Conan Rainwater, SJ, left, and his brother, Trevor Rainwater, SJ.
“I put priests on a pedestal. I couldn’t imagine myself like that. That was for ‘other guys.’ (But with Trevor), that whole pillar came crumbling down. I realized that people who enter religious life are ordinary people. That put it close to home.”
~Conan Rainwater, SJ
~Conan Rainwater, SJ
By Amanda Brandt
Originally published in Creighton Magazine
Originally published in Creighton Magazine
May 3, 2018 — Brothers Trevor Rainwater, SJ, BA’10, and Conan Rainwater, SJ, BA’15, have a lot in common. From shared childhood bedrooms and family vacations to a Creighton education, the siblings have always been close.
But they also share something more uncommon: a religious vocation. Both are training and studying to become priests as spiritual “brothers” in the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits — the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church, which, among other apostolates, oversees 28 universities and colleges in the U.S., including Creighton University.
Having taken the path from Bluejays to SJs, the Rainwater brothers are closer than ever.
When Trevor, 30, the eldest Rainwater child, graduated from high school, he decided to attend Creighton University because of his strong Catholic faith and Creighton’s medical school, which fit in nicely with his plan to become a physician.
Plus, Omaha is just a (relatively) short eight-hour drive from his hometown of Bismarck, North Dakota.
Trevor’s dreams of becoming a physician fit in well with his family’s background, too. His father, Leslie, is a urologist, and his mother, Linda, a nurse.
He studied health sciences and theology and took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a standardized exam required for applying to medical schools. But in the middle of his senior year, Trevor told his family that he had a change of heart: Rather than attend medical school the next year, he was going to join the Society of Jesus.
“It didn’t go over so well at first,” Trevor says of telling his family, who were unfamiliar with the Jesuits.
Trevor says he first began pondering religious life as early as 2008, during his sophomore year at Creighton. He remembers a particular advanced biology class. That day’s lesson was on the Krebs cycle, a sequence of chemical reactions involved in cellular respiration. At the same time, he was in a theology course about the mystery of God and human suffering.
“I decided I would rather wrestle with those questions (the Godly ones) than worry about the Krebs cycle,” Trevor says. “I applaud scientists, but that wasn’t my cup of tea.”
He joined a discernment group for those considering a religious vocation. But the “tipping point” for his decision, he says, was a retreat he took his senior year. His experiences on that retreat, Trevor says, provided reassurance from God.
“It’s hard to talk about it with friends and family,” Trevor says. “They say, ‘You’re going to do what?’ It’s so countercultural.”
After graduating from Creighton in 2010 and before entering the novitiate, Trevor lived at home with his family in North Dakota.
“We didn’t know anything about the Jesuit community until Trevor started,” says their mother.
North Dakota is one of the few states that has no Jesuit presence at all, and that lack of familiarity led to some apprehension in the family.
On the day he left for Minnesota to begin his Jesuit training, Trevor hugged his sister, Ellecia Rainwater, BA’13, MD’17, younger brother, Conan, and mom, before approaching his dad last.
“He said, ‘I’m really proud of you,’” Trevor recalls. “It meant a lot, coming from my dad, who I highly admire. I think it’s natural to have apprehension … but finally getting his approval was nice.”
Growing up in Bismarck, Conan, 25, says he was close with his siblings. The two boys shared a bedroom and spent hours together outside, sledding and swimming.
So when Conan first learned of his older brother’s plans, he was surprised.
“I was taken aback,” says Conan, who was a senior in high school at the time.
Conan says he viewed priests as ultra-holy, larger-than-life, unapproachable figures.
“I put priests on a pedestal. I couldn’t imagine myself like that,” Conan says. “That was for ‘other guys.’ (But with Trevor), that whole pillar came crumbling down. I realized that people who enter religious life are ordinary people. That put it close to home.”
Like his older siblings, Conan attended Creighton after high school. He, too, intended to become a physician.
But during his sophomore year, Conan began to feel called to do more. He changed courses and studied theology, music and biology.
At the suggestion of a classmate, Conan began attending the same discernment group Trevor had participated in, led by the late Rev. Richard Hauser, SJ, who died on April 3.
As graduation neared, Conan struggled with his next steps. Between finalizing school, navigating a relationship, and deciding whether to perform post-graduate volunteer service by spending a year abroad, he was confused. So he called on Trevor for advice.
“He didn’t tell me what to do; he listened,” Conan says. “It was very mature of him. He said he would be supportive either way. Looking back, that’s exactly what I needed.”
Conan finally decided, like his brother, to enter the Society of Jesus. And, when it came time to tell his family of the decision to pursue a religious vocation, Conan says they were happy for him.
