Q&A with former Upper School Chinese teacher Aaron Bohr

Q&A with former Upper School Chinese teacher Aaron Bohr

Aaron Bohr, formerly an Upper School Chinese teacher at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, joined the Jesuit Order in 2012. The Society of Jesus is a monastic order of the Catholic Church, founded in 1534 by St. Ignatius Loyola, with a strong educational tradition.

Q: How long had you considered a life in ministry prior to your decision to become a priest?

I have always thought about becoming a priest since I was a boy. In graduate school, I felt a desire to become a Jesuit priest. I desired to have experience in the world and to further discern my vocation. When I started teaching at SPA, the desire grew and grew, even though I was reluctant to leave my students and friends at SPA to pursue my vocation as a Jesuit.

Q: How was your decision received by SPA students and faculty? Were many of them familiar with your religious background beforehand?

Some SPA students and faculty were surprised, while others were not. In fact, some of my students figured out why I was leaving before I formally announced it. I feel that most SPA students and faculty were familiar with my religious background before because it is so much a part of who I am.

Q: In what ways has the Jesuit intellectual and educational tradition enabled you to continue your career as an educator?

Being a Jesuit has deepened my vocation as an educator. The more I taught, the more I felt a call to take teaching to a deeper level and for me the next natural step was to enter the Society of Jesus. We Jesuits have a long tradition of scholarship and two of my Jesuit heroes, Matteo Ricci and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin were scholars. Ricci was an Italian who in the 17th century went to China and learned Chinese. He helped lay the foundation for a Chinese expression of Catholicism that is very dear to me. Teilhard de Chardin was a paleontologist who framed human evolution as the loving and unfolding creating of God.

Q: What appeal did the Jesuit Order have for you, as opposed to a diocesan priesthood?

The Jesuits (or the Society of Jesus, our formal name) have a very long tradition of education, inter-religious dialogue, and have a wonderful charge in the Church and the world: to find God in all things. This very much appeals to me. In addition, we live in communities (called “houses”) and live a very simple life not too different from what most Americans are used to. St. Ignatius, our founder, said that the Jesuit manner of living “is ordinary.” We have daily Mass in community, eat our dinners together, and settle down in the evenings to watch the news and to work and pray. We are not monks, though we also take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I like to say that my monastery is in my heart, and wherever I am is my monastic cell. I encounter God in the classroom teaching, accompanying the choir on the piano, and talking with a friend. In fact, Jesuits are very close-knit. I’ve been a Jesuit for eighteen months, and have made some of my closest friends here in the Society of Jesus. We share a great bond with one another, and support one another as brothers. We are a worldwide brotherhood and focus on a life of faith in the promotion of justice. Pope Francis is I believe our most well-known example of the model Jesuit. The diocesan priesthood is important, but I feel called to the Jesuit way of life.

Q: What have been some of your activities since you left your teaching post at SPA?

I have done a great number of things since I left SPA. I am currently a novice, which means that I have not yet pronounced my first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience with a promise to remain in the Society of Jesus “forever.” Still, I am a Jesuit, and I live by the vows. This is like my engagement period. I will, God-willing, take my first vows in August. As a novice, we are given a variety of experiences to help us become familiar with the work of the Society of Jesus. So, I have worked at Cristo Rey Twin Cities Jesuit High School in Minneapolis last fall. I went on the month-long silent retreat that all Jesuits do twice in our lives, during which we make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I have worked in the Jesuit retirement and nursing home for older Jesuits outside of Detroit. I made a pilgrimage with $35 and a one-way bus ticket to Louisville, KY and was gone for a month. I managed to make my way back to St. Paul! I have worked with the Visitation nuns who have a monastery in north Minneapolis, helping them with their ministry in the inner city. I am currently working at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, helping out with teaching, campus ministry, and the string orchestra. I really am enjoying it.

Q: How are education and ministry linked in your mind? How does knowledge contribute to faith, and faith to knowledge?

For me, education is a form of ministry. The two are very much linked. I feel that being a Jesuit for me has deepened my vocation as a teacher. How are knowledge and faith linked? Well, the more we know about something or someone, the more we come to love. The more we come to love, the more we desire to serve. One of my favorite prayers puts this very well:

O Most Merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,

May I know thee more clearly,

Love thee more dearly,

Follow thee more nearly,

Day by day.