This week the Universal Church celebrates the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, author of the Spiritual Exercises and founder of the Society of Jesus.
The impact of Ignatius Loyola on the Church and on the world cannot be overestimated. Since their founding in 1540 the Jesuits have drawn thousands upon thousands of people to the Gospel and to baptism in the Catholic Faith; have given thousands upon thousands of students and retreatants a vision of life imbued with the Spiritual Exercises; and have, through their influence, enabled thousands upon thousands of laypeople to bring a particularly Ignatian spirit to their Catholic faith and to those with whom they come in contact on a daily basis.
As if that were not enough, the Society has more presence in more places around the world than any other religious order in the Church: it is truly the catholic or worldwide religious order par excellence. Fittingly, it is also the largest religious order in the world.
To remain so, it needs young men to continue to answer the same call that drew men like Francis Xavier, John Carroll, Jorge Bergoglio, and Robert Welsh. To put it simply, the Society of Jesus needs men like Bryan Norton ’03.
On June 8, 2019, Bryan, along with three other young men, received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and thus became the newest members of the Long Black Line – a term used for the Jesuits by school president, Fr. Raymond Guiao, S.J., ’82 in his closing remarks at last Sunday’s liturgy in St. Mary of the Assumption Chapel commemorating the Feast of St. Ignatius.
The presiding priest for that Mass was Fr. Norton, as he completed his trifecta of “first” Masses – the first two taking place in Milwaukee after his ordination and then several weeks later at his home parish of St. Basil. I’m sure that Fr. Norton felt honored to be asked to be the main celebrant at such an important liturgy, but in truth those of us in the congregation – especially those who have known him since his days as a student at Saint Ignatius – were the real honorees.
We were witness to the vitality of the Society of Jesus, even amidst one of the most difficult times in the history of the Church, and, in particular, the most difficult time in the history of the Church in America. For a young man of the stature of Fr. Norton to choose to dedicate his life not only to the priesthood, but to the priesthood within the Society of Jesus, says a lot about his faith in the Church and the Society. But even more so, it says a lot about his faith in Jesus, the namesake of that Society and the Head of that Church.
"We were witness to the vitality of the Society of Jesus, even amidst one of the most difficult times in the history of the Church, and, in particular, the most difficult time in the history of the Church in America."
As I sat in the congregation and witnessed Fr. Norton’s vocation in action I could not help but be reminded of the young man I knew back in the early 2000s, but also of the young man with whom I have been in touch throughout his years of preparation and study in the Society. In my mind I have a Pantheon of Ignatian Giants – those young men who are the cream of the cream of the cream of the crop of former students. Bryan is a member of the inner ring of those Ignatian Giants.
Fr. Norton is one of the most thoughtful people whom I have ever met, and I mean that in both senses of the word: he thinks deeply and he thinks of others. To my mind, these are the two traits that define the best to which members of the Society of Jesus can aspire. Knowing which Jesuits most influenced him in his vocation I have to believe that Fr. Norton sees these two traits as essential to the life and ministry of a member of the Society of Jesus.
So as all of us who are connected in any way with the Jesuits celebrate this wonderful Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola let us remember to pray for the men who have dedicated their lives to the Church as members of the Society of Jesus – the young, the old, the brave and the bold (to steal a great phrase from the old Irish folk song “Spancil Hill”) – and pray also for those students at Saint Ignatius and across the world who are the Fr. Bryan Nortons of tomorrow. The Church and the world cannot do without them.