Welcome, Fr. Gustafson! | September 19, 2021 Essay
“How on earth did I wind up here?” I’ve found myself asking this question countless times in my ten years as a Jesuit. As I settle in here at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, once again I ask myself that same question, grateful that once again God has outdone my expectations of what my life would hold.
Growing up, becoming a priest was just about the last thing I could imagine myself doing. I’m a cradle Catholic, was an altar server when I was a kid, went to Mass every Sunday, and prayed before family meals. The priests I knew at my home parish in Sioux Falls, SD, were all nice enough, but the idea of becoming a priest held absolutely no appeal. I wanted to spend my life working in politics.
When it came time to apply for college, I concluded that Washington, D.C. would be the natural place to launch myself into political orbit. I applied to Georgetown University, was accepted, and hit the ground running when I got to campus. I dove into on-campus politics and secured an internship with South Dakota’s member of the House of Representatives. At the same time, I also got to know a few of the Jesuits on campus. I was immediately struck by their ability to connect the Gospel with what was going on in the world around me, their intelligence, and, above all, their humanity. They were eminently relatable, with hobbies, quirks, pet peeves, and widely varied interests. But politics was still my focus.
After a couple of years of immersing myself in all things political, I had the crushing realization that what I was doing simply was not as interiorly satisfying as I had expected it to be. Casting about for a new life plan, a crazy thought occurred to me: “The Jesuits like school. I like school. They look for God in the little, concrete, everyday sorts of things. That makes sense to me. Maybe I should be a Jesuit!” The crazy thought refused to leave my head, and so I applied to the Society of Jesus during my senior year and entered the novitiate after graduating in 2011.
After taking First Vows in August of 2013, I moved to Chicago to pursue a Master’s degree in philosophy at Loyola University. While studying there I helped immigrants prepare for the U.S. Citizenship Exam and tutored at Arrupe College, a junior college run by Loyola. From 2016-2018 I lived up the road from St. Ignatius at Fordham University, while teaching religion at Fordham Prep. I also helped in campus ministry, coached tennis, and accompanied students on trips to Rome and Rwanda. God has richly blessed me at every stage of my Jesuit life, but Fordham Prep will always hold a special place in my heart.
Theology studies brought me to Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry for the last three years. During my final year in Boston, I served as a deacon at Gate of Heaven and St. Brigid Parishes in South Boston. Covid was certainly an unwelcome surprise for the final year and a half of my time in Boston, but the generosity, dedication, and faithfulness of so many people proved to be a true inspiration to me.
I’m utterly delighted to be here at St. Ignatius for my first year as a priest. Everyone has already been incredibly welcoming and supportive. I look forward to learning a great deal from you, praying alongside you, and getting to know you in these coming months. God has never failed to surprise, support, and encourage me in the many places I have been as a Jesuit. I have no doubt He has even more blessings in store here at St. Ignatius.
— Rev. Daniel N. Gustafson, S.J., Pastoral Year Priest