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Father Joe Hill, SJ, prayed with students before a theology class at St. Louis University High School. Father Hill attended a Jesuit boarding school in England, where stories of English martyrs resonated with him and helped guide him in his discernment.
Father Joe Hill, SJ, prayed with students before a theology class at St. Louis University High School. Father Hill attended a Jesuit boarding school in England, where stories of English martyrs resonated with him and helped guide him in his discernment.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Young Jesuits embody missionary zeal at SLUH, De Smet

While the Society of Jesus celebrates 200 years of education at St. Louis University High School, two of the order's best and brightest are at SLUH and De Smet Jesuit High School serving as teachers, mentors and role models.

And regular guys, too.

At De Smet, Chris Farrell, SJ, 30, teaches English and supervises the weight room as the school's resident power lifter. Farrell, who is in formation to be a priest, works with athletes using the weight room to build body mass, agility and strength, or students just working out.

At SLUH, Jesuit Father Joe Hill, 35, ordained two years ago, teaches theology, is the chairman of campus ministry and has much experience in the rough-and-tumble game of rugby, which he played in high school and college in England and coached at the high school and collegiate levels on this side of the pond.

For Farrell, studying philosophy at the University of Toronto, led him into the weight room to become a power lifter.

"Graduate studies in philosophy can be very taxing mentally," he said. "There's a lot of reading and learning to think and process in a philosophical way; it's very draining. I needed a physical release. (Power lifting) was a way for me to develop a healthy body, a healthy mind and really a healthy soul.

Chris Farrell, SJ, a teacher at De Smet Jesuit High, supervised weightlifting after school. Farrell, in formation to be a priest, discerned a ‘nobler’ calling than the professional business world.
Photo Credits: Kathryn Ziesig | [email protected]
"In a way, it's kind of sacramental that we're not just disembodied spirits in that spiritual life. It isn't a matter of rejecting our bodies and retreating to another spiritual domain but integrating it into who we are. That's the incarnational aspect of our faith."

Farrell entered the Jesuits in 2011, a year after he graduated with accounting and French degrees from William and Lee University in Lexington, Va. He worked for a year out of college, but discerned a calling to a "nobler" endeavor than simply meeting career and financial goals.

He had limited contact with Jesuits before joining the community. Born and raised in New Orleans, his family evacuated to St. Louis at the time of Hurricane Katrina and he spent the fall/winter semester of the 2005-06 school year at De Smet, his first experience with Catholic education and the Jesuits. They made quite the impression, which also was the case with Father Hill, though he had more experience with them.

Born in Phoenix, he and his family moved to Ascot, England, when he was 9 years old. For high school, he attended Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit boarding school in Lancashire, England. He went to Oxford for a philosophy degree, then spent a year studying and discerning in Rome at the Jesuits' Pontifical Gregorian University. He entered the Jesuits in 2004.

Stories of martyrs such as St. Edmund Campion — the patron saint at Stonybrook — during the English Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries resonated with Father Hill, who described growing up Catholic in England as "difficult." Still, he forged ahead and was attracted by Ignation spirituality and the Jesuits' missionary zeal. He described them as "heroic, adventurous and sacrificing."

As the English martyrs insipired Father Hill, the North American Martyrs — especially St. Jean de Brébeuf, SJ — inspired Farrell.

"We each have saints whose lives resonate with us in a special way," he said. "St. Jean de Brebeuf is one of my own role models."

Farrell and Father Hill teamed with De Smet Jesuit teacher Andy Lange on the coolest of outings last summer for seven De Smet students and four from SLUH: a float trip in Ontario, Canada. The Jesuit Canoe Pilgrimage was a prayerful, peaceful trip to celebrate 150 years for Canada as a nation and to commemorate the sacrifices and martyrdom of the North American Martyrs 225 years before that.

The Jesuit pilgrimage was part of the Canadian Canoe Pilgrimage, a 30-day trip that traced the journeys of Jesuit missionaries from Sainte Marie among the Hurons, where they were martyred, to near Montreal. The St. Louis group made the first part of the journey, visiting the North American Martyrs Shrine and canoeing along the shoreline of Georgia Bay off Lake Huron. The trip proceeded along the French, Mattawa, Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers. 

"The Huron people gave him the name 'Echon,"which means "carries the heavy load,'" Farrell stated. "At every canoe portage, without being asked, he would always make for the heaviest canoe and carry it for miles. He inspires me to be a man of quiet strength who seeks to lighten the burden for others.."

Farrell organized the pilgrimage "to help share his storyand the impact it has had on me with another generation of young men," he added.

The trip took them to the "historical heart and spirtual heart of the Jesuit misson" in the 1600s. Amidst the beauty of God's creation, the pilgrims learned how the Jesuit missionaries' "example of faith, adventure and strenth can continue to serve as a source of inspiration for our 21st century lives."

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