Eric T. Immel, SJ
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
- Lived and worked on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota in the spring of 2013 and the summer of 2016.
- Worked at Arrupe College in Chicago, in its earliest years of existence.
- Served as a deacon at St. Katharine Drexel and St. Ignatius in Boston.
Will serve as vocation promoter for the Midwest Province and continue working toward his Master of Theology in Black Catholic Studies from Xavier University of Louisiana.
Eric Immel, SJ, is a native Wisconsinite, born in Madison and raised in Green Bay. After meeting the Jesuits at Saint Louis University during undergraduate studies, he continued working in the world of the Society of Jesus at Creighton University before entering the novitiate in 2011. Currently studying at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and Xavier University of Louisiana, he was ordained a deacon in September of 2021 and looks forward to his priestly ordination in June of this year. His Jesuit life has included ministry on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota and at Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago. In addition, he has been a regular contributor to The Jesuit Post (2013-present), has worked as a spiritual director, has sung with a number of choirs during formation and has engaged in special studies with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. He currently serves as a deacon at St. Katharine Drexel Parish, a Black Catholic community, and at St. Ignatius Chestnut Hill, Boston’s Jesuit parish, and he accompanies students through Boston College’s Kairos retreat program. He enjoys music (playing and listening), reading and writing, and appreciates a good workout.
Bachelor’s degree, American studies, Saint Louis University; Master’s degree, educational leadership and policy analysis, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Master’s degree, social philosophy, Loyola University Chicago; Master of Divinity, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry
What is your favorite book, movie, music or TV show you’ve encountered since entering the Society? What did this movie/book/music/TV show teach you about yourself?
When “Ted Lasso” came out, I watched the first episode because 1) I thought Jason Sudeikis’s mustache was fantastic, and 2) I remembered the commercials where Ted Lasso was first introduced as a character. For me, the show provided an occasion to gather with other Jesuits and practice the fine art of relaxing. When each episode would come out, a few of us would gather and enjoy.
The show itself reminds me of three things: to be curious, to be honest and to attend to my interior life.
Regarding curiosity, this Jesuit life has afforded me countless opportunities to engage with people who are nothing like me. By nature of how we’ve all been raised, I sometimes find that I make quick assessments of others, even to the point of judging them, before I actually know anything about who they are, what their life has been like, what they read, who they associate with and what they’re passionate about. Curiosity is a tenant which, when I practice well, allows me to authentically encounter the other with tenderness and love and to see the divine immediately and eminently within them. Ted Lasso is a curious man, and I can learn from him on how to be ever more curious about everyone I meet.
Regarding honesty, I’ve found that in my Jesuit life, I’ve been moved by the benefit and impact of saying and hearing true things, no matter how hard they may be. A Jesuit friend once told me that “honest people don’t need good memories.” Jesus said that “the truth will set you free.” Much of this Jesuit life has been a confrontation with hard and beautiful truths in myself and within the people I love and serve. Like Ted Lasso, who says and hears true things, I never want to hide in the midst of dishonesty, instead trusting that honesty always leads to the good.
Regarding attention to my interior life, prayer, spiritual direction and therapy have been essential to my health and well-being. The entire second season of Ted Lasso attends to the mental health struggles of a number of characters, and with their attunement to their interior lives, they manage to get better and stay healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually. If I’m not well, I’m no good to the people I feel called to serve. Attention paid to my interior life has never been time wasted.
Who’s your favorite saint, and why?
My favorite saint is not officially a saint yet, but is well on his way: Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ.
The year was 1927. The place — Veracruz, Mexico. A young priest — Miguel Pro, ordained two years prior, was working underground to offer sacramental ministry to the people he was sent to serve. At the time, the Catholic Church across Mexico was being suppressed and persecuted under articles of its Constitution, signed into law just 10 years prior. And so Miguel Pro, himself a playful and joyful man, took on many identities to continue ministering in spite of the persecution. He sometimes dressed as a beggar and, by the cloak of night, used this disguise to elude law enforcement and join people in their homes to baptize babies, bless marriages and celebrate Mass. At times, he would enter jails disguised as an officer of the law and bring jailed Catholics communion. In fashionable neighborhoods, he would don a suit with a fresh flower on his lapel and procure goods that he redistributed among the poor. My favorite — he would dress as a street performer, juggling and doing magic tricks for families who would then invite him to their homes.
