ROCHESTER — When he was a young man, Jesuit Father James R. Van Dyke said there were two things he thought he’d never become — a priest and a teacher.
“God had a lot of different plans,” Father Van Dyke, 45, said with a smile, noting he currently teaches English at McQuaid Jesuit High School. The priest is also coach of the school’s crew, or rowing, team.
Father Van Dyke professed his final vows as a Jesuit before a school assembly during a Mass in McQuaid’s gym on Nov. 5. Jesuit Father Gerald J. Chojnacki, provincial of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, presided at the Mass and received Father Van Dyke’s vows.
The son of a teacher, Father Van Dyke said he changed his plans to become an architect when he was attending college. Studying literature led to thoughts about the priesthood, Father Van Dyke said, as he learned about writers who explored questions of faith such as John Milton, John Donne and William Shakespeare. For example, he noted that Shakespeare’s tragedies often ended in reconciliation.
“As you go through English literature, it’s a very Christian literature,” he said. “Even the stuff reacting against Christianity deals with issues of faith and humanity. It’s very striking. You can’t take the literature seriously unless you take the big questions seriously.”
Father Van Dyke said his own big question was choosing a life to live, not a job at which to work. He said becoming a Jesuit was more like getting married to someone than being hired for a position.
“A marriage is a life,” he said.
He added that he was inspired by the Jesuit priests he met as a young man attending Buffalo’s Canisius High School. They embodied the original name of the Jesuits, he said, the “Company of Jesus.”
“They were extremely accessible, extremely spirited,” he said of his teachers.
Father Van Dyke entered the Jesuit order in 1981; took his first perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in 1983; and was ordained a priest in 1993. The order must invite a Jesuit to make final vows, he said, likening making the profession to making partner in a law firm or gaining tenure at a university. In a sense, he said, he had already accepted the Jesuits; now, with the profession of his final vows, the Jesuits have fully incorporated him as a member. The final vows include a “promise of special obedience” to the pope in regard to the missions, he added.
A native of Orchard Park, outside of Buffalo, Father Van Dyke has served in various teaching and ministerial positions and taught English at Canisius High School from 1996-2001 before becoming a faculty member at McQuaid in 2002. He was also chaplain at Regis High School in New York City from 1993-96.
The priest holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Virginia and master’s degrees of divinity and theology from Weston School of Theology in Massachusetts. He also holds a master’s degree in liberal arts from St. John’s College in Maryland.
Father Van Dyke concluded that he saw his choice of the priesthood as a response to God’s many blessings in his life.
“It just strikes me as a way that I can respond to God with gratitude,” he said.