Birthday: October 23, 1974
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario
Bachelor’s degree, philosophy, University of Ottawa
Master’s degree, philosophy, Penn State University
Juris Doctor, Harvard Law School
Master of Divinity, Regis College, University of Toronto
Master of Sacred Theology, Regis College, University of Toronto
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
As a novice, hitchhiked from Montreal to Winnipeg, staying overnight in a series of homeless shelters
Spent a summer working in prison chaplaincy at a federal penitentiary in Nova Scotia as part of a Clinical Pastoral Education program
Worked in Chicago with the Ignatian Spirituality Project, offering spiritual retreats for men and women experiencing homelessness and in recovery from addiction
Will continue to serve the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States as Secretary of the Office of Justice and Ecology
Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, Ted Penton, SJ, was devout as a young child, but an atheist by 15. During his philosophy studies at the University of Ottawa, Ted became interested in religion from an academic perspective. While travelling in Thailand after graduation, out of curiosity regarding the lived experience of religion, he attended a retreat at a Buddhist monastery, where he had a profound spiritual awakening. In a brief moment, a desire to work for justice and follow a spiritual path was born, as well as a strong sense that his own spiritual home was in the Catholic Church. During two years of graduate school at Penn State, while the courses were interesting, Ted found more life and energy in his engagement with Pax Christi: spending weekends at a soup kitchen in Philadelphia or a Catholic Worker house in Harrisburg. He left his studies behind for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working at a Legal Aid of North Carolina office that served migrant farmworkers. He loved the work, as well as the Ignatian form of spirituality and the Jesuit commitment to justice and simple living. From Raleigh, Ted went to study law at Harvard and then returned to Canada where he clerked at the Supreme Court and worked for two years in the Human Rights Law Section of the Department of Justice. A persistent call to religious life eventually came to the fore, and he entered the Society in 2009. Following novitiate in Montreal and first studies in Toronto, Ted spent three wonderful years as a regent working in Chicago for the Ignatian Spirituality Project, an organization that offers spiritual retreats for men and women experiencing homelessness and in recovery from addiction. After completing theology studies in Toronto, in 2018 Ted moved to Washington, DC, where he currently serves the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States as Secretary of the Office of Justice and Ecology. (Canada Province)
Ted (holding the paddle) with fellow Jesuits at Villa St. Michel in Quebec.
What was one particularly meaningful experience you had during your
formation, and why was it meaningful to you?
Spending a summer in a chaplaincy training program at a federal penitentiary in Nova Scotia was very meaningful. I was humbled by the openness of some men in sharing with me very dark and difficult parts of their life stories. The sadness there could be overwhelming — so how much more difficult it must be for those who, unlike me, didn’t get to leave in the evening. I was also really inspired by many men’s courage in facing up to very significant challenges and in recognizing where God was calling them even at such a painful and difficult point in their lives. Their example gave me the courage to look more closely at certain shadows in my own life.
How has your spirituality changed since entering the Society?
Since entering the Society, my spirituality has become much more relational. My faith was born during a moment of meditation, and very few of my friends had any religious or spiritual faith or practice. So for many years I consigned my faith to a primarily private place in my life. It did motivate me to act in certain ways — for instance, in volunteer work — but I continued to find God primarily in personal prayer and reflection. During my years as a Jesuit, my spirituality has become much more integrated with my communities, my work and all my relationships, rather than something apart.
Ted with his sister and niece in Montreal.
What is your favorite book, movie, music, or TV show you’ve encountered
since entering the Society and why do you love it?
One show that I really like is HBO’s “The Leftovers.” The setting is contemporary, but three years before it begins, 2% of the world’s population inexplicably disappeared, an enormous tragedy that people are dealing with in a wide variety of ways. One thing that I appreciate is the way this event has made fertile ground for the flourishing of many different religious movements, although some of them are very disturbing.
In some ways this offers a fascinating imaginary contemporary analogue to the context in which early Christianity first took hold, not as the established traditional religion it has been for so long, but as one among a range of new sects, all of which look pretty bizarre from the outside. The show even features a background character who, in the fashion of St. Simeon Stylites, lives on top of a pillar. It’s a credit to the show that, while this is still considered strange, it is also believable in an odd way.
What are three words a family member or fellow Jesuit would use to
describe you? (Ask someone.) Do you agree with his or her selections?
Warm, thoughtful and wry. I do agree! I don’t think everyone would agree with “warm,” but I think I’ve improved in that respect over time, and it’s certainly a quality I aspire to. “Thoughtful” for sure, I’m definitely introspective and always reflecting. And “wry” I was surprised to see on the list but it very accurately describes my sense of humour and perhaps my approach to life more broadly. Also, it’s almost the opposite of “warm” which brings things full circle.