By Mike Gabriele
Fr. Patrick Nolan, SJ, was ordained to the priesthood on June 9, 2018. On that special day, at least in spirit, he became even closer to his mother’s late brother, James R. Dolan (that’s Dolan, not Nolan). Why? Because Fr. Nolan’s favorite uncle growing up was not simply “Uncle Jimmy”; he was also Fr. Jim Dolan, SJ, a Jesuit priest.
In fact, Fr. Nolan’s mother had another close Jesuit relative, Fr. Donald Devine, SJ, a second cousin who was like a second uncle to him later in life, as well as an aunt, Sr. Frances Devine, SC, who was a Sister of Charity.
Two Jesuit uncles and a nun for a great aunt—was Patrick Nolan’s future predestined?
“Our family was very close to my Uncle Jim,” recalls Fr. Nolan. “He was everyone’s favorite uncle—even kids on the street called him Uncle Jimmy. My nana was very sick when I was young, and Uncle Jimmy would drive down from Christ the King R etreat House in Syracuse once a month, often right before bedtime with pizzas in hand—what was not to love!”
Uncle Jim often celebrated Mass right in the family living room, and although Fr. Nolan later served as an altar server at St. Rose of Lima in Massapequa Park, Long Island, there was something special about first serving alongside his uncle at home. “I just felt a real closeness to Jesus when I was around him,” he says. “He made the Mass so welcoming.”
Fr. Nolan is the youngest of seven siblings, and despite having two Jesuit uncles, he was the first to attend a Jesuit university. When he was applying to Loyola University Maryland, his Uncle Jim wrote a note to his own former classmate, then president at Loyola, Fr. Harold Ridley, SJ, beaming that his nephew Patrick was the first in the family to choose a Jesuit college. “He gave me a copy of that letter,” Fr. Nolan remembers. “You could just see how proud he was that I was considering a Jesuit school.”
Although Fr. Nolan didn’t enter the Society of Jesus right after graduation, he admired the Jesuits while at Loyola—Frs. Tim Brown, Hap Ridley, Kevin Gillespie and Frank Nash. “These Jesuits were so authentic and so down to earth, and just really inspiring. They showed up when we lost a classmate. They were present around campus,” says Fr. Nolan. “Especially Fr. Tim Brown—after talking with him, I’d have that same good feeling I used to have after visiting with my Uncle Jimmy. And I later realized it was the consolation that St. Ignatius talks about—the warmth and goodness you feel through companionship with someone you admire and who lives their life with real purpose. Later in my twenties, while working in the sports marketing industry, I started imagining about something deeper for my life. My mind naturally went back to Jesuits like Fr. Tim Brown and my Uncle Jim.” He then laughs, “I didn’t tell either of them I was thinking of joining the Society, because I didn’t think the Jesuits would accept me!”
Well, Patrick Nolan was accepted, and he entered the Society of Jesus in August of 2008. “When I first got to the novitiate, I remember asking an older Jesuit if he knew my Uncle Jim. As he asked me in turn where Jim was these days, he candidly recalled often wondering that very question while he was my uncle’s superior,” Fr. Nolan tells with a grin. “That summed up my Uncle Jimmy so well. He was a free spirit, and he helped so many people experience spiritual freedom.”
Fr. Nolan’s other Jesuit uncle, Fr. Donald Devine, had served in the Pacific Islands of Micronesia, and Fr. Nolan remembers locating these island groups on a map as a kid to visualize where his uncle was serving. “When I was missioned to Micronesia as a novice, I really grew closer to my Uncle Don,” he recalls. “Don had actually spent two years as director of Xavier High School in Chuuk, where I was now teaching. I again found myself asking people if they had known my uncle. A woman named Rufina who had worked there awhile told me that she was a student of Fr. Don’s. What she remembered most was that my uncle was always smiling.” Jesuit joy— finding God in all things. It is how both of Fr. Nolan’s uncles lived their vocations and what inspired him to choose the call as well.
Within a couple of weeks of returning from the Pacific Islands, Fr. Nolan and his novice classmates were sent to Cochabamba, Bolivia to study Spanish. He recalls, “I remember telling my Spanish teacher one day about the religious in my family: my two Jesuit tíos and mí gran tía who was a nun. My teacher corrected me—after motioning to me as if my aunt was very big or grande—that great aunt translates to tía abuela or an aunt who is like a grandmother. There was no better way to describe my relationship with my Aunt Frances, who also taught me the importance of friendship in religious life.”
Now that Fr. Nolan has been a Jesuit priest for a couple years, he reflects on all the things his Jesuit uncles did for the family, whether for a wedding, a baptism or a funeral, making sure everyone was involved. He currently works in enrollment and serves as the athletics chaplain at Boston College High School and as a regional vocation promoter. “I love being an ambassador for the Jesuits,” he says. “To be on the ground—walking with or having a cup of coffee with somebody inquiring about the Society of Jesus is so important. I take accompaniment very seriously. The same is true with these young athletes. Simply to be present. I learned the importance of presence from my Aunt Frances who was present at all of our sacraments and graduations. To be present for them on the sidelines, with their families, giving them support, praying with them. I even bless the helmets and gloves and sticks; I think I’ve blessed every piece of athletic equipment imaginable,” he jokes. “I also direct retreats, uniquely crafted for each team.”
When asked what it’s like to have looked up to two Jesuit uncles for so long and to now actually be a Jesuit uncle for his own nieces and nephews, Fr. Nolan smiles. “You know, regarding my two Jesuit uncles, some of the best advice I received was from my Aunt Frances. She said, ‘Uncle Jimmy is Uncle Jimmy, and Donald is Donald. But you be yourself…Be your own Jesuit, and, more importantly, don’t let it go to your head!’ Pretty good advice, huh?”
Fr. Nolan’s Aunt Frances was 90 when he entered the Jesuits to embark on a 10-year formation. “She told me back then, ‘Now I have a reason to live to 100, so we can celebrate your ordination and my birthday, but the deal is we are having two parties!’” Sr. Frances Devine, SC, died this past October at 102, succeeding in her wish to watch her grandnephew become his “own” Jesuit priest.