitment to the Society of Jesus and a willingness to serve wherever there is need in the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province and beyond.
He is set to take the next step in that commitment by being ordained to the priesthood in June 2022.
“I know that I’ll be well-prepared for whatever assignments come my way because my formation process has taught me so many foundational lessons – lessons on how to be a good priest and how to be a good Jesuit,” he said.
Croteau’s discernment process began nearly two decades ago.
“When preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, I read about the lives of many saints,” he recalled. “St. Francis of Assisi stood out to me for his life of simplicity, piety and selfless service to others. I thought how I might one day be drawn to a similar life.”
During high school, Croteau attended several talks on religious life. While enrolled at Ave Maria University in Florida, he encountered several Jesuits who were missioned on campus.
Amidst a wealth of other men and women religious, the Jesuits stood out to Croteau.
“I could tell that they really enjoyed their ministry – they invested in the campus community and sought to connect with students in simple, yet profound ways,” he explained. “I remember seeing them eat lunch with students at the campus cafeteria and again thinking I could see myself as one of them.”
Still drawn to the life of simplicity that Francis of Assisi modeled, Croteau considered other religious vocations, particularly monastic life. He spent time shadowing at a monastery while in college and found it moving, but it was missing the personal connection he wanted.
“It was incredible to see men so devoted to prayer, but I kept thinking about how I wanted to be able to see and interact with those I was praying for on a regular basis,” Croteau articulated. “That real-world interaction, and the ability to connect with others on a human level, was something I strongly desired.”
After attending several discernment events, Croteau entered the Novitiate of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Grand Coteau, La., in August 2011, several months after graduating college.
Following his profession of first vows, he studied philosophy at Saint Louis University, taught at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas and is currently studying theology at the Jesuit School of Theology and Ministry at Santa Clara University in Berkeley, Calif.
Each step in the formation process has taught Croteau much that he can apply in his active ministry, but his time at Jesuit Dallas was particularly influential.
“I always wanted to connect with those I was praying for on a regular basis, and long prayed that a Jesuit vocation would give me the grace to do that,” he said. “At Jesuit Dallas, I prayed for each one of my students regularly and got to interact with them in the classroom, too. It was a confirmation of the grace I had been seeking.”
He wishes for that grace to extend into his priestly ministry, wherever it ends up taking him.
“Saying Mass, hearing confessions, celebrating the Sacraments, and being part of a community of faith with others is what excites me the most,” he said. “For me, it’s the everyday things that make it all worth it.”
A student of St. Ignatius Loyola, what Croteau finds most applicable to his upcoming priestly ministry is the Ignatian presupposition.
“Ignatius believed that whenever we encounter anyone, we should try to give them the benefit of the doubt and see how they might have arrived at a perspective that is different than our own,” he described. “The goal is to meet others with compassion and openness rather than judgment and dismissiveness. I hope to keep that spirit of openness when I connect with others as a Jesuit priest.”