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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Father John A Coleman, SJ

Gordon: When you were considering your vocation to be a priest, why did you choose the Jesuits?

Father John: I was never interested in just being a priest but wanted to be a Jesuit. I had gone to the Jesuit high school in San Francisco and was deeply interested in a scholastic who taught me sociology and economics. I wanted to do a degree ( I got a PHD from Berkeley in it) in sociology and be a professor which I was until I was 72 years old.

Gordon: Where did you attend seminary and what are some of your memories of your seminary studies?

Father John: We studied in Los Gatos, California for two years after our novitiate and then I did a BA and first MA at Saint Louis University. I also did my four years of theology at Alma College in Los Gatos and was ordained in 1967. I had fond memories of my studies in Los Gatos but also Saint Louis University. We had generally good teachers and in those days there were lots of Jesuit seminarians and in Saint Louis from all over the country ( and even the world).

Gordon: Since Pope Francis is a Jesuit, in your opinion, how had his Jesuit training influence his Papacy?

Father John: Francis was a delegate to the Jesuit General Congregation 32 which insisted on the faith that does justice ( a major theme of his papacy). He also speaks a lot as pope about discernment which is a central Jesuit notion.

Gordon: When did you join the staff of St Ignatius in San Francisco and what have your found most rewarding in your ministry?

Father John: I joined the staff of St. Ignatius in January 2009 after teaching 12 years as the Casassa Professor of Social Values at Loyola Marymount University and 23 years at the Jesuit School of Theology and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I also did visiting Professorships in Australia ( University of Western Australia, 2005 and 2007. I taught in Furen University in Taiwan and held a visiting chair at Louvain in Belgium. I find preaching very rewarding and also spiritual direction. I like also working with mature adults. I do the adult faith formation program ( some 12 lectures or discussions on Sundays a semester) which I enjoy—both lining up speakers and doing some of the talks myself. I work with our advocacy committee on issues of human trafficking and that is also something I like. I like also hearing confessions.

Gordon: You have an exceptional blog at St. Ignatius with an extraordinary diverse range of topics.  How important are blogs as an effective communication resource for parishes?

Father John: Hard to say. I know some parishioners read my blogs but, surprisingly, so do a number of non-parishioners. From time to time I get e-mails saying the reader liked them. Saint Ignatius has a parishioner base with some 85 % college graduates or further degrees so they are quite literate.

Father John: Well, we do not need more oil with climate change upon us and the pipeline trespasses land sacred to native Americans.

Gordon: Could you provide an overview to our readers on our moral responsibilities to protect the environment?

Father John: I think Pope Francis has done this well in his encyclical Laudato Si—it is God’s creation and every being in some sense mirrors God.

Gordon: I read your commentary when you received an invitation to serve on Board of Directors of the California Interfaith Power and Light. Could you provide an overview of the work of California Interfaith Power and Light?

Father John: California Interfaith power and light is an ecumenical and inter-religious assortment of congregations, parishes, synagogues and Moslem groups which work on education about climate change, responsible ecology and work to implement responsible power usage in their congregation ( which can save money), to educate in the parish on the issues of responsible ecology and to lobby and advocate for laws respecting the environment in our local cities and the state of California. There are 40 some interfaith power and light groups in different states in the United States. We fought, for example, to keep trains filled with coal destined for China to find a port in Oakland.

Gordon: In your opinion, what are some of the other challenges that our new administration are facing that have significant moral considerations?

Father John: Obviously how we treat the undocumented immigrants or work with refugees from around the world. Also how to provide health care that is accessible and provides cost help to the poor and middle class. Health is a human right and the state, in its concern for the common good, needs to provide good health care possibilities. Caring for the poor, the sick, the migrants are all Christian moral imperatives.

Gordon: Human Trafficking has become a pandemic in the United States. What recommendation would you suggest to parishes who may want bring this challenges to the attention of their members?

Father John: Saint Ignatius spent a year discerning what moral issue to take on for advocacy ( not just caring for victims but working for structural justice). We considered ecological justice, economic justice, immigration, restorative justice for those in prison and their victims and human trafficking. We picked human trafficking. We have tried to educate the parish on the issue ( and it is not just something at a distance—it is in our city and neighboring counties). It is important to link up with other groups who have resources, information and advocacy suggestions perhaps beyond our parish’s initial purview.

Gordon: Thank you for your service to San Francisco and to everywhere where your extraordinary blog and insights into the human condition and our responsibilities to each other are so effectively detailed.


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