Monday 20 January 2014

Jim Profit: Environmentalist, Community Activist, and my Spiritual Father

By Daniel Leckman, S.J.


Five and a half years ago, I did something that I had never done in my life up to that point: I packed up everything I felt I needed to survive, left my family and friends behind, and opened up a new chapter to my life.  I moved in with a community of Jesuits in Guelph, Ontario to begin a year of candidacy with the Society of Jesus.

It was a year that would change my life by giving me spiritual renewal, deepening my capacity for prayer and my intimacy with God.  I also developed a little more self-confidence; though I’m the first one to admit that I still have a lot of work to do in that department!  Jim Profit was a man who had something to do with all of these things.  This is why, when I learned about his passing last week, I had three reactions:
  1. We had been expecting this news and I was glad the ordeal was finally over for him and his family.  I felt peace …
  2. … but then it really hit me that I had just lost my spiritual father.  It's at that point I wept uncontrollably for a short while.  I had not felt this at all during the period when he got sick … I think because I had clung to hope and prayer.  This clinging to hope is something I picked up from him.  He was a realistic, pragmatic man but he knew how to find hope which gave him strength in every situation.  Perhaps then, being the outstanding Jesuit that he was, it was not clinging to hope but discovering hope which he excelled at, even in the darkest of situations.  Despite the occasional complaints he’d have about the community or the province, he never lost sight of that zeal, that happiness, or that hope which seemed to perpetually surround him.
  3. The memories started flooding me and would stay with me for the next 24 hours.
I remembered the moment I first met him and he joked that there were two house rules in Guelph: “Don’t shop at Walmart, and don’t vote conservative.” (To my shame, I broke one of those rules years later, but I’m not saying which!) Another memory of a late evening drive that he and I took across Western Ontario during which he shared beautiful stories about his family’s history.  Or another memory recalling a conversation about the Church and her future; a conversation with one or two other Jesuits in the kitchen before we went down to the basement to watch Obama get elected in 2008. But the one memory that seems to have affected me the most is one from two years ago.  It was St. Ignatius day in Guelph and I was a few weeks away from taking vows and leaving the novitiate.  I knew I would need a spiritual director that year as I was moving to Toronto.  So I got over my shyness, found Jim in the crowd, and flat-out asked him if he would be my director for the coming year.  His response was, “Well, I’ll have to pray about it.” After three seconds of silence, he said to me, “Well, I prayed about it, and of course I’ll be your director.”

This may not seem like much of a story to most people, but something about my previous life experience had taught me to get used to rejection, to people saying no, and leaving me there to hang.  I was not accustomed to the deep generosity and care that so many Jesuits have towards others, especially towards their own brothers.  I was not accustomed to people accepting to get so intimately involved in my personal development.  I guess after two years of Novitiate I should have expected nothing less from a Jesuit.  Still, there was something very “Jim-like” about this moment that I will never forget.

And that's where I’m at right now in my grieving process.  I may not be able to pick up the battles that Jim fought or see the world the exactly the way he did but there’s something about his spirit that will always be a part of my own Jesuit Identity.  I feel that he lit a torch in the darkness of the world and he’s now asking me and others to keep it lit.  To ensure the light of that torch is brought to those who need it the most.  Five years ago, I would have said I’m not the man for the job … I’m too quiet and reserved for such a task.  But after these years of Jesuit formation, I get it.  It’s something we’re all called to do in some way or another but Jim was the first one to make me realize my potential for this work.  For that, I am eternally grateful.

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