Sunday, June 26, 2022

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Community Profile: New Jesuits on Staff

Community Profile: New Jesuits on Staff

As always, the hallways of Jesuit Dallas are congested with students and teachers in passing periods. However, you might have seen a man with a clerical collar walking by in the hallways. Well, he must be one of the three new Jesuit priests on staff! Here are their stories about their paths to priesthood.

Sylvester Tan, SJ

Born to a Vietnamese-American father and a French-American mother, Father Tan grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta. He stated that the fact that he was not surrounded by many Catholics in his childhood “made [his] faith stronger and more intentional”.

Father Tan sought growth opportunities offered by the Boy Scouts of America through camping and hiking. This helped nurture a sense of wonder at the beauty and interconnectedness of creation that continues to inform his thought and work. Learning from these experiences, Father Tan emphasized on the importance of overcoming adversity and bearing perseverance and trust.

Fr. Tan on a hiking trip

Father Tan continued to enjoy outdoor activities during his college years at Sewanee. After being awarded a Watson Fellowship, he embarked on several excursions outside the United States. Then, he studied philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In Rome, Father Tan frequently met with a Jesuit spiritual director and became drawn into St. Ignatius’ writings. As a result, Tan decided to join the Society of Jesus.

After obtaining his philosophy degree in Rome, Father Tan went to study in Toronto. In Toronto, he pursued degrees in French literature and medieval studies.

Then, he taught at Loyola University (New Orleans) for three years as a Visiting Assistant Professor. At Loyola New Orleans, Father Tan gave a lecture about the Spiritual Exercises as part of the school’s Lenten Series. He also organized and directed retreats as director of programs at the Jesuit “Villa Saint-Martin” Spirituality Center in Montreal for two years. Finally, Tan also served as associate pastor at parishes in New Orleans and Albuquerque. In fall of 2021, Father Tan began a doctoral program in theology at SMU in Dallas. He hopes that this program will continue to foster his theological experience. When he is not in school, Father Tan always finds ways to help brighten the lives of those in communities that he has the privilege of knowing. This occurs among his Jesuit confrères, parish congregations, migrant communities, and in his family and friends.

Roy Joseph, SJ

Father Joseph is often described as a connector between different people and cultures. He is the first American Jesuit to be ordained a bi-ritual priest in both Syro-Malabar and Latin rites.

Father Joseph grew up in Atlanta in a family of Syro-Malabar Catholics. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church was founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in Kerala, India.

In Georgia, Father Joseph received his high school education at Woodward Academy. Then, he attended Emory University and headed to Hungary. In Hungary, Father Joseph attended medical school at the University of Szeged. Also, he met many Jesuit scholars and priests and considered being one of them. After graduating from med school, Father Joseph gained more clinical experience. However, he continued to discern the priesthood more seriously. Later, he entered the Society of Jesus at Grand Coteau, Louisiana in 2005 with a degree in medicine. He later studied philosophy at Loyola University Chicago earning a master’s degree in applied philosophy focused on health care ethics.

In 2001, after the first Syro-Malabar diocese was established in the US, Father Joseph attended a Syro-Malabar liturgy in English. Afterwards, Fr. Joseph noted that the liturgy “made me feel at home” and that “it was something uniquely personal”. While in regency, he taught sciences at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston and then received his Master of Divinity degree at Boston College. In Boston, Fr. Joseph felt that he was called to become a Syro-Malabar and a Jesuit priest.

Fr. Joseph with students in Houston

Father Joseph was ordained a bi-ritual priest for both the Latin and the Syro-Malabar rites in 2016. After his ordination, Father Joseph commenced his Jesuit ministry. This included living in a L’Arche community, serving at the Mexican border, guiding student missions in Central America, giving young adult retreats, and teaching religious education to the youth. Before coming to Montserrat, he lived in Denver and served as a priest for Saint Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church and the Saint Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Mission. During his time there, he helped form future spiritual directors in Denver’s Ignatian Spirituality Program. Also, he served as spiritual director to those in lay, consecrated, and priestly life.

Derek Vo, SJ

He came to the US as a refugee from Vietnam. After his settlement in the heartland of Oklahoma, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Oklahoma. Afterwards, he worked for almost nine years as a database maintainer, computer programmer and software developer.

While participating in a local Christian Life Community group in Dallas, he discovered his call to the priesthood and joined the Society of Jesus. Through his Jesuit formation, he worked closely with the incarcerated in various prisons and cities.

After his ordination in 2014, Father Derek was sent to Belize in Central America. First, his assignment was to live with and assist the Mayan people of the Toledo District. In addition, he used his summers to give retreats to the Vietnamese people living in America. Then, Father Vo joined the staff of Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House during the pandemic in 2020.

Fr. Vo leading a prayer service in Belize


Last week, I had the opportunity to interview the priests about their thoughts on Jesuit Dallas and life at Montserrat Retreat House.

Father Tan’s Remarks

“My knowledge of Jesuit Dallas is limited and I eager to get to know it better, since it has been only about three months since I started helping out at the school every Monday. In my experience, Jesuit Dallas is a place where the Word is made flesh and sins are forgiven. I regularly begin my Mondays at Jesuit Dallas by celebrating Mass for the few students, faculty, and staff who attend the Masses I celebrate. Of course, there are many other good things that I experience at Dallas Jesuit. I enjoy chatting with members of the community, especially when we share meals together in the cafeteria or the faculty dining room, and I’m delighted to see some of the good things that people are doing in the organizations that I am able to drop in on during activity period. I’d love to be able to visit classes and contribute to the discussions that go on in them.”

Father Joseph’s Thoughts

“What I like most about Jesuit Dallas is the sense of community that I have observed. The school seems to foster gathering in big and small groups, like classes eating lunch together, community time with its many student activities, and department faculty working together from their nearby offices. I’m glad to be part of a school that clearly strives to build community.”

Final Thoughts

So, if you see any of the priests anywhere on campus, then remember to make them feel welcomed to our community!

Stay tuned to The Roundup for more community profiles!