In his new book, Father Jim Martin describes his journey from a high-powered, high-paying corporate position at General Electric to the Jesuit priesthood and a vow of poverty.
It would, I realized be impossible to wait until August 15 to find out the Jesuits' decision, and then simply quit my job. I couldn't give such short notice and just leave, without spending a few weeks helping to recruit and train my replacement. Instead, I would have to make a decision: Should I leave my job before I knew whether the Jesuits had accepted me?
At the time, I expected a dramatic, incontrovertible answer to this dilemma. In other words, a sign. I figured if I was committing my life to God, God could at least provide me with something more tangible. But after a week of frustrating indecision, nothing came; no definite answer, no voices, no visions, no warm feelings. Of course, if any of those things had happened, I probably would have been scared to death. Still, I began to wonder if the experiences of the retreat--Jesus being my friend and all the rest--had been an illusion.
Then next Sunday I found myself in another church in Stamford, St. Mary's. During the Mass I prayed for a sign, something that would help me see what I had to do. After Mass, out of desperation, I knelt in front of a statue of Jesus. I was so frustrated; hot tears filled my eyes. I prayed and said, "Take me!" as hard as I could. And suddenly I felt a wordless voice within me saying, "I will." It was unlike anything I had experienced. I had felt the words inside my head. Surprised, and a little frightened, I stood up immediately and bolted out of the church. Had I imagined the whole thing? I wasn't sure...I didn't think so. But what I didn't imagine was the sense of clarity about what I needed to do.
I gave my notice the next day. I sat down in Karen's office and explained that I was leaving, to become a priest.
"You're kidding right?" she said.
After I assured her that I was not kidding, she asked me if I could stay to help her find someone. Then she thought for a minute and said, "Wow! Could you baptize children?" I guessed so. "Great. Maybe you could baptize mine?" Sure, I said, why not?
After six years at GE, it was difficult to believe that I could give it all up so readily. But the intense desire to enter the Jesuits made leaving the company easier. I knew that I would miss my coworkers but, by this point, not the work. And the more I thought about it, the more I couldn't wait to enter the novitiate.
I had enormous fun spreading the news. By this time my secretary was calling me "Father Martin" and I felt great about the whole thing--a bit pious, basking in the glow of The Man Who Gave It All Up. But underneath that vanity was a real sense of relief and excitement, even joy.
When I had left for the retreat I hadn't told anyone, other than my secretary, where I was going. After I returned from Boston, my friends at work were more than a little curious about where I had disappeared to. "Where were you?" my friend Kate asked at 9:00 on Monday morning.
"Let's have lunch, and I'll tell you," I said. "Bring along Chris and Chip, too. I have some news for you."
Such a mysterious response, I knew, would guarantee their presence at 12 noon in my office.
"I have something to tell you," I said after I shut the door.
"That's the easy part," I said. "Now you have to guess why."
"You're moving back to Philadelphia," said Chris.
"You're going to get your M.B.A."
"Oh God," I groaned, "no way."
This continued for a few minutes.
"Give up?" I asked. They nodded.
"I'm joining the Jesuits."
Silence and puzzled glances.
"Isn't that..." said Kate tentatively. "I think that's like a priest...isn't it?""Yup," I said.
Kate jumped out of her chair, "You're kidding!"
Later that day, since I figured word would spread rapidly, I visited some other friends, most of whom also said some variation of "You're kidding." My friend Reid played the same guessing game, failing miserably. Finally I told her and she jumped out of her chair and shouted, "You're kidding!" attracting the rest of her department, with whom I had to share my secret.
I couldn't wait to tell Rob, my old roommate, in person, so I phoned him at his office.
"A priest? You're kidding," he said. When I assured him that I was not, he said, "Mazel tov!" I mentioned that I thought it would be fun to tell the rest of our friends over dinner.
"Promise me that you'll let me come," he said. "This I've got to see."
So I invited a few close friends from Penn to my favorite restaurant in Manhattan, called Le Brasserie, to spring the news on them. They were miffed at all the secrecy that I had intentionally let accompany the dinner. We sat down and I watched them squirm in anticipation. Finally, my friend Jim said, "Okay, Martin, what's going on?"