by Beryl Simkins
Jim Donovan is known among us at St. Francis for his ready smile and friendly demeanor, and also for his enthusiastic involvement in the work and activities of our church. Jim grew up in a large and loving Roman Catholic family and was nurtured in an environment that encouraged an early interest in a spiritual vocation. Jim began his early adulthood in the Jesuit Novitiate in Santa Barbara, where he grew in faith and spirituality. Although he was to follow various other diverging paths in his lifetime, he remained true to those early beginnings throughout his life, living what he had learned and, as he said, “finding God in all things.”
Jim was the first of five children in a large, Irish, Catholic family in Sacramento, adopted into this wonderful family when he was 3 months of age. He had one brother and three sisters who were also adopted, and Jim said that he always felt loved and wanted growing up in this family. Jim noted that he never thought about being adopted in the early years of his life because he felt so much a part of this loving family. Jim’s father and mother were devout Roman Catholics living their life faithfully, according to the beliefs of their church. Jim’s father was to become a Deacon in the church after his retirement from a career in real estate. Jim attended Roman Catholic grammar schools run by the Sisters of Mercy and Presentation Sisters from South Cork, Ireland, and later went to a high school run by the Jesuits. Jim spent his summers in Siskiyou County after the age of twelve, with a Catholic priest known by the family who had been given the task, “to shape him up.” It is hard to imagine what was meant by that, knowing Jim as we know him today. During his high school years, Jim remarked that he was particularly inspired by the Jesuits and “fell in love with their ideals.” It was at that time that he made the decision “to serve God in a special way.” After graduating from high school, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Santa Barbara to begin the twelve year formation process for the priesthood. (Jim noted that this is the largest Orders of Roman Catholic Priests, and that the current Pope is a member of this Order.)
After a short but life changing period of time with the Order, Jim made a very difficult decision to leave. He had experienced the long retreat, (The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius), with the first principle and foundations, the Two Standards, and Principles for Obtaining Love, and although he chose to leave, he feels to this day that he is “one of the privileged few who received this roadway of living more deeply.” It was difficult to tell his family that he was not going to become a priest and difficult to follow through on this decision. Jim was never to tell his great aunt who was a Dominican sister of his decision to leave the Jesuits because he felt it would have been so disappointing and upsetting for her. She never know in her lifetime about the choice he had made.
During the time while he was with the Jesuits, Jim had been doing his college work at Loyola University. The Jesuits are a teaching order, and Jim had been slated to be a math teacher. He was to leave the University and finish his degree in statistics at Santa Clara University. During the time at Santa Clara University, Jim met the woman who was to be his first wife. After receiving his degree in statistics, Jim taught math for two years in San Jose. Eventually Jim was to change his vocation somewhat and began working in construction. He worked for a factory that fabricated steel buildings, and has been in that field ever since, working for different companies in different roles, and in various locales. Jim moved to his current location in Atwater fifteen years ago.
Jim has been a single father since his son, Mike was ten, and his daughter, Elizabeth was fifteen. Elizabeth is now twenty-seven, and works for Thurston County in Washington, and is finishing her degree at the University of Washington. Michael is now twenty=two. He graduated from Humboldt University last year, and is now in New York City working toward a Masters Degree in Music at Queens College. Jim noted that he had gradually drifted away from the Roman Catholic Church after his children received the sacraments.
Jim met his current spouse and “love of his life,” Jenny Ann, ten years ago. Prior to getting married, they sought a sacramental church where they could both attend. Jim said, “We attended service at St. Francis and after being so warmly welcomed and received by Deacon Don Rees and the rest of the community, we have found our new faith community. “ They were married one and one half years ago, and have been with us since that time and we are all very grateful for their presence.
Although he left the Order, Jim is exceedingly grateful for his time with the Jesuit Novitiate in Santa Barbara, an experience that has profoundly impacted his entire life. He still arises at 4:15 AM most mornings and practices the daily examinem, and often says the evening breviary prayers. Jim noted also that he still has a deep appreciation for Magnum Silencium, (grand silence), and for Suscipe, (the prayers by St. Ignatius Of Loyola). Conversely, he still fears “Pater Magister vult te videre,” (Father Master wishes to see you and it may be over something you have forgotten to do, or it may be because “Brother, I don’t think you have a vocation as a priest.”) He also has a dread of the thought of Exercitium Caritatus, which was a traumatic revealing of a novice’s shortcomings in which a novice was called to kneel in front of other novices who would name his shortcomings and faults. His profound spiritual experiences as part of the Order of Jesuit Novitiate has been a mainstay in his life, and is exemplified in his faithful service to the ideals that he learned during his tenure there.
by Beryl Simkins
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of biographies of members of St. Francis Episcopal Church. We are grateful for Beryl’s commitment to do this!
If you are interested in reading more about Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuit Order, or learning about the wonderful spiritual practices that are available to all, visit the website: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com. I highly recommend their six-session series, “The Lunchtime Examen” which explores the practice of a daily accounting and commitment of our life to God.
Blessings, Rev. Kathie+