Scholastic Janez Gorenc SJ was born in Ljubljana. He graduated at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana. He deepened his relationship with God in his student years when he discovered the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. This brought him to a decision to join the Society of Jesus, with which he was in touch since childhood in the Jesuit parish of Ljubljana-Dravlje. He completed his Jesuit novitiate in Genova (Italy) and made his first vows in 2018. His path of formation then led him to Rome, where he lived in the international Jesuit community of San Saba, studying philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He was also doing his pastoral work for the Scouts and helped in the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). After completing his philosophy studies, he was sent to Ljubljana, to the St. Joseph community, where today he is in position of a Vice-Rector of the Jesuit College in Ljubljana.
Sh. Janez, can you tell us what it means to be a Jesuit in formation? What kind of path does a young man need to take to become a Jesuit? What stages have you already passed?
I am currently the Vice-Rector of the Jesuit College in Ljubljana. This is a stage in my formation which the Jesuits call Regency (➮ Jesuit Formation). It usually lasts two years. This experience is much more apostolic/pastoral oriented compared to the novitiate and the study of philosophy. It presents the challenge of putting the theoretical knowledge you gained into practice. I have already completed some stages of my formation: two years of novitiate, making my first vows and two years of philosophy studies. The goal of the Jesuit formation is to familiarize a young Jesuit with spiritual life, community life and the apostolate. In the novitiate, one also experiences the so called experiments. These can include a month of spiritual exercises, work in a hospital, etc. I worked in a hospital with people that suffered from mental illnesses (feeding & cleaning them) and completed a pilgrimage in poverty.
This type of pilgrimage has specific rules: you only get the name of your destination (in my case it was from Genova to Livorno – Monte Nero), the name of your pilgrimage companion, and money to travel back home. You have to ask for overnight lodgings by yourself, same as any other mendicant, cannot accept any money and cannot tell anyone that you are a Jesuit.
In my second year of novitiate, I fasted in the Jesuit community in Palermo and worked at the Jesuit school Istituto Gonzaga.
Another challenge from that period was the language. I had to learn Italian fast and directly from scratch. The Euro-Mediterranean Jesuit Province, to which the novitiate belongs, includes Albania, Malta, and Italy. The novitiate is ethnically diverse, and this provided a great opportunity to learn about other cultures, prejudices, and history. We all communicated in Italian. During philosophy studies, this international experience expanded even more: in addition to the nationalities mentioned above, we had Portuguese, Spanish and Czechs living with us. Another challenge was the study of Latin, which is a compulsory part of the philosophy curriculum.
During the novitiate, we also had a wonderful holiday week: my novitiate brothers came to visit from Genova to Slovenia. I was the one who guided them.
At the end of the novitiate, my superiors sent me to Rome for two years to study philosophy. At the time, I worked pastorally for the Scouts and spent some time working with refugees through the Jesuit Refugees Service (JRS) in the parish of San Saba, where our Jesuit community is also located. The work with JRS required mainly the distribution of meals to people with the refugee status and all-night duty at the asylum seekers’ center in a former movie theatre building.
In such an environment, you experience plenty of things. Seeing some horrible cases makes you tremble. For example, once a man with terrible burns came to me, and he could barely hold a food card. At the same time, I had experienced wonderful moments of gratitude. A young man came to look for a Jesuit to thank him. He explained to us that a particular Father had helped him a lot when he came to Italy, many years ago. It is also nice to see that at some point many asylum seekers spontaneously start to help one another, and they become active in many areas.
What were your responsibilities at the Jesuit College in Ljubljana? How did your roles as a Jesuit in formation and Vice-Rector of the Jesuit College meet, or complement each other?
I am the youngest member of the Jesuit in St. Joseph Community, nevertheless I feel very comfortable here. I am experiencing what it means to be a Jesuit today, with all the challenges and limitations.
I continue to learn something new in my role as Vice-Rector every day. My original job was to help Fr. Damjan with the essential mission of the College. I learn – from him, from students, from my Jesuit community. Specially from the latter, I learn what it means to be a Jesuit in the context of the College, the Church and the Slovenian society in general.
Theoretically, my role at the College this academic year involves responsibility and care for the Slovenian residents. (Fr. Damjan looks after the international students). I am also the lecturer at the College courses: Current Topics in the (Contemporary) Church. Together with Peter Černe, I work on the production of the podcast Tangenta. We choose the topics together and then, in a tone of informal but structured conversation, we address contemporary issues and challenges of young people and how to deal with them. We wish to give young people a voice, to learn how to express ourselves constructively in society and talk about the Church. We address many topics, from faith and Christianity to internet gadgets and communication. The podcast offers us another challenge: to technically implement this project (i.e., the quality of sound) with limited resources, etc. The most important challenge, however, is finding a way of building a community around it.
How to give a broader view (today’s communication channels are structured to function in a bubble of like-minded people, and we can also see it as a reflection of today’s society model); how to fit into these bubbles and open them wider, go into deep? That is why our podcast is named Tangenta – a straight line coming from infinity, touching a single point, and going on, into infinity.
During my Regency, I learned a lot about social media: how to use it, how to keep up with it, and also how social media can drink out much of our vitality. I notice that most students are aware of that problem, and they deal with it by limiting their choices and their use of media. It is important that we know how to use these tools for our own good, and that we are the ones who use them, not the other way around (that the social media uses us).
I also act as a spiritual companion to the group called Living Stones, which gathers here at the College. It is a group of eight male and female students that are closely connected. This group digs into the spirituality and the theological side of the sacred art of the Church, its symbolism, and the theological interpretation of art in general.
The situation in the world today sometimes seems hopeless, without a future. It can make one to feel cynical or desperate, but – when I see all these young people, full of life and eager to learn about faith, wishing to build a community, I am extremely hopeful and joyful about the future.
I believe that in the Jesuit formation, it is important to go to the edge, physically and mentally, to “let yourself be shaken up”. The mission itself means searching for God, together with people around you. In my case, the students give me energy and hope for the future. I would indeed go to the end of the world with them, and that represents for me the essence of the Christian community.
What about your next steps?
Again, my studies come first. The next step in my formation is to study theology at one of the European Jesuit formation centers (Rome, Paris, Warsaw or Madrid). The studies will last three years. Perhaps I will tell you more about it in the next newsletter.