By Lauren Gaffey
There are Jesuits working in a vast array of professions—teachers, doctors, lawyers, professors—but one unique job belongs to Br. Jim Heidrick, SJ, a locksmith at Creighton University. Nearly six decades ago, his first assignment as a Jesuit was to Creighton, where he’s been ever since. He began there working on telephone and electrical needs and repairing dental equipment and televisions but later received an assignment to help in the locksmith area. When he first saw the residence hall records, they were handwritten and disorganized. “I spent the first year going building to building and writing down all the doors and lock numbers. I wrote a computer program to keep track of the locks which I am still repairing and tracking 57 years later,” Br. Heidrick said.
From the age of ten, Br. Heidrick knew in his heart that he wanted to be a brother, though he was not sure which order was right for him. He lost his hearing as a young child and enrolled at St. Joseph’s Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis before returning home to Nebraska to attend a technical high school. Upon graduation, his father asked if he still wanted to be a brother and when Br. Heidrick said yes, his father arranged for him to go to Creighton University for an interview with Fr. Lawrence Flanagan, SJ.
“At that time, you were a postulant for six months, you went home for two weeks, and if you came back you started your novitiate at Florissant, Missouri,” Br. Heidrick recalls.
After his two years in the novitiate, he moved to St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, to study with other brothers while simultaneously continuing to study electricity, as he had in high school. He was then assigned to Creighton.
Being the keeper of the keys at the university is the specific manifestation of his vocation. “As a Jesuit brother, he sees his vocation as being of permanent service here at Creighton,” Terry Kult, nurse to Creighton’s Jesuit community, says. Like all Jesuits, brothers take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and serve the Society of Jesus, but they do not preside at Mass or celebrate other sacraments. While St. Ignatius of Loyola and his original companions were all priests, it was only six years after the founding of the Society that St. Ignatius petitioned the pope to allow the order to admit lay co-adjutors, or helpers. Sometimes referred to as “lay religious,” they are not preparing for the priesthood; rather, the brotherhood is a vocation of its own.
Brothers like Br. Heidrick are committed to serving God through the people of their time. “I love to do the work of the people, the fathers, the students, and the faculty,” he says. “That is my service to the Lord. A Jesuit brother helps maintain the mission so others can do the bigger work. Today brothers are teachers, administrators, and almost anything that is needed.”
While his parents and brothers have all passed away, Br. Heidrick is still able to connect with extended family. In the summer of 2020, his nephew— also named Jim Heidrick—came from California with his family to visit his uncle. “It made me so happy that they remember me. I wished they could have stayed longer because they all make me laugh,” Br. Heidrick remarks. “I love them, and I love my work here at Creighton University.”
Lauren Gaffey, is the associate director of communications for the Midwest Jesuits and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Loyola University Chicago. She manages the content for JesuitPrayer.org.