By Peter Tormey
SPOKANE, Wash. – If “all the world’s a stage,” as Shakespeare famously wrote, it’s no wonder Father Jack Bentz, S.J. plays his part with such natural grace. After all, the 1985 Gonzaga University graduate with a double major in English and theatre has found being a Jesuit the ideal role – one that combines his love of Jesus and the stage.
Fr. Bentz, who came to Gonzaga three years ago as vocation director for the Oregon Province Jesuits, finished directing a run of “Good People” at Interplayers Theatre on Feb. 8.
“It’s squarely part of my ministry. It’s squarely part of who I am in the world as a Jesuit,” he said. “I’ve trained as a theatre artist, that is what my undergraduate work was about. I went to acting school in New York and then worked and started a couple of theatres before joining the Jesuits in my early 30s.”
Fr. Bentz has practiced his theatre ministry in the jungles of Honduras, in Mexico, and in Serbia, helping cultures to understand how the art form can begin to stitch together communities torn asunder by war, poverty or other strife.
He has done bilingual theatre work throughout California and in Seattle, and Yakima, Wash., helping immigrant populations and other communities encounter each other. Last year, he wrote a play called “Full Measure,” which looks at both sides of the same-sex marriage issue and played two priests on both sides of the debate. He’s helped found five different theaters, directed numerous plays, taught acting, and was assistant to the resident director of “The Lion King” on Broadway.
As being a Jesuit means doing the magis – a Latin term meaning the more universal good – Fr. Bentz also serves as chaplain for the Gonzaga School of Law, Madonna Residence Hall, and the Zags men’s basketball team. His leadership in Jesuit vocations takes up most of his time, and his ingenuity in that work has led to some new approaches to campus discernment – ideas that are being used at other schools in the West. One innovation in particular is a twice-monthly discernment meeting for young men at Gonzaga who kick around the idea of becoming Jesuits.
“I came to Gonzaga because I know the quality of the students here and that they are open to the question of becoming a Jesuit,” he said. “And why wouldn’t graduates of Gonzaga become Jesuits on a more regular basis? It’s a great life.”
Having a Jesuit pontiff, Pope Francis, also helps vocations.
“Francis is making a difference in the Church but he’s also making a difference in Jesuit vocations,” he said.
Born and raised into a cattle ranching family with six siblings in a part of Eastern Oregon so remote it’s referred to as “where God lost his shoes,” Fr. Bentz says he sees God revealed through an ongoing openness to Christ.
“It’s by us being willing to invite him into our lives.”
One useful way to think of prayer is as opening the door to Christ each morning, he said.
“It’s getting that door open that’s important,” he says. The door may represent our worry, anxiety, self-centeredness, anger, resentment or other useless feelings that can block our spiritual development, he says.
“My prayer practice is opening that door, and the rest of the day Christ walks in,” he said. “Prayer is at least two pieces: petition and praise. Petition, I think that’s good and I do a certain amount of that. Praise is a much larger piece – lots of gratitude and thankfulness for the life I have.”
The Jesuits are grateful for an engaging leader like Fr. Jack Bentz – in the role of his life, acting for the Jesuits, as directed by Jesus.