Interview of Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J.

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism



Dr. Knight: You are working with the issue of childhood abuse. What does that mean to you?

Patrick: For me children are Christ’s angels among us, abusing one child, is abusing all children and if you are abusing them you are abusing the Gospel. We must treat them with care, love, and kindness. Children care is an issue that I carry deeply in my prayer. I feel that we cannot be who we are as Christians without our children. As a Catholic, I feel that we have a moral obligation to care for our children because they are also a central part of the reign of God. Children are not only the light that guides our path, but they are also our future.

Dr. Knight: How did you receive your call to be a priest? How has this call changed over time?

Patrick: I am a convert from the Southern Baptist faith. I went to a Jesuit high school, where I met the Jesuits for the first time. I liked their hospitality and friendliness I got baptized in my senior year with the intention of joining the Society of Jesus. Here I am today, and I love it. My biggest challenge is learning how to read the signs in my ministry. I have grown a lot from this call; I entered the Society to serve people and work actively, yet now I realize that God wants me to simply be present to them. Most of the people that I am working with can develop their gifts and become whoever they want to be by themselves; I just want to accompany and support them. My vocation has changed from doing for the people of God to being with the people of God.

Dr. Knight: I see you have written articles about sexual abuse, trafficking, and other issues. What academic background led you to this topic? Could you tell us what that means?

Patrick: I have a licentiate in clinical psychology with a focus on behavior. I worked with children in France and in Mexico, in both places that I have studied in, and now I am teaching psychology at Creighton and counseling young adults at the same institution. As a young black religious in the Catholic Church, my faith in the future makes childcare my passion. During my doctorate studies, I had a chance to work in a clinic for two years in Mexico with children. This was the most transformative and formative time in my life due to their innocence and honesty. I believe that caring for children is the work of all adults who feel compelled by a deep sense of responsibility to live the gospel. I myself feel a deep sense of human decency, a responsibility to my profession obligations, and a profound Christian responsibility to give a voice to this population which remains voiceless. The negligence of adults marginalizes the children, we traumatize, then and by our behavior, we show that they are not important to us and have forgotten them.

Dr. Knight: How about an easy question: what is your favorite film at this time? Book? Have you seen “Quiet Place” or “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Patrick: I am will keep my answer simple “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is one of my favorite movies of all time. In fact, one of my favorite quotes from this movie is about children: “There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are, and their origins are beyond our control.” My favorite book “The Little Prince” by Antoine de St. Exupéry.

Dr. Knight: What is it like to move as a Jesuit from one end of the country to another as you live your Jesuit life?

Patrick: Sometimes I feel like I was already a winter bird even when I was in my mother’s womb, living to migrate with the season. As a missionary, moving from one country to another is like a second nature for me today; when the need occurs, I am already open to leaving and getting on the move. As a Jesuit, I always go where the need appears to be the greatest. We go, we make new friends, and we have a new family there. Today, as a member of the Society of Jesus, the world has become my home. Intrinsically this sense of home comes with a mixture of loss, but also joy and hope. As religious we are men on a mission, seeking to heal a broken world for the greater glory of God.

Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that the use of social media in our parishes can assist young people to think about knowing/loving/serving God through their ‘cyber-neighbor’?

Patrick: Social media have become one of the most important platforms for evangelization today, and the coronavirus has confirmed it for us. Social media are a place of encounter, conversation, and Conversion for our new generation. Just like many other tools, the platform in itself is neither good nor bad; what matters is how we use it to our ends. While I respect many who might have their reservations about social media, I believe that today is a great opportunity for us to be there with our young people: they are already there and waiting for us to lead them. If we do not embrace them, they will do it by themselves, and then they will do our job for us and they will lead us through our absence. When it comes to accompanying young people on social media, inaction is not enough.

Dr. Knight: As a Jesuit, you are able to educate and spiritually form many people in the society through your work. What issues are predominantly on your mind and heart?

Patrick: One of the main issues that is in my mind is how we can create a place for people to learn how to listen to the voice of silence. COVID-19 and the racial injustice that is becoming more obvious in our land have shown us how it is more than important to open a space to listen.

Dr. Knight: There have been very influential Jesuits throughout the ages including saints. Who influenced you the most?

Patrick: My primary influence was Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the 35th Father General of the Society of Jesus, who has been my model. We have the costume of taking a saint name or that of somebody who is very important to us when we take our vow, I took him for vow name. His ability to be with the people of God transformed my life and formed me as a Jesuit.

Dr. Knight: It seems that this interview would help us understand the intensity of work in assisting children and young adults. Could you tell us about this work?

Patrick: I have always enjoyed working with children and young adults. I realized that they have so much to teach me in terms of honesty, sincerity, humility, and sanctity. I see them as God’s children who need attention, guidance, protection, and love. Now I am working in a university where I teach and counsel undergraduate youth. I receive this apostolate as a most fulfilling ministry in my formation now as I move toward ordination. I see the youth as the people who form me, and Creighton University has become the place of my formation. I enjoy my ministry here because I know that these young adults are enjoying it as well. I constantly see the hope of God in their faces.

Dr. Knight: What other issues do you have as a priority for our work as a society and your work as a Jesuit?

Patrick: Today, I believe that we must come together as a country to ask for the grace of conversion, reconciliation, healing, and restoration. As the American Church, we are invited to stand with the people of God and to fight all sorts of sin, including the sin of racism that has been around for more than 400 years.

Thank you for doing this interview to help all of us understand your work better and to live a life in Communion with Christ.

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