It has to be said: Chris Farrell, SJ, looks like a lumberjack. With a full beard and shoulders that can only come from hours in the weight room, his physical presence is striking. But there is so much more to this thoughtful, prayerful Jesuit who studied accounting but teaches English, leads high school students on pilgrimages in the wilderness and looks forward to where God will bring him in years ahead.
Beginning his senior year at Washington and Lee University, Farrell seemed to have successfully locked up the future he’d been working for: a great job in a great city and the potential for starting a family someday. Instead of feeling satisfied and eager for his future, though, he wondered, “Is this all there is?”
Farrell began considering religious life. “I did exactly what you shouldn’t do,” he said ruefully. “I discerned on my own.” The turning point came when he unknowingly followed one of St. Ignatius’s methods of discernment: he envisioned himself at the end of his life – one with a family and a career in accounting – and asked himself if this was his best possible life. “I knew I would wish I had returned more to God.”
As he prayed and discerned, all the “puzzle pieces” of his life – his enthusiasm for education, the joy he derived from his college fraternity, his hope to be a father and his striving to do something noble with his life – all began to fit together in an unexpected way that made his path clear.
“All these things I was passionate about seemed to be fulfilled in Jesuit life,” he said. “God was calling me to fatherhood in a different sense than I had anticipated. I believe good fathers teach their children what it means to live a good life, and I came to understand that God was calling me to form young men to become good, holy men.”
Students at De Smet Jesuit High School and St. Louis University High School (SLUH) are benefiting from Farrell’s spirit of adventure as well as his call to teach. For the past two summers, he has led pilgrimages to places of significance in Jesuit history. Last year, he and Fr. Joseph Hill, SJ, led a group of 11 De Smet and SLUH students on a Canadian canoe pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of St. Jean de Brébeuf. This summer, he and Fr. Aaron Pidel, SJ, led 11 students on a backpacking pilgrimage in the mountains of Wyoming, where Fr. Peter De Smet, SJ, served as a missionary.
On both trips, Farrell wore the long black cassock familiar to his Jesuit forebears. He could have fit right in with De Smet or Brébeuf or any generation of Jesuits who wanted nothing more than to bring souls to God.
“On our journey to God, it’s easy to be distracted—often by things that are beautiful and good. In a Church that can seem irrelevant to teens, who are all about adventure and their physical bodies, how do we channel this physicality to a holy end? I want to give them an avenue to recognize their energy can be a gift from God.”
Farrell is in his last year of Regency, teaching English and theology to sophomores at De Smet. A powerlifter himself, he also helps students with their workouts. He will apply for theology studies during the course of this year. “God knows where I’ll be after that,” he says. “I like being surprised by God. His plan is so much better than my own.”
The Ignatian Spirituality Program of Denver offers Ignatian group retreats, individual spiritual direction, the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life, and trains spiritual directors and guides of the Spiritual Exercises.