By John O’Brien, S.J.
Erik Sorensen is in the final days of the first phase of Jesuit formation known as novitiate. For two years, he has been studying, praying and embarking on experiences known as “experiments”, all designed by St. Ignatius of Loyola to test the candidate and help him grow in his vocation. Erik, 24, will be professing vows of perpetual poverty, chastity and obedience on August 17, 2014.
Erik, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family background.
I grew up in Red Deer, Alberta with my parents and two younger sisters. Ever since I was young, I have been interested in aviation. This interest led me to get both my pilots license and a Bachelors Degree in Aerospace Engineering.
What brought to the doorstep of the Jesuit novitiate?
During my years in high school, I entertained the thought of being a priest. But I was never super serious about it because I was so intrigued by my passion for aviation and I was unable, at the time, to reconcile these ideas.
Then while I was doing my undergraduate degree at Carleton University in Ottawa, I met and developed a strong relationship with the Catholic chaplain there. This chaplain, Fr. David Shulist, S.J., was the first Jesuit I had ever met. Through him and the other Jesuits that I subsequently encountered, I began to realize that my passion for aviation and the idea of being a priest were not irreconcilable. The other thing I noticed was that as much as I loved my Aerospace degree, I had a deep desire to serve that went beyond being an engineer for the rest of my life.
As my interest in the Society of Jesus grew, I began attending Ignatian retreats and shortly after started the formal discernment process. Through this process, my interests in the Jesuits were confirmed over a number of years. Finally, I applied and was accepted into the Society of Jesus. I entered the novitiate as soon as I finished my degree.
As a young person, what does it mean to vow yourself to God?
For me, this means giving all of who I am to God in a practical and concrete way. These vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are ways of serving God through others in my daily life. I have a strong desire to dedicate my life to serve others, and the vows are ways of imitating Jesus life in all aspects of my life. These vows are not a one time thing but more of a dedication to journeying towards these ideals.
What aspects of the Jesuit charism draw you in particular?
I was drawn to the idea of finding God in all things. With my interests in math and science, many of my peers felt that God should be absent from the world of science. However, I always felt that God should be present in my work as an engineer. This idea of finding God in all things has expanded from just finding God in my engineering to find God in all aspects of my life.
What were the highlights of your novitiate experience?
One of my highlights of the novitiate has to be doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. This month long silent retreat was an amazing experience of growing closer to Jesus and growing in self knowledge.
Any advice you might give to a young person who might be discerning a religious vocation?
Be open to the Spirit working in your life. God’s will becomes apparent in our deepest desires, so pay attention to these desires and interior movements.