Jesuit missionaries inspire vocations to the priesthood

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Nico Lariosa, left, and Alan Wong, will be ordained as Jesuit priests on 16 June this year. Both say they were inspired after reading about the lives of Jesuit missionaries. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

It was the example of other Jesuits that first made Nico Lariosa and Alan Wong desire to become priests within the Society of Jesus.

The two young men who entered the Jesuits together on exactly the same day eleven years ago will be ordained to the priesthood together on 16 June this year.
Both say it was the example of Jesuits they either encountered during their formative years, or read about in the history of the Society, that first led them down the path to priesthood.

“I discovered the story of a young Jesuit missionary in Cambodia—Richard Fernando—and I was so moved by the way in which he offered his life to the people he served,” said 34 year-old Nico Lariosa, who was born in the Philippines and moved to Australia in his late teens.

“When he died and they were looking through his belongings they found his journal which contained these words: ‘I wish that when I die people will remember not how great, talented or powerful I was, but that I spoke the truth. I have witnessed to what is right, I was sincere in all my words and actions. In other words, I loved and followed Christ’.”

Nico Lariosa was moved by the story of Jesuit missionary Richard Fernando. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“I was about 15 when I came across that quote and that really touched me. I thought, ‘Whatever this guy had, to give up his life like that, I want for myself too.’ That’s when the seed of a vocation to the Jesuits was planted.”

After reading Fernando’s words, Nico wrote to the Jesuits—at just 15 years of age—to ask for admission.

“They said to me, ‘Thank you for your enquiry but you’re too young. Just continue what you’re doing and when you’re a bit older come back to us.’ I was a bit disappointed when I received that letter.”

After completing secondary school and undergraduate studies in the Philippines, Nico moved to Brisbane where he undertook a Masters in Philosophy at Queensland University. The call to priesthood had not left him.

An image of Jesuit missionary, Richard Fernando, whose cause for canonisation is in the preliminary stages.

“I felt much more strongly the desire to become a priest and this time it was really to become a Jesuit.”

Nico entered the Jesuits in 2007 on the same day as Alan Wong. The two studied theology together at Boston College which Nico describes as “like the United Nations.”

“In First Year there were 77 Jesuit students from 43 different countries. It was great hearing about the Church and the Jesuits in Africa and South and Central America.”

After completing his studies, Nico returned to Sydney to teach at St Aloysius’ College in Milson’s Point, a Jesuit-run school.

Thirty-nine year-old Alan was born and raised in Hong Kong until control of the city was handed over to mainland China in 1997, when he migrated with his family to Australia.

Alan Wong says the seed of his vocation to the Jesuits was planted when he witnessed the example of his Jesuit teachers at school, and later read the story of 16th century Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

They settled in Sydney’s inner-west suburb of Concord and Alan attended St Aloysius’ College.

“I saw the Jesuit priests and brothers who taught me as men with confidence, men who really knew what they wanted in the world and how to go about it,” Alan said.

He was also deeply influenced by the life story of 16th century Italian Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci.

“He had this big idea about inculturation of the Gospel into the cultures. That was very attractive. He was one of the first to learn the language and work in that environment and it wasn’t a very easy environment. To do all that, the encounter with the Chinese in terms of friendship… these were new ways of doing things that were very important.”

Even though he moved away from his Catholic faith while studying Electrical Engineering at UNSW, Alan says it was the passing of his grandparents that made him reassess his priorities in life.

Image of 16th century Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci.

“Going back to church for the funeral for the first time in four years, there was a real deep sense of peace and love.”

Losing his grandparents had a profound affect on Alan and he found himself searching for meaning in life. “I guess I was lost, grieving, trying to find meaning in the process. I remember one night looking up websites and for some reason felt I should look up my old teachers. So I looked up the Jesuits.

“When I read about some of the Jesuits working in refugee camps I heard this call, or voice, saying ‘You should be a priest’.”

After much discernment Alan entered the Jesuits and began the journey to priesthood.

Alan says priesthood is “a gift from God, a grace” and that he is looking forward to “ministering to people.”

Alan Wong, left, and Nico Lariosa in the chapel at St Aloysius’ College in Milson’s Point. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Nico, meanwhile, is excited by the opportunity to “accompany people” and “break open the Word for them.”

Both Nico and Alan say that the sense of community within the Society of Jesus is extremely important, as it has nurtured their faith and vocations.

“It’s the spirituality and the community,” Nico said. “This bond of affection we have with each other. There’s actually a profound sharing of experiences and we support each other. You know that in the community you’re loved as you are. For me, it’s a great source of consolation.”

For Alan, an added attraction is the diversity within the Jesuits.

“There is no stereotypical Jesuit. That’s really appealing to me, the whole diversity in unity, friends in the Lord. We have foundations in common, experiences we share, but also diversity. People have such different interests but we’re still together, it’s just amazing. For me, that encapsulates a little bit of what heaven’s probably like.”