Jesuit novice discusses his passions, his vows and his interests in the Order
May 17, 2018
Many students first saw Tony Cortese sitting in Benson Center behind a sign that said, “Hi, I’m Tony, a Jesuit novice. I’m available to chat. I’m not here to preach, to judge or to be obnoxiously religious.”
Cortese is in the second year of a 10-year process of becoming a Jesuit priest. Cortese will spend the summer at a language school in Tijuana, take vows at Santa Clara in August, then attend Fordham University for a Masters in Philosophy starting this fall.
Gavin Cosgrave: Why do you want to become a Jesuit?
Tony Cortese: My story is not as dramatic as some. I compare my story to a slow love story. You see someone who’s attractive and it slowly grows. I was raised pretty traditionally Catholic and I would argue, a little too traditionally Catholic. When I was at Chico State (every time I say “Chico State” here, students giggle and ask if I partied, and I just smile) I discovered another side of the Catholic world when I got involved in Campus Ministry. The first person I met there was this incredible priest, and the second person was this gorgeous young woman. I said, “I think I want to keep doing this!”
I knew I didn’t want to get married anytime soon since I wanted to travel and have adventures. I did grad school at Sacramento State, and I was dating. There was a yearlong period when the people close to me noticed I was trying to spend some time alone. Some people around me asked if I had thought about priesthood or religious life. That planted a seed.
Eventually I met some Jesuits, and they seemed really joyful. They were not afraid to be a little bit on the rebellious side. I got a Jesuit spiritual director and discovered Ignatian spirituality. Part of that is using your imagination, and so I started imagining my future.I decided to give it a shot, and so far it’s been the most peaceful and lifegiving experience I’ve ever had. I get to be close to so many people.
GC: People normally think of being a Jesuit as a very restrictive lifestyle. How do you think about rules versus freedom and what options are open to you as a Jesuit with that lifestyle?
TC: One of the hardest things about religion is that there’s a human tendency to view religion as an institution for rules and then we become slaves to rules. The Jesus story, in my experience, flips that. He doesn’t ignore rules, but it’s a matter of approach.Do I harbor some disagreement with the church? Yes. It’s a discernment process for how to go about that. I acknowledge the importance of structure—there’s a reason why the institution has survived for 2,000 years.
I will be taking three vows in August. When we think of vows, we think of restrictions. That is not very life-giving. The vows are poverty, chastity and obedience.
Poverty doesn’t mean that the lifestyle I’m entering will bring me to sleep on the street. What it does mean is that I will not own anything under my own name. I will share, and if we have excess, our call is to give that excess to those who need it more. We’re called to live simply.
Chastity is the weird one according to society. When I talk to people, they say the word conjures up images of sexual purity codes and a bunch of “no’s.” If I approach chastity like that, I am going to be a repressed sexual being. That is not our invitation to chastity. Chastity is the way I am living. It’s a deep recognition that sexuality is so much of who we are and with that, there are great invitations to use that in a way that gives life.
Jesuits commit to celibate chastity, which means we are not going to be entering into exclusive romance. I’m still learning a lot about it. What I think I’m doing is saying yes to something deeper in me. By not getting married, it’s not that we think this is a holier way to live. This is just a lifestyle choice to become radically available to people. It wouldn’t make sense for me to have a wife and kids because it wouldn’t be fair to them—this is a weird lifestyle where we travel around a lot.
The last vow is obedience. It means that I am choosing to be available to where I’m needed and sent. I trust that there will be a mutual discernment process between me and my superiors about where I can best serve. There’s also an obedience to my Jesuit brothers where I’m committing to our lives together.
For me the three vows are beautiful invitations to say “yes” to something. They give me a lot of life right now. They’re not perfect, and I accept that.
“Voices of Santa Clara,” profiles noteworthy students and faculty. The Q & A is excerpted from the “Voices of Santa Clara” podcast.
Visit voicesofsantaclara.com or search “Voices of Santa Clara” on the iTunes Podcast App to hear the whole interview.