Industry workshops. Audition lines. Accruing union equity hours...This may not sound like the life of a Jesuit, but it is.
Joseph Hoover is a Jesuit brother, writer and actor who, for more than a decade, has performed on stage and has even ventured into a few indie film and web projects.
As the historian John O’Malley, SJ, points out, in addition to their pastoral, social and ecclesiastical mission, even the earliest Jesuits realized that they had a cultural mission.
Jesuits instructing theater students centuries ago used special effects, such as lighting and rope pulleys, to enhance the audience’s experience. Jesuits are even credited with the invention of the stage trap door.
Jesuit brothers carry out the same mission as Jesuit priests but do not celebrate Mass or administer the sacraments. While some enter the Society specifically to minister as brothers, others, like Br. Hoover, initially intended to serve as priests but later realized that their vocations were not calling them to the altar.
“I was on the priest track for nine years, but, as a scholastic, I realized that I didn’t want to do sacramental work,” Br. Hoover said. “Instead, I wanted to work mainly in the arts and to be a Jesuit serving outside the walls of a church.”
In a production of Titus Andronicus staged in Jersey City, Br. Hoover played Titus; he was on stage for A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and, last summer, he completed a successful run as a member of the ensemble of King Lear, with John Lithgow in the title role, in the popular Shakespeare in the Park series in Central Park.
All along the way, his unique position as a brother has allowed him to accompany those around him as they journey through different stages of spirituality. Many he encounters seem to reside in the territory of the in-between – between cultures, religions, nations, ideologies. Like many Jesuits before him, Br. Hoover feels called to serve on these margins and is striving to fulfill the Jesuit mission outside church walls, using whatever comes to hand.
“As a Jesuit brother and an actor, I get the chance to be with people in a way I wouldn’t be otherwise,” Br. Hoover said. “Facing rejection, going through the casting and audition process – conversations can happen anywhere, whether in a bar after a show or in an audition line. One night after a show, a couple of guys were talking about the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. I joined their conversation and helped clarify some points about what the Church and Bible teaches. Other times, I’ve met couples who want to raise their kids with Gospel values, but who are wary of organized Christianity.”
Br. Hoover’s creative writing, including plays, essays, short stories and articles published in The Jesuit Post, has become his other primary mission within the Society.
“You get to create something, and you become this vessel for something coming through you. The goal is to get out of the way so that the character or the writing can flow through you, and that’s like prayer too. I find theater and the arts to be among the places that I come closest to feeling the Spirit.”
Currently, Br. Hoover serves as poetry editor at America magazine. Two of his essays have been published in a collection authored by writers for The Jesuit Post, and he is workshopping a play that he wrote himself. The balance he has as a working actor and a Jesuit brother continues to bring meaning to his life.
“Creating art is enough, but on top of that, having these conversations with people is what I’m here for, and it’s fantastic.”