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2024 Ordinands

Curtis McKenzie, SJ

Province: Canada

Hometown: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Highlights of Jesuit Formation:

  1.  Completed the Spiritual Exercises twice.
  2. Made a 40-day pilgrimage to live with the impoverished.
  3. Met incredible people and made lasting friendships.

Post-Ordination:
Will continue with Ph.D. studies in theology at Fordham University while concurrently pursuing a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at Boston College.

Curtis teaches fellow Jesuit, Fr. Bill McCormick, a Texan, how to run a snowblower in Canada during theology studies.

Education:
Bachelor’s degree, commerce, University of Saskatchewan; Master’s degree, theological studies, University of Toronto; Master of Divinity and Bachelor of Sacred Theology, Regis College, University of Toronto

Curtis at the top of Xoxote Mountain, above Loyola, Spain, with a fellow Jesuit. They climbed 40,000 steps, with St. Ignatius waiting for them at the top.

Biography:
Curtis McKenzie, SJ, was born in Saskatoon, Canada, to Gary and Marjorie (nee Setka/Щітка) in 1976. He has a brother who is an optometrist in Edmonton and is married with two children. His paternal family immigrated from Scotland in 1863, first arriving in Montreal, where Alexander McKenzie and his wife Ella Wynne would later settle in Saskatchewan to farm. His maternal family immigrated from Bukovina, Ukraine, via the United States and then north from Montana into Canada. Dmytro Schitka and Anne Wasylenchuk arrived in 1916 with his grandfather Ivan (John), and the family settled near Wakaw, Saskatchewan. Mathew Petraschuk arrived in 1910 with his wife Anne Stoyko. His grandmother Doris was later born in Strong Pine, Saskatchewan. Both of Curtis’ parents were the first in their families to go to university; his father studied agriculture, education and computer science, and his mother studied pharmacy.

In 1998, Curtis graduated with a bachelor’s degree in commerce and later earned his CPA accounting designation in 2001. After undergraduate studies, he spent 18 years in various senior roles: first, with two major Canadian banks; later, with an energy company and a regional airline. In January of 2014, he moved to Assisi, Italy, for a sabbatical. He later arrived in Rome for the canonization of SS. John XXIII and John Paul II, starting work the next day at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson and Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ. In June of 2015, he entered the Society of Jesus. Over the next eight years, he completed several missions abroad while also studying philosophy, psychology and theology. He completed his graduate studies in theology at Regis College and at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute at the University of Toronto. In 2020, Curtis graduated with a Master of Theological Studies (MTS). In 2022, he graduated with a Bachelor of Sacred Theology and a Master of Divinity. In the spring of 2022, he was missioned to Fordham University to pursue a Ph.D. in Orthodox theology. In the fall of 2023, he was at Boston College for four months to begin a Licentiate in Sacred Theology concurrently.

Curtis leads an active life. In addition to work and studies, he enjoys recreation, music, visiting friends and several other interests. He has moved 28 times and has lived in several cities in Canada, the United States, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Spain, France, Italy, Vatican City and Ukraine. He has also visited more than 30 countries.

Curtis with Jesuits from around the world inside the cathedral in Salamanca, Spain, in the summer of 2023, when he was in Spain for language studies

How has your spirituality changed since entering the Society?
Being a Jesuit who serves and belongs to one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, specifically the Ukrainian Catholic Church, founded out of the Byzantine tradition, presents unique challenges and opportunities. One of the challenges is that the spirituality of the Jesuits — “Ignatian” in what it receives from St. Ignatius of Loyola and “Jesuit” in what it receives from the Constitutions and General Congregations — aligns more closely with Roman Catholicism and the development of spirituality in the West.

Curtis with his brother, niece and nephew in Chiusdino at the Abbey of San Galgano, while in Italy for Jesuit formation

Certainly, Byzantine and Roman spirituality share much in common. This includes a belief in the triune God, Jesus Christ, the church, the Holy Mysteries that we now call sacraments, and sacred texts such as the Bible. But they also vary from each other. The Roman Church has devotions like the rosary and Eucharistic adoration. The Eastern Catholic Churches, particularly those that are Byzantine in origin, have devotions to iconography, the Jesus Prayer … and one can hardly forget the vast quantities of incense! But what distinguishes my spirituality more than any other factor is setting aside the categories of East and West. How does one cut through spiritual materialism? What is the truth of our suffering? What does freedom mean, exactly? How does this relate to our spiritual well-being? Friendships? Family? Life in general?

When my journey began, my spirituality was mostly one of “new encounters.” Something real was before me, and I wished to understand what the realness was. And at times, I thought I did. But as time progressed, spirituality became less about understanding and more about entering. That is, entering specifically into a deep relationship with God as God is, not God as God is categorized. This meant coming to terms not just with the values of God — like poverty, humility and insults (particularly insults) — but also with the reality of God. Going the way of Christ was not an activity, a prayer period or a liturgy. It turned out to be, first, a way of life and then, over time, just life. Prayer, devotion and liturgy are necessarily part of this life, but life for me was not about the summation of the functional elements of these things.

There are still no easy answers. How does anyone explain the depth of a relationship that continuously advances and grows, like a mustard seed turning into a mustard tree? Or realizing that the seed of the sower lands only on good soil: There is neither bad seed nor bad soil. It has been a journey of going beyond finding and discovering. Instead, it has been accepting the spiritual gift of unity. Only with this unity does the rest make any sense. Why else would I give up what the world could offer unless there was a relationship that made all other offers seem secondary? It is a beautiful gift but a difficult journey. Not so much to come to know God, but to come to know myself as God sees me so that I might begin to see God as God is.

Curtis (right) walks the High Line in Manhattan with fellow Jesuits Brook Stacey (left) and Adam Pittman.

What’s one thing you would tell someone considering entering the Society today that you wish you had known?
Not to consider such questions. Which is better: to try vanilla ice cream for the first time? Or to think, had I only known about ice cream, I would have ordered chocolate! The most important thing is “to enter.” Whether entering is religious life, marriage, a profession, a community or new civic engagement. Life is to be lived, not a problem to be solved.

Curtis with fellow Jesuits from Jogues House at the Boston College Clough School of Theology and Ministry

What brings you joy?
Three delightful surprises. The first, the joy of discovering my true vocation. The second, the joy of friends and family. The third, the joy of life that has been given to me.