By Becky Sindelar
November 10, 2015 — There’s a scene in “On the Waterfront” that still thrills Brother Michael Breault, SJ. Karl Malden, playing a character based on an actual Jesuit priest, stands in the hold of a cargo ship, over the body of a murdered longshoreman. Speaking directly to the mobsters watching from above, Malden calls the murder “a crucifixion.” When a thug yells that the priest should go back to his church, Malden roars, “Boys, this is my church!”
Breault first saw the film as a student at Jesuit High in Sacramento, California, where he was inspired to join the Society by his Jesuit teachers, who were “incredible and dynamic and they laughed a lot and were passionate.”
It happens that, as a Jesuit scholastic, Breault lived in community with screenwriter Budd Schulberg’s model for the Malden character, the Jesuit labor relations activist Fr. John “Pete” Corridan. Years later, in another twist of fate, Breault was one of the producers of the first stage adaptation of “On the Waterfront” and worked closely with Schulberg. “From the moment he discovered I was a Jesuit, we were fast friends. The fact that I’d known Pete Corridan was icing on the cake. And I’ll never forget how touched Budd was when I got around to telling him that ’On the Waterfront’ was a big part of my vocation story.”
As Director of the Office of Vocation Promotion for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Breault has spent a lot of time examining vocation stories and considering why young men join the Society.
“In my time, the majority of guys who entered the Society went to Jesuit high schools, where they knew Jesuits and were inspired by them. This is no longer the case. Of the 45 Jesuit novices who entered this year in Canada and the U.S., only 13 went to Jesuit high schools.” Breault spells out the obvious: “We simply can’t rely on what worked 25 years ago. Jesuit vocation outreach is adapting to meet contemporary realities.”
“Father General has said for years now that vocation promotion is the work of every single Jesuit and every Jesuit apostolate,” Breault says, noting that most Jesuits and their colleagues would agree with Fr. General, “but quite often folks just don’t know how to go about it.”
For November’s Jesuit Vocation Promotion Month, Breault hopes to remedy the situation by sending a Vocation Promotion Toolkit to every Jesuit, Jesuit colleague and Jesuit apostolate in the U.S. and Canada.
“We want to take the good will that already exists regarding vocation promotion and empower people by giving them some useful tools,” says Breault.
The Toolkit was created by Jesuit vocation directors and promoters, whom Breault describes as “our front line, the guys who do this 24/7 and know what works and what doesn’t work.” Inside the Toolkit are strategies for promoting vocations at Jesuit communities, parishes, retreat houses, middle schools, high schools, colleges, theological centers and even Jesuit retirement centers. “We hope that the suggestions in the Toolkit will allow vocation promotion to be an everyday part of everyone’s work in each of those settings.”
In addition to the Toolkit, Breault’s office will send weekly vocation promotion tips to Jesuits and their colleagues throughout the month of November, highlighting current best practices and pointing out the many promotion resources on the vocations website, www.jesuitvocations.org.
Breault’s first order of business, after becoming the Director of the Vocation Promotion Office, was to pore through Jesuit vocation materials, looking for “what men who were considering the religious life were looking for.” Phrases such as “spiritual growth,” “authenticity,” “service,” and “confident religious identity,” kept coming up, over and over. “We compiled a 'top 20' list and we incorporate these phrases in all our online outreach, which helps us target men who are already disposed to these qualities. This is just one of the new strategies we’re employing to replace outreach methods that no longer correspond to the way Jesuits encounter the world,” Breault explained.
Of course, social media has become a vital part of vocation promotion. Breault’s office operates @BeAJesuit on Twitter and Instagram. Interestingly, the Jesuit Vocations’ social media accounts aren’t geared exclusively toward men who might be interested in joining the Society.
“Our intention with Twitter and Instagram is to improve the likelihood that Jesuit vocations will be an occasional subject of normal family conversation.” According to Breault, statistics show that before he’ll make contact with the Society, “the average guy has to be asked three different times by friends, family or teachers if he’s ever thought about becoming a Jesuit.”
The strategy behind social media is to “raise the profile of the Jesuit vocation enough so that moms and dads and grandmas and uncles might turn to one of their family members and ask this vital question. We want to encourage everyday people to step up, to be one of the three.” For Breault, vocation promotion is not just about having events or speakers, but empowering and encouraging teachers, pastors, family, friends and coworkers to “ask the question.”
That’s why @BeAJesuit’s tagline doesn’t say “Are you interested in becoming a Jesuit?” but rather: “Know someone who'd make a great Jesuit? Tell him! Jesuit Vocations begin with a guy's family, friends and teachers. Bring the subject up. Ask the question!”
For men who are considering a Jesuit vocation, “but aren’t ready for questionnaires,” the Office of Vocation Promotion operates another Twitter account, @AskAboutTheJesuits, which provides quick answers to simple questions, “without the red tape,” Breault says. “You don’t have to pick up the phone or fill out a form to find out, for instance, can I enter the Society if I was recently baptized?”
It turns out that the easiest way to promote vocations may also be the most important: If you know someone who’d make a good Jesuit, ask him if he’s ever thought about it.
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.