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Priest helps Gonzaga students discern their religious vocations as laity

While fewer Catholics today are making life-long vows to enter vocations of ordained priesthood or religious orders, more lay people are recognizing they have “religious vocations,” reports Father Frank Case, SJ, vice president of mission at Gonzaga University.

Father Frank Case
Father Frank Case, Vice President of Mission, GU

With Jesuits graying and just 11 novices entering the Society of Jesus in the Oregon and California Provinces last year, he said, it’s quite a contrast to when he graduated from Seattle Prep High School in 1956, and 10 of his class of 89 became Jesuit novices, three entered the diocesan seminary and one became a Trappist monk.

There would be a vocations crisis, Fr. Frank said, if there were not a strong sense of mission in line with the Second Vatican Council’s call in the 1960s for the renewal of “lay vocations,” their understanding of the call and essential role of laity in doing the church’s mission.

Fr. Frank sees his role at Gonzaga as keeping the Jesuit spirit and mission integral to life among faculty, staff and students, developing their leadership so they live as a community of love, faith and justice at Gonzaga and in their lives and careers in the world.

He helps members of Gonzaga faculty and staff as they advance understanding of Gonzaga’s mission as a Catholic, Jesuit and humanistic institution.  Their role is to fulfill the mission by promoting academic excellence, cultural values and openness to the world.

With religious vocations now intentionally including laity, Fr. Frank said faculty and staff plant and tend seeds among students, so they are “formed” as whole people—intellectually, spiritually, physically, emotionally and socially—and are empowered to understand their vocations. 

To develop students’ commitments to be leaders in society, Gonzaga encourages them to be involved in service-learning experiences that instill caring for the common good, solidarity with the poor, engagement around the world and sustainable use of God’s creation, Fr. Frank said.

“We want students to build relationships of respect, love and trust, and to be open to truth wherever it is,” he said, explaining the need for critical thinking skills to use throughout their lives, so they continually reflect on their experiences and their vocations.

According to Gonzaga’s mission statement, the university believes that “knowledge of traditions and cultures different from our own draws us closer to the human family, of which we are a part, and makes us more aware of both the possibilities and limitations of our own heritage.”

With half of Gonzaga students being Catholic and others being Protestant, Muslim, Jewish and other faiths, the university’s mission for all to have spiritual formation in faith means students learn to develop mature faith relationships with God according to their own traditions.

“We want students to have a mature sense of spirituality and faith,” Fr. Frank said.

According to the university’s mission, Gonzaga hopes “all graduates will live creative, productive, and moral lives, seeking to fulfill their own aspirations and at the same time actively supporting the aspirations of others by a generous sharing of their gifts.”

While Fr. Frank realizes that 18-to-22-year-old undergraduates may need to test their wings, he finds that they, as well as graduate students, are interested in exploring their purposes in life.  The core curriculum helps them do that.

Gonzaga’s mission also says: “In the light of our own tradition and the variety of human societies, we seek to understand the world we live in.  It is a world of great technological progress, scientific complexity and competing ideologies. It offers great possibilities for cooperation and interdependence, but at the same time presents us with the fact of widespread poverty, hunger, injustice and the prospect of degeneration and destruction.  We seek to provide for our students some understanding of contemporary civilization, and we invite them to reflect with us on the problems and possibilities of a scientific age, the ideological differences that separate the peoples of the world, and the rights and responsibilities that come from commitment to a free society. In this way, we hope to prepare our students for an enlightened dedication to the Christian ideals of justice and peace.”

Fr. Frank knows from experience that the path through studies into vocation takes time and many turns.  His path of following God’s call took him through studies, teaching, service in Rome, travel, back to Seattle and Spokane.

As a novice, he studied classics and history for four years at the Jesuit Novitiate in Sheridan, Ore.  At St. Louis University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1962 and a master’s in economics and philosophy in 1964.

After teaching for two years at Gonzaga Prep, he earned a master’s degree in sacred theology in 1970 at Alma College in Santa Clara University of California and was ordained to the priesthood in 1969.  While completing a doctorate in economics in 1980 at Washington University in St. Louis, he taught from 1975 to 1986 at Seattle University.

In 1981, he became rector for the Jesuit community at Seattle University and, in 1986, was named provincial superior for the Oregon Province, covering Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The Jesuit Father General Peter Hans Kohlenbach called him to Rome in 1990 as regional assistant for the United States to serve as liaison to the U.S. Jesuit network.  In 2005, he became general secretary of the Jesuit Order, serving three years until the 35th General Congregation in 2008 elected a new Father General.

In Rome, Fr. Frank used correspondence, the tool Ignatius used to build the Society of Jesus.  Fr. Frank said the Society’s Roman Curia operates with just three tenths of a percent of its global population in central administration, in contrast to one percent—considered the standard for efficiency in business. He believes regular correspondence makes that possible by building awareness and trusting relationships.

“Our international cohesion is strong,” said Fr. Frank.  “Our mission, role and charism are what the Spirit calls us to do: take the Gospel message into cultures and historical eras, and put it into images and words people in those cultures can understand and integrate into their lives.”

For U.S. Jesuits, that means understanding pluralism to communicate effectively, he said.

His connection in Rome with his counterparts from around the world gave him insight into intercultural values and different approaches needed to make faith relevant in different settings. 

“Because of my exposure to many cultures and my experiences of people around the world, I’m at ease with variety and diversity,” said Fr. Frank who has traveled in Kenya, Zambia and South Africa.

After 18 years in Rome, he returned to be Jesuit assistant to the School of Law and the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University. 

He found a shift in mindset from lay people collaborating with Jesuits to Jesuits collaborating with lay colleagues.  He also finds that spirit at Gonzaga University, where he was a trustee beginning in 2008 before he began working there in June 2011.  

He is also the chief advisor to Gonzaga’s first lay president, Thane McCulloh, on matters related to Jesuit and Catholic institutional identity, which includes officiating at Masses for major university occasions.  His office also includes University Ministry.

Fr. Frank, 74, lives in a Gonzaga residence hall, serving as chaplain and sometimes as grandfather for students, available when they need assistance.

Through prayer and sensing God’s love for him, he said he’s at ease with who he is and his vocation.  He hopes he is an example to the students.

For information, call 313-6112 or email casef@gonzaga.edu.





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