A Heart on Fire:
José "Chuy" Camacho, SJ
I was born in Mexico, in a ranchería called El Zopial. My family and I lived near a small pueblo called San Francisco de Asís, about 45 minutes outside of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
My parents emigrated to the United States in 1980. Initially, we came to Little Village in Chicago and lived there for about one year. Eventually, we moved to Streator, Ill., where I finished middle and high school before entering the US Navy. While I was in the navy, I studied at Southern Illinois University and finished my first undergrad degree. After active duty, I came back to Illinois to continue my naval career as a reservist and study chemistry and biochemistry at Illinois State University.
At age 39, after going through a retreat called Cursillo de Cristiandad, I embraced my faith and began to compare the life I was living to the life I desired, opening myself to discern how God was calling me to follow him. Soon, two Jesuits invited me to a discernment retreat at Puente Grande, Jalisco, Mexico. Listening to the two Mexican Jesuits speak of their experience working in Central America with maras (gangs) and ministering to people living on the riverbanks impacted me and helped me to continue my discernment process.
After a great deal of prayer, I applied to join the Society of Jesus and entered the Jesuit Novitiate of St. Alberto Hurtado in St. Paul. I spent two years as a Jesuit novice before pronouncing vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience last August. Both of my grandmothers, who planted the seeds of my faith, were with me that day, and the entire experience was a true blessing: I saw how much I am loved by God, who has given me so much support through friends and family.
Now, I am studying philosophy and theology at Saint Louis University. I feel blessed to have this opportunity. In addition to studying, I work at a parish called Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson, Mo. I also accompany a group of young adults involved in the Movimiento de Jornadas de Vida Cristiana.
This part of my formation is about the mind — shaping it and directing it toward the magis, the Latin word for “more,” which Jesuits use to emphasize our mission. As René Descartes teaches, “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.”
As an older Jesuit who left school nearly 20 years ago, I was impressed by the way my time in the novitiate prepared me for my vows and studies. Like first studies, the novitiate had a mix of time out and about in the world and in the classroom. As novices, we did experiments like the Spiritual Exercises (a 30-day retreat conducted in silence), the hospital experiment (hands-on care to people with sickness, a mental disability, or old age), a month-long pilgrimage with nothing more than $35 and a one-way bus ticket, and a long experiment, which involved time serving in a Jesuit apostolate. We also took classes on Jesuit history, Church history, Catholic social thought, and more.
Living in St. Louis at the Bellarmine House of Studies is another blessing. Time with my community is a highlight of each day. We celebrate Mass, socialize, and have dinner together. I have time to process each day and recalibrate for the next.
All these moments have served as a point of confirmation that led me to where I am today, and each moment has been full of grace.
To view all Heart on Fire reflections, please click here.