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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Father Rick Malloy, SJ

Gordon:  How did you end up becoming a Jesuit priest?


Fr. Rick:  By the wild and wonderful Grace of God.  I was by anyone’s estimation the least likely in the history of St Joe’s Prep in Philly to become a Jesuit priest.  The Jesuits there were the most surprised (and maybe a little skeptical) when they heard I’d entered the novitiate.  You see in my years in high school, I was a tough and loud football player kind of kid.  At Lafayette college in Easton, PA, I was involved mostly in football, lacrosse, fraternity life and chasing ladies. 


But then one night of wild fraternity partying (we made Belushi’s Animal house look like choir boys), I fell down a flight of steps and split my head open pretty badly.  After a couple of days in the hospital, and after seeing the concerned looks on the faces of my friends, I realized my partying life was pretty out of control.  Don’t know how or why, but I walked out on Campus a few nights later, looked up at a full moon and said, “OK, God, if you’re there, do something.”  Nothing happened.  I thought, “Shoot, so much for God. ”But a few weeks later, quite curiously and unpredictably, I ended up working as an orderly in a nursing home.  That summer job changed my life.  Helping those elderly people as they died, filled me with a joy and fervor for service I never knew existed.  It also made me wonder: “What will I do with the rest of my life?  And what happens when we die?”


The idea of being a priest, which I’d thought of in passing once or twice as a kid, begin to bounce around in my heart and head.  But I thought there’s no way given the past few years of my life that they’d let me be a priest.  Still, I decided to take a year off from college to see if this was a real call or not.  I started to go to daily Mass after not having been going to Mass regularly for years.

Long and short of it, I got in touch with the Jesuits.  After a year, I was encouraged to apply.  I really thought given my checkered past I’d never get in.  But, miracle of miracles, on April 1, 1976, I was accepted.  April Fools Day!   And the rest, as they say is history


Gordon:  But that was just the beginning of the road to priesthood, right?


Fr. Rick:  Right. Two years as a novice, three years studying Philosophy in Saint Louis, three years teaching and doing pastoral work in Chile, and then four years of Theology in Boston were ahead of me.  One thing that surprises people is to hear that all those years don’t seem all that long for a Jesuit.  At least they didn’t for me. 


You see, we take perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at the end of the two-year novitiate.  At that point, I was in for life.  All those years weren’t spent waiting to be a priest.  Those years were working to open myself to the graces of being a Jesuit, to living religious life as a mysticism of service.  Years spent getting to know Jesus in prayer.  Ordination was an indescribable gift.  Being able to serve the people of God as a priest made me capable of serving in new ways.  But I joke that after ordination, the most notable change to the human eye, was that I could no longer sleep thorough homilies!


Gordon:  What is it like being a Jesuit priest?


Fr. Rick:  What a question!  In some ways, it’s like being on a highway going 75 mph and throwing away the wheel.  In other ways, it’s a life of the most indescribable combination of prayer, hard work, joys, trials and tribulations, peace, and the realization that all is gift.  Being a Jesuit allows me the consolation of spending my life being fascinated by God, being fed by the Eucharist, and being in relationship with so many people; Jesuits, family and friends, people served, in all of which and in whom I strive to find God.  Finding God in all realities was the way St. Ignatius put it.  Being a Jesuit is knowing one is a sinner called to be a companion of Jesus.  We Jesuits struggle for faith and promote justice.  It’s a great life, an incredible gift.


The main thing is that Jesuits are Servants of Christ’s Mission.  We are lucky.  We get to make the full thirty-day Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius twice in our lives, and eight day retreats each year.  There we open ourselves in prayer, to the reality and power of God in our lives.  We contemplate the life of Jesus.  We hold up our lives to God and discern where God is leading us.  And we ask for the graces we need to get there. 


What’s prayer like for me?  Here’s an example of one prayer experience I had. .  But to tell the truth as I get older, prayer gets more contemplative and mysterious.  Many times, prayer for me is trying to quiet the whirlwind of thoughts and voices in my head (they speak only to me!  LOL).  Real prayer is all about Letting God Be God in our lives.  Prayer is often the well know Serenity prayer.

