Roger Dawson SJ
My background is not really typical. I was an infantry officer in the British Army for eight years, and if someone had told me when I went to Sandhurst that one day I would be a Jesuit priest I would have laughed at the absurdity of the idea. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans … I then left the Army, went to Durham to read psychology, and then went on to Newcastle University to train as a clinical psychologist. I worked in the NHS for six years in adult mental health services before entering the Jesuit novitiate.
I have been in the Jesuits for 17 years now and I am now Director of St Beuno’s Jesuit Retreat House in a beautiful part of North Wales. Prior to this I have been working in secondary education, both as priest-chaplain at Wimbledon College and also working with Fr Adrian Porter SJ on the Jesuit Institute training and supporting staff at the other ten schools. I was also Editor of Thinking Faith. I am also known as the ‘Pedalling Padre’, as for the last four years I have been chaplain on the Help for Heroes Battlefield Bike Ride with about 250 cyclists on the annual 300 mile ride.
It is difficult to say what attracted me to the Jesuits. Certainly Ignatian spirituality: I love the world-affirming view and awareness of God being at work in the whole of creation, that we have gifts that we can develop and place at the service of God and the world. I was also inspired by the goal of being a ‘contemplative in action’ – though that is harder than I ever realised. And I appreciated the good sense and practical wisdom of Jesuits that I met, who did not expect me to conform to some pre-determined ‘type’.
Recently the Superior General Fr Adolfo Nicolas was asked what to look for in a candidate for the Society. He said to look for two things: a willingness to change, and a willingness to fail. Without doubt I have had my failures in the last 17 years, and I think I have changed. But every so often I remember the elderly Jesuit whom I met at the Farm Street Community in London when I was a novice: as I left the dining room, he looked up and said to me, “Stick with it. It’s worth it”. I have got a lot more changing to do, and no doubt a few more failures to face, but I think he may be right.