We know how these stories sometimes end. The government cooked up some false accusations against him and put him in jail. Not long after, he was sentenced to death by firing squad. On the day he died, he forgave his executioners out loud. When the firing squad lined up, he refused to accept a blindfold and faced them with his eyes wide open. As they fired upon him, Pro stretched out his arms in prayer, and shouted — “Viva Cristo Rey” — LONG LIVE CHRIST THE KING. He was named Blessed Miguel Pro in 1988 and now resides with Christ for all eternity, interceding on our behalf.
Pro reminds me to be brave, to be playful, to be relentless and to live with greater love than fear.
What was one particularly meaningful experience you had during your formation, and why was it meaningful to you?
I got to spend a summer in India several years back, and it was meaningful in a myriad of ways. While I had, at that point, lived in a number of different cities, the places I had occupied were all Midwestern American cities. India was anything but. At the onset of my time there, everything seemed to be opposite. I grew up eating with utensils, and in India, the people taught me to eat with my hands. I had always had the ability to turn on a faucet and trust the water I got, and in India, there were times when I had the privilege of carrying the water I needed for the day alongside humble and hardworking people. In the U.S., I was accustomed to people waiting in line, but in India, I learned the power of pushing forward and advocating for myself. I learned of a beautiful, humble, vibrant collection of cultures and people who loved God, cared for one another and faced the adversity of life in stunning, four-part harmony. It was utterly transformative.
Tell your vocation story. One catch: You must use only six words.
God wouldn’t leave me alone, so …
How has your spirituality changed since entering the Society?
Simply put, I’ve met Jesus. I entered the Society with a commitment to my faith and to the idea of being a Jesuit who honored the Jesuits I had met who so deeply impacted my life. But, beginning with my time in the novitiate and through making the Spiritual Exercises in various forms over these many years, I’ve come to know more fully the person whose name the Society bears. I’ve come to realize that without Jesus, my life as a Jesuit isn’t worth too much.
I remember a story about Pedro Arrupe, SJ, who was once asked by a skeptical reporter, “Who is Jesus, really?” And Arrupe responded: “Jesus is everything.” Finally, I can agree with him.
This is not to say that Jesus in my life is some kind of figure with whom I have an isolated relationship. I’m still hard-pressed to fully capture the spirit of, as Ignatius suggests, speaking with Jesus as one friend speaks to another. The relationship I have with the Lord remains elusive in some ways, and yet he saturates everything I am and everything I do. I see Christ in the many people I’ve been blessed to serve; they have shown me more fully who Jesus is to a world redeemed by his life, passion, death and resurrection. I see Jesus in the beauty of creation, as the Word who was in the beginning with God and is God. I see Jesus in the suffering of oppressed and marginalized people, and I see Jesus in the work of resolving structures of injustice that so deeply plague our world today. I see Jesus in my own life when I uncover the details of what has made me into … well … me, just as Jesus spent the better part of his life simply becoming who he was in his public ministry, and who he is even now, at work in the world and always laboring on our behalf in love. Jesus who heals with his words and his touch, Jesus who shares meals with the least among us and those whom society labels as the worst among us. Jesus, who himself had a life of prayer. Jesus who was at times afraid, sad, angry.
When I was in discernment, I was a ‘God’ guy — a first person of the Trinity guy. I was reluctant to let Jesus into my life. But, through the often gentle (but sometimes arresting) invitation that Jesus puts before me each day — to see him more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly — I have come to understand more deeply that he is the way, the truth and the life. Moving forward, I find myself more and more excited to share in the Eucharistic table as a servant committed to Christ and to help point people toward his presence in word, in sacrament and in themselves.