One of the most important prayer experiences of my life hit early days in the novitiate.  I’d only been a novice for a couple of weeks, and we had a three-day silent retreat, a practice run for the 8-day and 30-day retreats to come.  The novice director simply said in a talk he gave to us, “God loves you.”  I’m sure I’d heard that sometime before, but that day it hit me like a thunderbolt.  I really knew, I was really convinced, I was deeply and powerfully moved, to realize that simple, awesome truth: God loves me.  God loves us all. 

The deep and consoling Catholic truth that resonates with me more and more over the years is that God becomes what we are so we can become what God is.  That’s not some crazy Jesuit spin on theology.  It’s St. Athanasius in the 3rd century.  See the Catholic Catechism #460.  Augustine says it.  Thomas Aquinas says it.  Jesuit life, Catholic sacramental life too, is all about opening ourselves to, and cooperating with, transformation in Christ.  Transformation of ourselves, and of our world also, more and more, into the reality of the Kingdom of God.


Gordon:  That sounds like a quite full and rich life!


Fr. Rick: It sure is.  I’m lucky to get to live this life.  Couple of things.  One is that I’ve never been lonely as a Jesuit.  Community life, so many good families and friends… the hardest thing is to keep up with all the people I would like to keep up with.  Second, all this transformation in Christ calls us to also transform our world according to the truth and justice of the Gospel and the Chruch’s tradition, especially in the light of Catholic Social teaching.  Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching | USCCB. As a Jesuit my life as a priest, as a spiritual director, a teacher, a preacher is all directed to helping people.  We all are called to make a world of peace and justice and faith and hope and love for all.  Justice is the righting of relationships. 


Gordon: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned along the way?


Fr. Rick:  That’s easy to answer and hard to live.  The most important thing God has taught me is to pay attention to people who are poor, especially the economically poor. 

My first week in Camden, NJ, a woman came to our row house rectory and asked me to come over to her house and pray with her dying father.  A day later she came back to the rectory.  She wanted to talk.  She slowly began.  She told me the story of her life. 

She had suffered terribly in so many ways.  Years of poverty and pain.  Trials and Tribulation.  Drug addiction.  Bad men in her life.  Now in her mid-40s, things were sort of stable, and she was able to care for her dying father from whom she had been estranged for many years.  I hadn’t said a word (uncharacteristic for me, I know).  I had sat there for half an hour stunned at her revelations, honesty, stamina and courage.  But I had been wondering if she was going to ask for money for her father’s eventual funeral.  I was brand new in the parish and didn’t know if we lent or gave money for such matters.She looked at me intently.  Remember, I hadn’t said a word.  She said, “I got a question for you.”  The look on her face made me realize once again how the poor can read us.  “I don’t want money.  I want to know something.  Is this it for me?  Is all this pain and all these problems my life?  Is this it for me?  God, he hates me or what?”


From that day, I’ve tried to spend my life striving to find ways to call us to make a world where people can know that God loves us, and that God doesn’t desire poverty and pain for any of us. 


Gordon:  Tell me about being a Spiritual Director.


Fr. Rick:  First, when a novice enters the Jesuit novitiate, he begins a way of life that includes spiritual direction.  An older Jesuit who has lived the life sits down and enters into dialogue with the young Jesuit and helps him begin to sort out experiences of prayer and how prayer is informing and interacting with other aspects of life.  For me, it was a lot like coaching.  Henry Haske, S.J., my spiritual director when I was a novice, challenged me when I needed to be pushed to be a better Jesuit, and encouraged me when I wondered whether I could do what God was inviting me to do and be.


My book Spiritual Direction for Beginners shows that I (and most of us) are often beginning again in the spiritual life, always learning more about this life of prayer and service of others.  Spiritual Direction: A Beginner's Guide: Malloy, Richard G: 9781626982536: Books


As a spiritual director, in much the same way as a priest when I hear confessions, I feel so in awe of what God does in the lives of men and women who come to Jesus asking for direction, forgiveness, help and hope, guidance and grace.  God is real and works on our lives.  We ask for graces.  St. Thomas said, Grace is the ability to do what we could not do before.  I get to witness how graces happen so often.  Sometimes I pinch myself and ask, how did I get so lucky!  To be a Jesuit priest is a great life and it’s a gift that has been given to me.  Pray for me that I live it well in service of others.


Gordon: Where have you been assigned as a Jesuit?


