Brian A. Strassburger, SJ
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
- Worked for Jesuit Refugee Service in South Africa in summer 2015.
- Ran cultural and social issue youth programs in Leon and San Dionisio, Nicaragua, during regency.
- Served The Jesuit Post as a writer, pop culture editor and editor-in-chief.
Will go to the U.S.-Mexico border to serve in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, to respond to pastoral needs in the area, with a particular focus on the migrant community.
Brian A. Strassburger, SJ, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He lived in five states in his first 10 years until his family settled in Denver, Colorado, in 1994. He went to Regis Jesuit High School and was active in the Boy Scouts, earning the rank of Eagle in 2001. Brian went to college at Saint Louis University, where he majored in mathematics, with a certificate in business administration and a minor in philosophy. During college, he was an active member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. After graduation, Brian joined the Augustinian Volunteers (AVs), a post-graduate volunteer program. For his first year, he lived in the Bronx, New York, where he worked for a non-profit called Water for Waslala, which was building clean water systems in Nicaragua. Brian signed on for a second year with the AVs and went to Durban, South Africa, where he worked three days a week in an elementary school and boys’ home and two days a week in a hospice for AIDS patients. After two years of volunteer work, he was hired by the Augustinian Mission Office in Villanova, Pennsylvania, where he worked for two and a half years. In 2011, Brian entered the Society of Jesus in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. During the novitiate, he spent time at Cherith Brook Catholic Worker in Kansas City, Missouri; Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Houston; and in the interior of Guyana, South America. After professing vows, he went to Fordham University, where he earned a master’s degree in international political economy and development (IPED), and he spent a summer working for Jesuit Refugee Service in South Africa. For regency, Brian was missioned to Managua, Nicaragua, to work at the Roncalli Association/John XXIII, a Jesuit-founded nonprofit. He helped with small business development projects in rural communities and ran a youth formation program. Brian next went to Boston College where he earned a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Theology degree. Throughout his formation, Brian has contributed to The Jesuit Post (TJP), an online platform run by Jesuits in formation with articles and videos. For the last two years, he has served as TJP’s editor-in-chief. While in Boston, Brian was the chaplain to the Boston College men’s basketball team, worked as a prison chaplain and served as a deacon at St. Mary of the Angels Parish. After ordination, he will head to the U.S.-Mexico border to serve in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, to respond to pastoral needs in the area, with a particular focus on the migrant community.
Honors Bachelor of Arts, mathematics, Saint Louis University; Master’s degree, international political economy and development (IPED), Fordham University; Master of Divinity, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry; Master of Theology, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry
What is your favorite TV show you’ve encountered since entering the Society?
At Hurtado House where I live in Boston, we have a custom of watching a TV show together as a house on Wednesday nights. When I first arrived in 2018, we started watching the TV show “The Americans,” a spy thriller about the complex marriage of two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban D.C. in the 1980s. The show inverts expectations: “Should I be cheering for these two Russian spies??” It does an excellent job at creating and developing compelling characters who are balancing their duties with their own consciences. But most of all, I appreciated gathering weekly with the house to watch the next episode, along with the conversation we would have about episodes every week. It took a full two years for us to make our way through the six seasons of the show, which is a far cry from binge-watching a series!
Who’s your favorite saint, and why?
One of my favorite saints is St. Óscar Romero of El Salvador. He experienced a profound conversion later in life when he was already a bishop that inspired him to speak out against poverty and injustice amid the civil war in El Salvador. His condemnations of the government that was murdering and torturing citizens led to his own martyrdom. Archbishop Romero was shot and killed while standing at the altar celebrating Mass. I am inspired by his openness to conversion later in his adult life and his relentless conviction to speak out on behalf of the poor. He committed the ultimate act of sacrifice out of love for the people of El Salvador by giving his own life. I visited the chapel where he was martyred in the summer of 2011, just one month before I entered the novitiate. Archbishop Romero said, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.” In my experiences in Central America, his spirit is alive and continues to inspire and animate the people.
Another favorite saint of mine is Mother Teresa. She was a model of radical love of the poor and marginalized, founding the Missionaries of Charity who run hospices, orphanages and leper houses around the world. Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity also live their poverty radically, clothed in their distinct white and blue saris. In the chapel of every community hangs a single crucifix with the words “I thirst.” For Mother Teresa, these final words of Jesus on the cross were a reminder that Jesus thirsts for our love. And we can only satiate that thirst by showing our love for Jesus in how we care for each other, especially the poor. Mother Teresa tells us, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Her model of poverty and message of love continue to inspire me. Before entering the Society, I made a trip to Kolkata, India, where I spent a day volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity at their home for the dying. I joined the sisters for Mass in their chapel and prayed before Mother Teresa’s tomb.
What do you love about the Society of Jesus?
