A Jesuit's Journey:
Fr. Frank Canfield, SJ
September 15, 2016 — Throughout his life as a Jesuit, Fr. Frank Canfield, SJ, has often faced a dilemma: be where he wants to be, or go where God calls him to go. His decision has made all the difference.
What do you do when you’re running late for a meeting, but you encounter someone who “really needs to talk?” If you’re Fr. Frank Canfield, SJ, you do your best to be “in the precious present,” as his mother called it.
He does not always find it easy, though. “When that happened — when I’d be walking across campus toward my office and encounter someone in need — I felt the stress of it,” Fr. Canfield recalls. “Responsible people keep their appointments, right? But here was someone right in front of me, hoping I could be of help. Looking back on those times, I realize that when I ended up being late as a result of truly being ‘in the moment’ with someone, it was where God wanted me to be.”
That conclusion involves more than just moments; it reflects the changes Fr. Canfield has experienced over the course of his Jesuit vocation.
“At age 80, as I look in the rearview mirror of my life, I see that I’ve been pushed and pulled in different ways I didn’t plan,” he explains. “It’s been a gift of age to realize that, quietly, the Lord has led me along, asking me to cooperate with the gift of each moment. Many times, I didn’t want to. I’m no St. Francis Xavier; there’s more fear in me than most of the world knows. But when I finally put my ego where it belongs, I find a peace, a feeling of ‘Ah, this is right.’”
Not surprisingly, his Jesuit formation also contributed to this realization. That journey began when Fr. Canfield’s father told him he should go to the University of Detroit Jesuit High School.
“It was three buses and an hour and 15 minutes away,” he remembers. “‘Trust me,’ Dad said. Having gone there himself, he knew it was the right place for me. And through the example of the Jesuits I encountered there, I became convinced that this vocation was the right life for me.”
As a Jesuit, Fr. Canfield’s assignments included teaching Latin, psychology, and theology, and serving as a student counselor and principal at his alma mater. Moving on to St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio, in 1989, Fr. Canfield served as a student counselor, teacher, and rector in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Each time he moved, he felt that familiar initial anxiety, before realizing it was the place he needed to be.
“Like many people, I cling to the comfortable and find change difficult,” Fr. Canfield admits. “I was blessed to never be in a situation I didn’t like, so I never asked to move.”
For example, after he was named chaplain at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland in 2006, he found himself in the chapel, praying, “Lord, I’m in over my head. I know it; don’t you? I’m 70 years old; I don’t know anyone or where anything is; and this place moves so fast.” But once again, a few months later, he felt that sense of being in the right place for himself and for his mission.
“That began eight richly graced years at Saint Ignatius,” says Fr. Canfield. “It was my joy, not my job. It was a remarkable experience, thanks to the teachers and students there. I can’t say enough about what a glorious gift it was.”
His acceptance has served him well since arriving at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Mich., where he went to be treated for leukemia. After that “break,” Fr. Canfield thought he would go back to one of his past ministries. “I’d loved working in Detroit, Toledo, and Cleveland,” he says. “So when I was told I was being ‘formally missioned’ here, I was not at peace.
“I guess I’m slow to learn,” Fr. Canfield chuckles. “When I finally realized the decision stood, I heard that quiet voice from God again, saying, ‘Trust me, Frank; I’m taking you where you otherwise wouldn’t go.’ And once I ‘let go,’ I began to realize I didn’t feel loneliness, regret, or any of the emotions I expected to feel. That was pure grace.”
Today, Fr. Canfield finds himself “quite engaged,” hearing confessions, providing retreats, and offering spiritual direction.
S P I R I T U A L I T Y
Father Frank Canfield, SJ, realizes that God so often works in our lives through “ordinary grace.” It reminds him of the way the Lord approaches Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13:
“…And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him…”
Father Canfield’s experiences also remind him of the theology of Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ. “When he was asked to crystallize all he wrote,” Fr. Canfield explains, “Rahner said, ‘God is God; we are not; and all is grace.’”