Fr. Rick:  In 1988, right after ordination, I was missioned to Holy Name Church in Camden, NJ, across the river from Philadelphia (the city of brotherly shove!).  I was part of the Jesuit Urban Service team, made up of parish priests, a Jesuit medical doctor, and a Jesuit lawyer.  Several religious sisters worked with us too, serving the people of Camden.  I was there until 2003, 15 years. 


During those years Camden was often the poorest and most violent city in the USA.  Our neighborhood suffered through the crack epidemic of the 1990s.  Our Holy Name parish and school offered our mostly Latino parishioners a haven from the stresses and pain of life in the inner city, while being a place of joy and celebration.  Parish Masses were 90 minutes long and no one wanted to leave early.  From parish dances to Tee-Ball to a plethora of organizations and activities, Holy Name was a place where God could walk with his people.


During those years, I earned a doctorate in Cultural Anthropology at Temple University (I was born at Temple U. hospital in Philadelphia.  I didn’t go far in life!  LOL).  My first two books are all about how to understand the truth and power of our faith, and how cultural realities so impact and contour our experiences of God, love, family and meaning in life. 

I’ve had many years of college teaching at St. Joe’s university in Philly and The University of Scranton in Northeast, PA (1994-2019).  Teaching and campus ministry among college students these days is wacky, wild and wonderful.  Young people are coming from so many places in a culture so often complex and complicated; fragmented and fragile. 

Jesuit education strives to foster in young people a freedom before God, and a wisdom steeped in grace, that will help them to become men and women for and with others.  God needs young people (and all of us) to be their deepest, truest selves, for such people are the women and men of compassion, conscience, and competence God needs today to bring forth the realities of God’s Kingdom, God’s way of life for us.  Jesuit education’s value of Cura Personalis presupposes that God is at work in every person.  Jesuit schools, through everything from philosophy and theology classes, to on campuses Masses to service trips and retreats, challenges young adults with the message of the Gospel of Jesus.


Five years ago, the provincial asked me to go to our Cristo Rey High School in Baltimore MD.  Cristo Rey Jesuit High School – Where Learning Gets to Work (  Here I was, at 64 years of age, starting all over again.  The last time I was in High school work was back in Chile in the early 1980s.  And then Covid hit!  Life in schools these past five years has been challenging to say the least.  Still, the kids at Cristo Rey are great. 

They all work at internships one day a week, and then have to do in four school days, what other kids do in five days.  Many of our scholars come from areas of Baltimore that are challenging.  The hard-working teachers and staff at Cristo Rey challenge and cherish our kids and help them become those who will ameliorate Baltimore, our country and our world. 


One of the most graced and gifted opportunities in my life is summer work for St. Anthony’s parish in Cody, WY.  For 15 summers, I have helped out at the Parish, and on weekends, I get to celebrate Masses at various locations in Yellowstone National Park.  Tough job, but someone has to do it!  LOL.  So many people in St. Anthony’s parish have shown me the toughness, beauty and quiet dignity of life out West. 


Gordon:  What’s your favorite book?


Fr. Rick:  That’s like asking a grandfather who is his favorite grandchild.  Sometimes I think I was born to read.  I guess, reading is what I’ve spent most hours of my life doing besides sleeping.  Since I was something like 4 years old, I’ve read for 20-30 minutes before sleep.  And I routinely read 50-100 pages a day….

Favorites… Hmmm… Well, obviously the Bible, especially the Gospel of John.  The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  Lonergan’s Insight and Method in Theology.  Rahner’s Foundations of Christian Faith.  DeLio’s The Emergent Christ, anything by Richard Rohr.  And Annie Lamott is always thought provoking and entertaining.  I read a lot of history. 


But if I had to pick a top two, they would be James Joyce’s Ulysses and Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek’s He Leadeth Me.  I finally cracked Ulysses (with the help of 24 lectures on CDs) when I was 50 years old.  Joyce really makes you pay attention to the act of reading as you read.  Ulysses also summarizes so much of the confusion and complexity, the pain and beauty, of human experience.  Ciszek’s He Leadeth Me is a spiritual classic for the ages.  I have been reading it since I was a novice.  Ciszek came through his 20 some years of imprisonment in Russia, 15 of those years suffering in the gulags of Siberia.  He emerged a man more dependent on God and more totally surrendered to God.  He is an example for us all.  I actually met him.  He was at my vow day in 1978.  He was a short man, with brilliant blue eyes.  In his presence, you knew you were bumping into God.


Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.

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