A Heart on Fire:
Br. Ken Homan, SJ
Winter clouds floated over the golden-brown flood plains of the Missouri River. I was hiking Indian Cave State Park on the Nebraska-Missouri border. As I enjoyed the silence, a red-tailed hawk glided over my left shoulder, and the Holy Spirit flooded my heart like the river below: “It’s time, Ken. Stop stalling. Ask for the application.”
I grew up in St. Louis, Mo., loving camping and hiking adventures with my family. In addition to time outside, I spent much of my childhood around the Jesuits and Franciscans, with whom my parents worked.
Despite growing up around these great individuals, my vocation developed from six Jesuits I did not know — the martyrs of El Salvador. At a Mass celebrating these and other Jesuit martyrs, I first felt the tug to join the Society of Jesus. But as a junior in high school, I was not ready for that commitment.
Three years later, I was a sophomore at Creighton University, and that little voice had grown into a call I could no longer put on hold. Despite developing tremendous friendships and loving my studies, God made it clear that it was time for a new adventure.
I entered the Jesuit novitiate in 2010. Soon, I discerned that God was calling me to yet another adventure — to be a Jesuit brother.
Jesuit brothers and priests both have a vocation to consecrated religious life, but brothers do not feel called to ordained sacramental ministry. Historically, Jesuit brothers held hands-on jobs, working as carpenters, blacksmiths, farmers, electricians, and more. Recently, brothers have taken on broader ministries as college professors, social workers, astronomers, engineers, and high school teachers.
So what defines a brother? Discovering this has been one of my favorite adventures as a Jesuit. I am learning how to be a modern Jesuit brother and exploring why God called me to this particular vocation.
This adventure has taken me on journeys that are both deeply intellectual and hands-on. While most of my classmates in formation for the priesthood studied philosophy during first studies, I completed a master’s degree in American history, focusing on Jesuits and the labor movement in St. Louis. Simultaneously, I spent my afternoons learning to be a maintenance man at a school in the South Bronx. With questions like “Which chemical and tool combination is best for stripping and re-waxing floors?” the maintenance job was often more intellectual than my studies!
My Jesuit adventure has brought me to regency as a teacher at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee. I teach theology, coach wrestling and powerlifting, and help with activities like retreats and dances. Sometimes, my students ask, “What exactly is a brother?” I respond, “Maybe you should be one and find out!”