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‘Revealing God and God’s deep love to this world’

Billy Menor, nSJ, has had an eventful couple of years since leaving the Diocese of Duluth to join the Jesuits.

During his two-year novitiate, which ends with his profession of first vows on Aug. 12 in St. Paul, he’s spent time teaching at St. Paschal Baylon elementary school in St. Paul. He’s done the 30-day silent retreat on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, which is central to Jesuit life and spirituality. He’s worked in a Jesuit infirmary outside of Detroit.

Billy Menor, nSJ
Billy Menor, nSJ, is approaching his first vows as a Jesuit. (Submitted photo)

For a pilgrimage, he got a one-way bus ticket and $35 in his pocket and couldn’t return home for 30 days. He spent it in San Francisco working with the homeless; in Pacifica, California, living and working at an AIDS hospice run by the Missionaries of Charity; traveling by Greyhound to attend Father Daniel Berrigan’s funeral in New York City, staying four nights at the original Catholic Worker communities; and finally visiting his first grade teacher, Sister Samuella, in Springfield, Illinois.

For Spanish immersion — fluency in the language is a requirement for American Jesuits, he says — he lived and worked with Jesuits in Peru for a month. He has worked for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Marriage and Family Life doing ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics. And for the past four months he’s worked at a Jesuit high school in Cleveland in the campus ministry and service departments. Menor, a graduate of Holy Rosary School and Duluth East, is the son of Patrice Critchley-Menor, who directs the Office of Social Apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth, and her husband Dan. He said that the vows are perpetual ones.

“The first vows … are a profession of perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience,” Menor said. “I will take them with the other Jesuits in my class, 15 of us total for the Midwest province.”

It will take place at a Mass at 9 a.m. Aug. 12 at St. Thomas More in St. Paul. Each novice will come before the Blessed Sacrament, held by the Jesuit provincial, and make his vows.

“These vows are a promise to remain in the Society of Jesus forever and to make final vows when invited to do so following ordination,” Menor said.

From there, he will begin three years of philosophy study, followed by a three-year period of ministry, followed by three years of theology studies culminating in ordination to the priesthood. An additional year of formation and final vows follow that.

Drawn to social justice

Menor says that all through school he felt drawn to social justice issues, as well as to evangelization, and credits his family and diocesan liturgies for fostering his vocation.

“My vocation and love for the church was kindled by the grand and beautiful diocesan liturgies my family always attended,” he said. “The ordinations and Chrism Masses were always a highlight of my year, with the Triduum liturgies as well.”

Because of this pull, Menor said he’s “always wanted to be a priest.” However, it was accompanied by a desire to do work other than parish work, such as social work, teaching, or community organizing, and to work “somewhat outside of the church” to bring its beauty to those who otherwise might not encounter it.

“So, while I was on the prayer team at Camp Survive, I sat in Eucharistic Adoration and prayed, ‘God, what am I supposed to do about these conflicting desires?’ The word ‘Jesuit’ came into my heart,” he said. “I wrote it down in my journal, reminding me to look it up on the Internet when I got home. This is the first time I can remember thinking of the Jesuits. After I looked them up, I never really stopped thinking about them.”

As for what his ministry will ultimately look like, Menor says that’s something he only has a limited idea about right now, “because the opportunities are so broad.”

“Ministry for a Jesuit priest could look like just about anything,” he said. “We have Jesuit priests who are astronomers, poets, physicists, doctors, community organizers, lawyers, theologians, philosophers, choreographers, writers, musicians … and the list goes on.”

However, he does have some ideas.

“For me personally, I am very passionate about the work of reconciliation within the Catholic Church,” he said. “I would hope to be doing some ministry to facilitate greater understanding and dialogue between Catholics. This could happen through writing or simply parish ministry. I would also love to work in some ministry that worked towards social justice, as a community organizer or lobbyist or something like that. And also, I am passionate about evangelization, and so any work that allows me to share the message of the gospel with people in new ways would be wonderful.”

He also shared his hopes for his life as a Jesuit, rooted in his own growing love and friendship with Jesus Christ and as reflected in Pope Benedict XVI’s first homily as pope, where he said that the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to people and that we “are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

“I’ve always loved these words and go back to them so often,” Menor said. “People in our world need to hear these words preached with credibility! God and God’s church really does love everyone. Revealing God and God’s deep love to this world, in any and every way I can, is what I desire more than anything.”

Editor’s note: A date and time for the Mass below have been corrected from the print edition. The Northern Cross regrets the error.

 — By Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross