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Scott Santarosa, S.J., set to lead Jesuits West Province into new frontiers

The Oregon and California Provinces of the Society of Jesus came together on July 1 to form Jesuits West, a region comprising California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah, where 485 Jesuit priests, brothers, scholastics and novices work at colleges, schools, churches and a host of other ministries. Leading them is Provincial Scott Santarosa, S.J., whose previous job was overseeing the former Oregon Province.

Fr. Santarosa came to SI in late November to meet with all the priests and brothers living in the Jesuit community at McGucken Hall. The return was a homecoming for him, in part, as he first had a taste of high school teaching at SI as a novice in 1991, when he filled in for Rita O’Malley, who now heads SI’s Adult Spirituality Program.

He returned to SI two years later to spend the summer working with master teacher John DeBenedetti ’83 and training with Charlie Dullea ’65, who ran a program for Jesuit scholastics.

Even then, this South Lake Tahoe native was already a veteran of Jesuit education, having graduated in 1984 from Jesuit High School in Carmichael, Calif., and from Santa Clara University four years later with his degree in civil engineering. A year working in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Newark led him to join the Society of Jesus in 1989.

He spent five years teaching and working as an administrator at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles before serving at Dolores Mission Parish (2006–2014) as its pastor while supporting the work of Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., and his Homeboy Industries ministry.

Fr. Santarosa moved to Portland after Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., the Superior General of the Society of Jesus at the time, asked him to lead the Oregon Province and prepare for its eventual union with the neighboring province to the south. The restructuring of the Jesuit Provinces in the U.S. has now resulted in a redrawing of the maps into five areas, and in a few years, the U.S. will comprise four provinces covering the West, Northeast, Midwest and Central-Southern regions.

In Fr. Santarosa’s free time, he enjoys fly fishing with his father in the Lake Tahoe and Donner area, and he is die-hard Dodgers fan. “It comes from my grandmothers on both sides,” he said. “They rooted for the Dodgers in Brooklyn, and my dad was and is a Dodgers fan. So, I say it’s like growing up Catholic. Once I grew up a Dodgers fan, the die was cast.”

While visiting SI, he sat down with Genesis Editor Paul Totah ’75 for a discussion about why SI grads should be aware of matters concerning the wider Jesuit world.

Q. How would you describe the coming together of the two provinces? What motivated the combination? Is it a merger or something else?

A. A merger might happen to make an organization more efficient and productive or to improve the bottom line. When I am tempted to go into that modality, I’m challenged by words of Fr. Nicolás, who said that the restructuring of our provinces is about the broadening of horizons, the invitation to form new networks, the need to do new things in existing works and, perhaps, the reality of closing some works. We are also looking at entering into new partnerships and crossing traditional geographic boundaries as we engage people in new ways.

My personal experience bears this out, as I was challenged to leave the work I loved at Dolores Mission, where I ministered in Spanish to families. It was a huge honor to enter their lives, and leaving them behind was painful. I was sent to a province not my own among men I did not know. I wondered how I would be received as an outsider. Then I met with each Jesuit in the Oregon Province, and they opened their lives to me and trusted me. At the end of the day, they taught me that we’re not Oregon Jesuits or California Jesuits; we’re just Jesuits. That speaks to what our restructuring is about. We are about something larger than any geographic boundary. If we can free ourselves to say we’re Jesuits, then we can try new things, cross new boundaries and form new networks.

We recently announced the launch of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative Northwest in the Seattle area, which will be led by Jennifer Kelly, a committed lay partner. She spent the last two years shadowing Mike Kennedy, S.J., who started the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative in Culver City. That’s an example of something great in the southern part of Jesuits West working in the northern part.

Here’s another example. Two years ago, we were invited by the bishop of Boise to have Jesuits at the Newman Center at Boise State. We sent one and then another. As a result of the positive experience there, we now have Jesuits at three new Newman Centers in California — at UC San Diego, USC and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. These are ideas that work in one region and are being tried in another.

Seattle Prep and Verbum Dei High School in Watts are doing a collaborative project through the Jesuit Virtual Learning Academy, where they take art classes online through Seattle University. And Patrick Ruff, who attended a workshop at LMU in August for principals, presidents and board chairs, reached out to Jesuits throughout San Francisco to celebrate Friday Morning Liturgy at SI. As a result, Sonny Manuel, S.J. ’67, will now come to say Mass. It’s a win-win as kids get to see alumni who are Jesuits, and maybe they’ll consider entering the order.

Q. Are you confident Jesuit high schools can remain Ignatian without Jesuits? How well are we doing in that regard?

A. The Ignatian identity of our works is clearly something on my mind. We have to be and are being intentional about it. The Jesuit identity of our works, aside from our parishes, can’t depend on the presence of Jesuits. We have to depend on lay partners who are thoroughly rooted in Ignatian spirituality, and we need to increase faculty and adult formation in all of our works. The 19th annotation exercise [a form of the Spiritual Exercises], should be at the top of the list. Mike Gilson, S.J., and Kim Baldwin at the Province work with our 18 high schools, middle schools and grammar schools to ensure that educators are deeply rooted in Ignatian charism, spirituality and pedagogy. I feel good about that.


We’re also trying to promote Jesuit vocations as much as we can, and we have three priests dedicated to full-time vocation work — Christopher Nguyen, S.J., Paul Grubb, S.J., and Chanh Nguyen, S.J., all of whom are young. We have put our money where our mouth is, and new guys are coming. We have an entrance class of 10 men each year, and they are extraordinary guys. I find great hope seeing the people God is sending us.

As Jesuit presence is changing at our ministries, schools need to be creative in how they might staff a place with Jesuits. SI has one Jesuit in the classroom – Fran Stiegeler, S.J. ’61, who is fantastic. Thanks to Patrick Ruff and others, SI has found a way to use other Jesuits creatively; Don Sharp, S.J., is a popular chaplain to several girls’ teams, and Ron Clemo, S.J., at 83, is chaplain for the boys’ basketball team. Both celebrate Mass at Friday Morning Liturgies. It is great that institutions are finding ways to use Jesuits who no longer teach. One of the incentives for regional collaboration is that two or more institutions could share a Jesuit in creative ways, including leading the Spiritual Exercises.

Q. What impact does life at the Province level of Jesuits West have on our alumni, if any?

A. If alumni are grateful for their experience at SI — and they think the Society of Jesus had something to do with that by way of great Jesuit teachers, retreat directors or counselors — then they would want to know that the mechanism that provided those Jesuits is healthy, especially as we now care for elderly Jesuits and bring in novices. If the Province wasn’t there to prepare Jesuits to serve at schools like SI or SCU, then that should be a concern to alumni of those places.

Q. You meet individually with every priest, brother and scholastic in the province at all stages of their ministry and lives. What lessons or observations have you drawn from these meetings?

A. It’s the best part of the job — being able to talk to the Jesuits about their prayer, work, community life, what gets them up in the morning, what keeps them up at night, their health, the ways God is a consolation to them or inviting them to a new challenge. I get to see their tears and hear their laughter. That is the greatest privilege for me.

Q. How well is the Society of Jesus doing in caring for aging priests?

A. Thanks be to God we have a wonderful retirement facility so that Jesuits can live until the end of their lives in a Jesuit community, sharing in meals and liturgies and various activities. When we profess our vows at the beginning of Jesuit life, we attest that, with God’s grace, we’ll live in the Society forever. Because we are blessed to have our own facility, we can do that in community, unlike other religious orders that are forced to use different private nursing homes.

Q. What challenges and opportunities do you face in your job as provincial? What gives you hope as you look to the future of the works of the Society of Jesus? What gives you pause and makes you worry?

A. What give me hope is easy: the Jesuits themselves, the vibrancy of their lives, their dedication to their prayer lives, their commitment to their vows, their kind of quiet heroic living of Jesuit life. I wish I could work at almost every Jesuit ministry I visit on my travels. The Fr. Sauer Academy and SI are no exceptions. I could happily work at either place. I’m also impressed by the quality of remarkable men being attracted to Jesuit life. Go to the novitiate, and you’ll find that they will cheer you up.

Also, people who have gone to our institutions believe in us and are even willing to support the Province financially. They want to make sure that the vertebrae of the Province are strong. Finally, I’m consoled by our new Father General, Arturo Sosa, S.J., especially by his energy, charism, willingness to try new things and emphasis on discernment. I’m confident of our leadership at the top.

As for challenges, as our numbers shift, we have to do things differently and be intentional about that. I worry that we might miss something. I have good people around me with great ideas, and I have to trust them. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about some things that we need to be attentive to. My hope is that we are more trusting of God. It will mean having the courage to try new things and not be afraid to fail. We all need to go beyond our comfort zone in the same manner that the job of provincial challenges me to go beyond my comfort zone. I hope we are more flexible and more available as tools in the hands of God.

Q. At the heart of the Society of Jesus is the person of Jesus and the spirit that led Ignatius to gather companions to spread the good news. How does the person of Jesus inspire you?

A. Daily. I would say that one of most important parts of my day is prayer. At some level, I’m in touch with Jesus, although I don’t always feel it the same way. Still, I trust he is with me. He moves me by how he meets me where I am. He gives me what I need and reminds me of the most important things — loving others and guarding an interior space that only God can fill. I want all of our Jesuits to remind people that, ultimately, we are created for God and to keep that space open and alive for God in all of God’s forms, especially those people whom we serve.

Q. Our world faces such enormous challenges, from climate change and the widening gap between rich and poor to the growing number of slaves, and women and minorities suffering from those in power. Do these issues have anything in common? How is the Society of Jesus and its schools and ministries serving right now as agents of change? What is one thing you’d like to see the Society do to address these enormous challenges?

A. We can be more trusting, flexible and available tools in the hands of God in order to adapt to the signs and needs of the times. The rules for the discernment of spirits that Ignatius gives us are timeless and help us see how we can be of greatest service. All of this is premised on our own freedom. It’s one thing to discern and another to have the freedom follow a call. Toward that end, I hope we can be more flexible and free.

Part of this is being open to the data of the world. I’ve heard it said that when you write your homily, one hand should be on the Bible and the other on a newspaper. We have to be conversant with what’s happening in our world and let that enter into our discernment.

The new province structure makes it easier for our works and ministries to collaborate and not live in their own silos. I hope all Jesuits will open themselves to larger regional realities. I hope that folks at SI have conversations with Ray Allender, S.J. ’62, pastor at St. Agnes, which is a sanctuary parish, and with the priests at USF and what they are doing. We’ll have a larger sense of the reality confronting us and collectively feel called to do something together. The bottom line is that we need to trust in discernment, be open to signs and be free as we do it. SI should not think of itself as just a high school but as a Jesuit work linked to parishes and colleges and middle schools.

SI is an important work of the Jesuits West Province. The efforts the school has made in forming men and women for and with others is considerable. Gifts, talents and resources come with responsibility, and we will be turning to SI as we face the challenges ahead. 

Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Friday December 29, 2017
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