Simon P. Zachary, SJ
Province: USA West
Hometown: Glendale, Arizona
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
- Taught English as a second language (ESL) at St. Rita’s Center in the Bronx, New York, where he accompanied migrants and refugees.
- Returned to his alma mater, Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, to develop and teach a social studies curriculum and to be closer to his mom before her passing.
- Spent a semester studying French and theology at Centre Sèvres, a Jesuit theologate in Paris.
Will serve at Seattle Preparatory School, teaching theology and social studies and assisting in campus ministry and adult faith formation.
Bachelor’s degree, business administration, Gonzaga University; Master’s degree, political economy, Fordham University; Master’s degree, Catholic educational leadership, University of San Francisco; Master of Divinity, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University
Simon P. Zachary, SJ, was born and raised in Glendale, Arizona, by his two loving parents alongside his two sisters. He met the Jesuits as a high school student at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix. As an undergrad, Simon attended another Jesuit institution: Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. There, he majored in business administration and was equally captivated by international politics, service work and issues of economic justice. Curious about the business world, he worked with some stellar colleagues in Microsoft’s online advertising division for six years after graduation. During that time, he held various roles in account management and in technical account management. Meanwhile, Simon felt God’s gentle tug toward religious life, and he finally entered the Society of Jesus in 2013.
As a novice in Culver City, California, he assisted at a juvenile hall facility, served as a hospital chaplain and accompanied students on retreats at a high school. He then studied international political economy and philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, where he also had the wonderful opportunity to teach English as a second language courses to immigrants. After completing his academic program there, Simon did his regency at his high school alma mater, Brophy. There, he helped develop and teach a variety of social studies courses while also assisting in service work, retreats and various clubs. Simon’s mother passed away while he was a regent in Phoenix, and he is immensely grateful to have accompanied her in her last years.
For his theology studies, Simon earned his Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California. During that time, he also completed a degree in Catholic educational leadership at the University of San Francisco and participated in a semester abroad program studying theology and French at Centre Sèvres in Paris. He was ordained a transitional deacon in October 2022 and served at St. Ignatius Parish, and occasionally at Notre Dame des Victoires Parish, both in San Francisco. Following his priestly ordination, Simon will serve at Seattle Preparatory School, teaching theology and social studies and assisting in campus ministry and adult faith formation.
What’s one interesting fact about yourself not everyone would know?
I actually had blond hair until the age of six! This is particularly odd given my ethnic and cultural heritage: My parents were originally from Egypt. Though my features look a little more typically Egyptian these days (olive skin, darker hair and eyes), looking through old photos reminds me of how complex and unique each of us are. The process of knowing and understanding one another, then, can sometimes take us a while, but is certainly worth the effort.
What is one hobby you’ve cultivated as a Jesuit, and why is it important to you?
In my first years as a Jesuit, I loved to go on long runs; the novitiate’s proximity to the beach certainly helped in that regard. After a couple of years, however, I found that my knees became achy. So, I did what anyone might do. I chose a hobby that had nothing to do with health: cooking and baking! Kidding aside, I try to balance healthy food with stuff that tastes good. (Ultimately, my housemates can tell you whether I am succeeding in that endeavor!) My latest pursuit has been homemade ice cream.
I do find that food is a way to show love and generativity toward my brothers, family and friends, and it’s also a means of sharing some recipes and traditions. And food can serve as an excuse to gather people together for good conversation!
How has your spirituality changed since entering the Society?
When I first entered the Jesuits, I saw the helpfulness of prayer but struggled to stay focused for extended periods of time. Fifteen minutes could sometimes feel like an eternity! I remember one of my novitiate brothers noting that he would easily become distracted in prayer, and that was very much my reality, too. Now, however, I find that prayer is much more free-flowing. A couple of months ago, I was on a retreat, and I lingered at the dinner table so long that a friend thought I was doing so to politely wait for him. “You don’t have to do that, we’re on a silent retreat!” he said. I responded, “Sorry, I knew that. I was just praying and gazing out through the window.”
I am not necessarily pious in a conventional sort of way. If you’d like an extensive exhortation on the lives of various saints, I could refer you to some of my Jesuit brothers instead of fielding those questions myself. But, I find my prayer to be rich because I am convinced that God is active in the world around us. Our founder, St. Ignatius, was onto something in his assertion of this. I am also finding that, as the years go by, life has taken me on a journey beyond what I could have ever imagined. I find it so necessary, then, to spend some time each day unpacking it all with a friend. As that friend, Jesus helps make things clearer and brings us peace as a balm for our hearts (Psalm 42).
Imagine you could travel back in time and meet yourself the first day you entered the Society of Jesus. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to yourself?
I find myself continually coming back to the musician John Lennon’s words: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I have found it quite true, then, especially in my years as a Jesuit, that the things I am likely so busy worrying about often never seem to materialize anyways. God continues to show up; God’s grace can be serendipitous, captivating us at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected of places. So, if I could go back in time, I would tell myself not to sweat the small stuff because life is too beautiful for that. Losing my dear mother, my best friend, to dementia three and a half years ago, was painful and no small occurrence. My mom taught me how to love others and to laugh; she did not have a selfish bone in her body. But, the sadness of her passing should be juxtaposed by the grace which followed. I am forever grateful for her example, as I am also to brother Jesuits, family and friends who showered me with love and support in the wake of her death. Grace is everywhere. All we have to do, I think, is to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open to it.
Who is one important mentor who has accompanied you on your journey? What made them a good mentor?
I could list dozens of Jesuits who have served as mentors to me. But, if I had to narrow it down, I would say both Tony Harris, SJ, and the late Tony Sauer, SJ, left big imprints on my heart. I met Tony Harris in my very first days as a novice; he helped me to stop worrying as much and to keep gratitude to God at the forefront of my prayer. Tony Harris will vest me as a priest during our ordination Mass, which is fitting given that he has very much helped shape my spirituality.
As for Tony Sauer, I got to know him while teaching high school in Phoenix. Tony was known for being gentle and encouraging to everyone around him. “You’re working too hard,” he would announce to everyone in nearly every scenario. He also had a profound humility to him. You would never know the things he accomplished over the years because he always made fun of himself instead. I think his only agenda was to spread God’s love wherever he might roam.