“(With our parents), my brother broke the ice,” Conan says.
Linda says that she and her husband have enjoyed learning about the Jesuits and seeing the various opportunities and experiences Trevor and Conan have had.
“(It was a) different path, but that’s what they’ve chosen,” Linda says. “I think they will be good in anything they do.”
The Path to Discernment
Both brothers credit Fr. Hauser’s discernment group as one of the primary factors leading them to their vocation.
The group meets every other week in the Ignatius House Jesuit Residence, located off the Jesuit Gardens. Fr. Hauser would light a fire in the fireplace and wait for a handful of young men to enter the room and share what’s been going on in their lives.
Fr. Hauser began hosting the group for Creighton students in 1975, when he became aware of individuals who were wading through the tricky discernment process alone.
The late Fr. Richard Hauser, SJ, (right) with Conan and his grandparents, John and Shirley Chapin, at Conan’s vow Mass in 2017.
“It’s a very challenging path for a young Creighton student to take,” Fr. Hauser said in an interview a few months before his death. “He usually won’t get affirmation from his peers, who are mostly all preprofessional.”
Fr. Hauser, a Milwaukee native, came to Creighton as an instructor in 1972 and became a theology professor after earning his doctorate from the Catholic University of America in 1973.
There are currently 24 living Jesuits who joined the society after graduating with an undergraduate degree from Creighton. In the last 15 years, Creighton has produced 11 Jesuits, the majority of whom participated in Fr. Hauser’s discernment group.
In 2014, Fr. Hauser retired from teaching theology full time and served as the assistant to the University President for Mission.
The group, he said, is a judgement-free zone, where members share thoughts, feelings and opinions.
Fr. Hauser, who decided to “try out” the Jesuits after making a retreat his senior year of high school, said the path to the priesthood was less complicated in the past.
“It was 10 times easier back then because the culture supported it,” Fr. Hauser said. “It was a feather in a Catholic family’s hat to have a child who was a priest or a nun.”
And while only a small percentage of the men participating in the discernment group end up entering the order, Fr. Hauser would guide those who did through one of the hardest parts: telling their parents.
“One of the biggest barriers (to joining a religious vocation) is trying to please your parents,” Fr. Hauser said.
The group’s conversations are confidential and there’s no pressure to join. It’s merely a chance for participants to explore within theirhearts.
“What makes this group work is that we’ve got guys who are seeking God’s will in their life,” he said. “They are highly spiritual human beings in the first place.”
Band of Brothers
Fewer than 2 percent of the current Jesuits in the U.S. also have a brother in the order.
Of the 2,150 Jesuits in the five U.S. provinces, there are 17 sets of siblings, in which both are still alive, according to data from the Society of Jesus.
There is one set of identical twins among U.S. Jesuits — Creighton University President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, and his brother, the Rev. D. Scott Hendrickson, SJ, who teaches at Loyola University Chicago.
Conan and Trevor both say the unique bond they have as biological brothers and brothers in Christ has brought them closer than ever.
“Not only are we united within the religious order or the Jesuits, we shared a life together growing up in the same house. It’s very special in that regard,” says Conan.
Adds Trevor: “You have to go where God is calling you. It is tough sometimes when you’re the only one. When you have company, it makes it a lot easier.”
Trevor, who earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Saint Louis University in 2015, is currently in the regency portion of his Jesuit formation. He teaches Old Testament theology to freshmen at Detroit University High School. He always has been captivated by the liturgy and sacraments, and looks forward to celebrating Mass as a priest.
Conan is in his first year of philosophy studies at Loyola Chicago. As for his future, in addition to the steps and formation required for Jesuits, Conan can see himself working at a retreat center, performing missionary work in other countries or teaching.
The brothers keep in touch regularly and occasionally travel back to North Dakota.
Conan still asks his older brother for advice, both about the Jesuits and life, and looks up to him as a role model.
“I think my brother is a good Jesuit because he goes out of his way to make sure people in the community, especially those who might be new and adjusting, are taken care of,” Conan says. “And, he’s a good mentor. He understands the balance between knowing when to give advice and when to listen and be a companion who walks with someone in their discernment, struggle, hardship or joy.”
And Trevor, for his part, sees unlimited potential in Conan to become a great Jesuit priest.
“He’s a little more flexible and free-flowing with things,” Trevor says of Conan. “In the Society of Jesus, those are really good traits to have.”
And, like all members of the Society of Jesus, the siblings are linked by their faith and trust in God.
“We all share that common thread of being under the banner of Christ,” Trevor says.
Originally published in Creighton Magazine