I love so many things about the Society of Jesus! I love that our spirituality is rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and our personal relationship with Jesus. I loved the opportunity to make the 30-day retreat as a novice, which was the most profound and foundational spiritual experience of my life. I love the Examen as a regular practice to identify God’s grace in my life and my own response to it. I love our community as mission and how we support one another in our lives and vocations. I love our apostolic ministry: in education and in social and pastoral ministry. I love meeting older Jesuits, asking them where they have lived and worked and listening to the diverse experiences of their lives and the wisdom they have gained. I love the commitment of the Society of Jesus to go to the margins and proclaim the Gospel. I love…Jesus! (From whom the Society takes its name!)
What was one particularly meaningful experience you had during your formation, and why was it meaningful to you?
My pilgrimage during the novitiate remains one of the most meaningful experiences of my formation. It can be organized differently depending on which novitiate you go to, but for our group, we were given $5 and a one-way bus ticket to a place we hadn’t been before. We could bring nothing else with us beside a backpack of clothes and basic essentials. We weren’t allowed to use the phone or internet. We weren’t supposed to visit family or friends. Instead, we had to find hospitality however we could in order to get places to stay along the way and continue on the journey. It was an experience of complete immersion into the world. I had to rely entirely on the generosity of strangers for everything from food to eat, a shelter to sleep and money to catch the next bus. For my pilgrimage, I traveled 4,000 miles across the country over 23 days, and at the end of it all, I still had that same $5 bill in my pocket.
There are so many stories I could share from pilgrimage it could fill a book (and I’m always happy to share a story or two on request!). I unearthed pieces of brick from the old Jesuit novitiate in Macon, Georgia; I was invited to speak to the entire congregation at a Haitian/Creole Mass in Tampa; I met my first-grade teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and I went with some local seminarians to the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, Iowa. There are too many remarkable moments along the way to count. But behind them all: evidence of God at work in my life.
Who is one important mentor who has accompanied you on your journey? What made them a good mentor?
One important mentor in my Jesuit life has been TJ Martinez, SJ. He was the President of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Houston when I went there as a novice. Like so many others, I was taken in by his remarkable charisma and boundless energy. He was the kind of guy that seemed to have inside jokes with just about everyone he met. If you knew TJ at all, you felt like you were a close friend of his — that’s how he made everyone feel. He loved to laugh and smile, and he wrote emails just like he talked: full of exclamation points!
TJ was beloved by everyone: students, faculty, administrators, donors and corporate partners. And he was a tirelessly hard worker, getting up long before sunset to fit in a run on the treadmill and often finishing the day by celebrating Mass in our house chapel at 9 or 10 p.m. at night, when he finally got home from work and meetings and dinner commitments. TJ made me feel welcome from Day 1, even amid his busy schedule. We had conversations about the school and about our Jesuit life and vocation.
Just a few months after I left Houston, TJ went to tertianship in Nairobi, Kenya. He came back to Houston after tertianship with a renewed vigor and energy. But he started having stomach problems. The diagnosis came back: stage 4 stomach cancer. Devastating news and completely unexpected. TJ was just 43 years old. He had only been a priest for seven years. The school was just a few months removed from celebrating its first-ever graduating class. This was not part of the plan.
I had finished the novitiate, and I was studying at Fordham University. TJ had told me that he had plans to visit New York, and that we should connect. But when the diagnosis came, that all changed. So, I made plans with a few other young Jesuits to visit TJ in Houston that summer before I had to start classes again at Fordham. I wasn’t sure what to expect. We told TJ that we just wanted to spend time with him, even if that mostly meant resting and laying low at the Jesuit community. Ha! As if! TJ, always an energetic host, pulled out all the stops, despite the fact that he had lost a tremendous amount of weight and was continuing to suffer through medical treatments. He celebrated Mass for us every day. He took us out to a nice dinner. He brought us to Cristo Rey to show off the school. And of course, TJ threw us a big party! In typical TJ fashion, there were t-shirts and trucker hats made with the message “I party with TJ” on them.
But the most moving part of the visit was a conversation with had with TJ on the back porch of the community after we got back from dinner one night. He spoke from the heart about his diagnosis and his prayer life since he got the news. He told us about his suffering through the treatment, which had made his life so uncomfortable. He spoke about making the 30-day retreat in Nairobi during his tertianship, and how close he felt to the suffering Christ of the Third Week. In that conversation with TJ, it was so clear to me that he had completely embraced the spirit of the First Principle and Foundation. He desired neither a long life nor a short life: He was free from any attachments and saw it all from the perspective of holy Christian indifference. His one desire was to use all the circumstances of his life, including his cancer diagnosis, to praise, reverence and serve God.
This was the last time I saw TJ. Three months later, on November 28, 2014, he passed away. In my six weeks working at Cristo Rey, TJ taught me so much about how to live as a Jesuit. In the last months of his life, TJ taught me how to die as one. In that final conversation I had with him in Houston, TJ said that our modern American society has confidence in today and hope for the future. But our Christian faith tells us to reverse that: have confidence in the future which gives hope for today. TJ lived his last days in confidence in the future: that he was on the path to God, where he now rests.