Manuel Chavira Jr., SJ
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
- Lived with and served the Yupik people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region in western Alaska during his novitiate poverty experiment.
- Lived and worked with homeless and recovering men at Blanche House in Portland, Oregon, during his novitiate short experiment.
- Served incarcerated youth and men in the California prison system during both his novitiate and regency.
Will serve as Catholic chaplain at San Quentin State Prison.
Manuel Chavira Jr., SJ, was born and raised in Fullerton, California. He is the eldest of the five children of Deacon Manuel and Carmen Chavira. Prior to entering the Society of Jesus, Manuel served in the U.S. Marine Corps and worked for nearly 20 years as an oil refinery operator in Southern California. Deciding on a career change, Manuel left the refinery and enrolled at UC Berkeley where he majored in philosophy as preparation for attending law school.
However, a “Come and See” event that he attended, held by the Jesuits at the nearby Jesuit School of Theology, changed his law career plans. Right after he received his philosophy degree from UC Berkeley, Manuel entered the Society of Jesus at their novitiate in Culver City, California. While in the novitiate, Manuel’s apostolic work with the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, led by Fr. Mike Kennedy, SJ, helped him to begin a discernment in prison ministry. Manuel’s long experiment, in the second year of the novitiate, as the assistant Catholic chaplain at San Quentin State Prison confirmed this calling.
After taking vows as a Jesuit, full-time ministry was put on hold, and Manuel began first studies at the University of Toronto’s Regis College. Since he had just received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Manuel’s first studies were spent acquiring his theology degrees. He received a Master of Divinity, as well as a Bachelor of Sacred Theology and a Master of Sacred Theology. While in first studies, Manuel’s apostolic work consisted of working with the First Nations people at St. Ann’s Parish in Toronto as well as assisting at St. Peter’s Parish also in Toronto.
Upon completion of his theology studies, Manuel was hired by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and began his regency as the Catholic chaplain at San Quentin State Prison. His first Mass will be at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fullerton, the church his parents were married in and where he was baptized. After ordination, Manuel will continue to serve as the Catholic Chaplain at San Quentin State Prison.
Bachelor’s degree, philosophy, University of California, Berkeley; Master of Divinity, Regis College, University of Toronto; Bachelor of Sacred Theology, Regis College, University of Toronto; Master of Sacred Theology, Regis College, University of Toronto
What is your favorite book you’ve encountered since entering the Society?
One of my favorite books is the “The Power and the Glory” by Graham Greene.
What this book helped me to recognize about myself is my growing awareness of what the sacramental priesthood requires. In the preface of the version I read, Greene talks about his recognition of imperfect men participating in the sacramental priesthood of Christ. This really resonated with me in the story, particularly because Greene purposefully never names his antihero priest or the priest in the final scene who comes to take his place. I saw in this an understanding of the sacramental priesthood that calls for an anonymity of sorts. I began to see that as long as the imperfect man holds onto the self, he will never fully be able to respond to Christ’s call. A surrendering, a dying of the self, must occur in order for the sacramental priesthood to come to its true fruition. While the antihero priest in Greene’s story does this in a very imperfect and even scandalous way, he nonetheless, in the end, stays true to the process of self-emptying that God has called him to. While I have no desire to emulate the flaws of Graham’s antihero priest, I do pray for the grace to abandon all desire for self-glorification and empowerment, and even recognition, in order that who I am, instead, becomes who I follow. Christ crucified and risen, through whom lies true power and glory.
Who’s your favorite saint, and why?
My favorite saint is St. Maria Goretti. She is my favorite saint because she forgave the man who murdered her. This is not something to be taken lightly. It is almost humanly impossible to truly forgive like this. Because forgiveness is not forgetfulness. Neither is forgiveness a call for justice not to take place. It was pure grace that was given to Maria in order for her to forgive like this. The depth of the reality of her forgiveness can be seen in the life of her assailant Alessandro Serenelli. Serenelli spent 27 years in prison for his crime against Maria. And, once paroled, he spent the remainder of his life doing penance for his sin by working as a lay brother for the Capuchin Franciscans. Serenelli experienced true compunction by the grace of Maria’s forgiveness.
Tell your vocation story. One catch: You must use only six words.
I allowed God to love me.
What brings you joy?
This is a great question. Oftentimes, I’ve been asked, are you happy? And while I am happy doing what I am doing it is not the same thing as joy. I was very happy before I was a Jesuit but, for some strange reason, I never recognized the joy I experienced in that early happiness. I think it is because before I was a Jesuit, there was always a sense of give and take to my happiness. I was most happy when I was given something in return for what I gave or when I was given something for free. Like the love my parents showed me. Yet, as a Jesuit I not only experience happiness but a joyfulness that comes about because I expect nothing in return for what I am trying to give. All I am trying to do these days is point to Christ. And it is in this that I find unbelievable joy.
Once, I came upon a group of inmates at San Quentin who were doing an impromptu Bible study together. When I walked into the room, they all looked at me and asked, “Manny, can you do a communion service for us?” What great joy that brought me! Because I saw, in their eyes, their love for Christ. Their desire to follow him like I am trying to do. I don’t know where this joy came from. It was like I was watching them in a relationship with Christ and I became a part of it. This does not happen all the time of course, but it happens often enough to sustain me in this strangely beautiful vocation.