Joseph Kraemer, SJ
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
- As a novice, traveled with a classmate from Los Angeles to Boston and back for the 30-day poverty pilgrimage.
- During philosophy studies in the U.K., served as chaplain at Windmill Lodge Care Home in Brixton, finished the London marathon and was the last Jesuit philosophy student at Heythrop College before its closure in 2019.
- Served joyfully as a deacon at Corpus Christi Parish in Piedmont, California.
Will serve in prison chaplaincy with Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative Northwest in Seattle.
Joe Kraemer, SJ, was born and raised in Richmond, Indiana, by his amazing parents, Mike and Melanie Kraemer, and with two awesome brothers, Mitch and Matthew. When Joe was 13, after he had expressed some curiosity about the priesthood, his father drove him to Xavier University in Cincinnati to meet his first Jesuit vocation director. Joe attended Hillsdale College in Michigan and majored in English with an emphasis in Shakespeare. After graduation, he was blessed to work at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger in Washington, D.C. When his boss became director of the Drama Division at the Juilliard School, Joe was hired to help create and run the Playwrights Program there. For the next 15 years, he found great joy working at Lincoln Center and shepherding young writers and actors. While in New York, Joe also taught dramatic writing at Barnard College and sold a television show with his writing partner to Warner Bros. Television, where he later worked for the actors Martin and Charlie Sheen in their film and television production company.
Thirty years after meeting the Jesuits in Cincinnati, Joe joined the Society of Jesus in Los Angeles. As a novice, Joe loved his apostolic work in prison ministry with Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative and living in a L’Arche intentional community in Seattle with people who have intellectual disabilities. He received his master’s degree in philosophy from the University of London and enjoyed his regency assignment fundraising with the Jesuits West Advancement Office. Most recently, Joe earned his Master of Divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University and served as a deacon at Corpus Christi parish in Piedmont, California. His first Mass will be at his home parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. After ordination, Joe is eager to return to active prison ministry and his first assignment will be with Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative NW, based in Seattle.
Bachelor’s degree, English, Hillsdale College; Master’s degree, philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London; Master of Divinity, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University
Who’s your favorite saint, and why?
My first memory of feeling sad for someone in the Bible was the rich man in Matthew 19:22 who chose not to follow Jesus “and went away sad, because he had great wealth.” So I have always been consoled by the life of my favorite saint, Katharine Drexel, an American heiress and the second person born in the United States to be canonized a saint. Katharine Drexel never seemed sad or sorry to give her wealth away as she followed the Lord with a deep, Eucharistic faith. Her rich parents taught her excellent values and later, with the wise counsel of family and friends (and popes and bishops!), she used her great family wealth to provide education for the very poor in this country. At the time of her death, she had used more than $12 million of her inheritance for her charitable and apostolic missions. Katharine Drexel inspires me to serve joyfully and, in the end, to give away every last cent for Jesus.
What is one hobby you’ve cultivated as a Jesuit, and why is it important to you?
In junior high, I started to keep a daily journal. It’s a hobby that has been a fun way for me to save stories and collect life experiences. It has also helped me to create some order when the world has felt chaotic. Over decades, I have gotten to know myself better by revealing fears and feelings in my diary (which one day must be buried deep in the Jesuit archives!). As I age, I have also found that journaling is relaxing and de-stressing. But it was only after I became a Jesuit that my daily observations grew more spiritual. The Ignatius who suggested we search out God in all things could not have met a readier student than me, who always found pleasure in paying attention to people, places and the day’s events. Now I record God’s light touch and the working graces I see in everyday scenes. What was once just recreation and creative exercise is now one of my most meaningful forms of prayer.
What was one particularly meaningful experience you had during your formation, and why was it meaningful to you?
As a novice, I lived in a L’Arche intentional community with some wonderful folks, including a woman I’ll call Beth who has Down syndrome and smiled at everything. Beth loved to sing. Every night before bed, we sat with our housemates for tea and a sing-along: Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and the house favorite, John Denver’s “Country Roads.” With the clamor we made, I still can’t believe our neighbors never called the police. When the time arrived for me to return to Los Angeles, Beth began to collect felt and material to make herself a costume. She said she wanted to dress up like a nun and come back to the novitiate with me, having made up her mind to live out the rest of her days with us as our Jesuit sister. I tried to explain that a nun’s life can be challenging, but she didn’t care about that. As far as Beth was concerned, she wanted to sing her life away, as all nuns do, of course. “Most of all,” she added, “I won’t have to tell you goodbye.” I watched her work with her stapler, glitter gun and felt pieces with tears in my eyes. It was around this time that I learned a particularly Jesuit lesson and one I think is true for all of us. The Austrian poet Rilke put it best when he said, “We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.” Jesuits have to let go a lot. It’s never easy, but love is a generous teacher.
Tell your vocation story. One catch: You must use only six words.
God caught me and held on.