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2024 Ordinands

Bryan Paulsen, SJ

Province: USA Midwest

Hometown: Warrenville, Illinois

Highlights of Jesuit Formation:

  1. As a novice during the 30-day pilgrimage, begged his way from New York City to Portland, Oregon, and back to St. Paul, Minnesota, with stops in Cincinnati and St. Louis, sleeping on the streets and in homeless shelters throughout.
  2. Performed acoustic covers of contemporary pop songs for Loyola University Chicago undergraduates as part of the “Folkin’ Jesuits.”
  3. Accompanied young adults on retreat at the Ignatius Press retreat house and vineyard in Guerneville, California.
Bryan is ordained a deacon by Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California.

Post-Ordination:
Will serve as assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Notre Dame.

Education:
Bachelor’s degree, chemical engineering, Trine University; Master’s degree, social philosophy, Loyola University Chicago; Master of Divinity, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University; Doctor of Philosophy, materials science and engineering, University of Minnesota

Bryan does scullery duty in the Gonzaga House formation community at Loyola University Chicago.

Biography:
Bryan D. Paulsen, SJ, was born and raised in the west suburbs of Chicago by a full complement of biological and stepparents. The youngest sibling, he was preceded by an older brother and stepsister. Growing up in a fundamentalist evangelical Protestant tradition, Bryan was heavily involved in his small Bible church, especially through youth groups, worship bands and small group Bible studies. After a public K-12 education, Bryan attended Trine University to study chemical engineering, where he was again very involved in worship bands and small groups through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Christian Campus House. While in engineering graduate school at the University of Minnesota, Bryan first encountered the Jesuits through literature (e.g., Voltaire, Thomas Mann, Italo Calvino). This led Bryan to get involved in local faith-based community organizing through Saint Thomas More Parish, near his residence in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was in this parish that Bryan entered the Roman Catholic Church in 2008. After the completion of his Ph.D., Bryan entered the Jesuit novitiate, and two years later took perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at that same parish.

As a Jesuit, Bryan studied philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, where he also ministered to unhoused LGBTQ+ young adults on Chicago’s North Side. Bryan spent his regency as a post-doctoral researcher in the biomedical engineering department at Northwestern University and accompanied Catholic graduate students and young adults through the Sheil Catholic Center. Following regency, Bryan was missioned to Berkeley, California, to study theology at the Jesuit School of Theology and to continue his scientific research endeavors at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource. During this time, Bryan ministered at the Newman Center at the University of California, Berkeley, where he served as a deacon. He will celebrate his first Mass at the Madonna della Strada Chapel on Loyola University Chicago’s campus. After a summer pastoral assignment, Bryan will be missioned to the University of Notre Dame as an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Bryan (back row, center) with his family after professing vows in St. Paul, Minnesota.

What are three words a family member or fellow Jesuit would use to describe you? Do you agree with his or her selections?
“Gregarious, analytical, hospitable.”

While I agree, this may be a bit too charitable. Loud and abrasive might be more accurate than gregarious. I am definitely analytical, which seems appropriate given my training as an engineer. As for being hospitable, the upside of being an extrovert is I love to host people for a meal or cocktails. And I make a mean Manhattan, if I do say so myself.

Bryan (left) and Nicholas Albin, SJ, on their way to see a presidential candidate stump speech in Milwaukee.

Who’s your favorite saint, and why?
St. Thomas Aquinas is one of my favorite saints because he courageously appropriated Aristotelianism, a philosophy dormant in the West and championed by Islamic philosophers, and made it thoroughly Christian and the foundation of Catholic theology. This is an important model for the church today as we interact with many seemingly non-Christian intellectual traditions. We should not be afraid to learn them, nor be afraid to boldly reshape them for the good of the faith.

What do you love about the Society of Jesus?
I love the spirit-led Jesuit charism and structure of formation. I love the way God has met me and consoled me at each stage of formation. Within the Society I have found it so easy to be authentically myself. This is despite the fact that formation in the Society of Jesus has deeply challenged and shaped me. The way formation has changed me has revealed to me who I really am and who God intends me to be.

Bryan (kneeling, right) at the Exploratorium in San Francisco with graduate students and young adults for Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish in Berkeley, California.

Where has your Jesuit vocation taken you that you never thought you would go?
To a particle accelerator. While I hoped to leverage my science and engineering background as a Jesuit, I imagined this would be limited to teaching science at one of our schools. I didn’t realize my Jesuit formation would lead me to carry out experiments at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, leveraging a kilometer circumference particle accelerator to produce ultra brilliant high energy X-rays to probe the intermolecular structure of matter. I am so thankful that God’s imagination and my Jesuit superiors’ imagination of what I could do as a Jesuit was greater than my own. But in hindsight it makes perfect sense, as “finding God in all things” means in “ALL THINGS,” including scientific research.