A Heart on Fire:
Bryan Y. Norton, SJ
Everyone knows that the best views in St. Louis come from the top of the Gateway Arch, that iconic portal to the West. The most important vista for me, though, came into focus from the fifteenth-floor loft of Jesuit Hall, the main residence at Saint Louis University (SLU). I’ll always remember passing through there on a trip as a senior undergraduate at Williams College (2007). At the time, I was in the thick of my vocational discernment, still very much going back and forth between marriage on the one hand and diocesan or religious life on the other.
On my short overnight stay, I rendezvoused with a dear Jesuit mentor, who had taken me under his wing during my junior year abroad at Oxford University. I’ll never forget what he told me there as we looked out upon the horizon: Bryan, he said, this–sweeping his hand across the vast expanse of the city’s dappled landscape—this is my vineyard, this is my parish. Suddenly something clicked, and I found myself overwhelmed by the magnitude of Jesuit life and mission. In that beloved Jesuit’s joyful example of priestly ministry—teaching and preaching and giving retreats and saying Masses and hearing confessions and doing baptisms all throughout the city—in all of this, my heart swelled with holy longings for the Lord’s service. I entered the novitiate in the fall of 2008.
Nearly a decade after that fateful St. Louis sunset, I am humbled and overjoyed to find myself as a Jesuit regent in full time ministry at Xavier University. Providentially, the path that led me here ran through St. Louis of all places. Upon taking our perpetual religious vows in August of 2010, I completed two years of philosophy and theology studies at SLU (2010–2012)—only to head down the road a few miles for a master’s in classics from Washington University (2012–2014). Now, as a “Visiting Instructor in Classics” at Xavier, I teach Latin and Greek language and literature to undergraduate students. People often ask me, “Why Latin and Greek? Aren’t those dead languages?” Well, since my high school days at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland (1999–2003), they have deeply animated my mind and formed my heart, ever beckoning me to what is good, true, and beautiful. The study of these ancient cultures has helped teach me what it means to be human. In so doing, the classics have made me a better disciple of Jesus Christ, preparing me to hear and follow the Lord’s call as a Jesuit.
Now, as a regent, I get to pass on this precious gift that I myself received from the Society. My mission certainly begins in the classroom, with all the exacting rigors of ancient languages—those pesky declensional endings and shifty verbal tenses! But it continues outside of class in every interaction that I have with students. Whether at Mass or in the dining hall, on a camping retreat or a pro-life march in our nation’s capital, Christ is present and at work: forming the students, forming me, drawing us together in His love. As I look forward to the start of a new academic year, I simply marvel at the expansiveness, the fruitfulness, of the Lord’s vineyard here at Xavier. It reminds me so much of that St. Louis sunset and fills me with profound gratitude for my life in the Society.
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