A Personal History

by Robert Santos

This issue of Company focuses on some new starts in the Society of Jesus: a new Boys Hope home, new Nativity-inspired schools, a new school in Lithuania, new ministries in Vietnam. Other new starts are all the young men who begin Jesuit life this fall (see Newcomers story, this issue). To focus this story, we asked Robert Santos to tell us about a friend of his, Robert Duncan, one of those Jesuit novices.

Boys Hope, new schools, Lithuania, Vietnam--the new picks up on the old. So too with the new novices--they come from families and friends who have made them who they are and in their own way take this step into Jesuit life with them.

I'd like to introduce you to a friend, a classmate, and now a Jesuit, Robert Duncan. I remember meeting him for the first time at a dorm my freshman year at Saint Peter's College in Jersey City nine years ago. Who knew that we would be best friends today? Rob, an outgoing junior, took me, an introverted freshman, under his wing and made me feel welcome. That meant a lot to me, as I had just emigrated from the Philippines two years before starting at Saint Peter's. The respect and care he showed me served as a good foundation for a lasting friendship.

Rob has been many things to me, including a doting older brother and a mentor. When I started at Saint Peter's, I was caught in a routine of study, study, and more study. During my first year that was all I really did, and I hardly socialized. Rob knew studying wasn't all there was to college. He was in a course called Culture of the City that involved tours of Manhattan and trips to the symphony, opera, and Broadway plays. Even though all I wanted to do was study, Rob dragged me to these events. I know now what he was thinking: What better way to get me used to this place than to introduce me to cultural activities in New York and to other people?

Rob was an older brother to me as well. He'd get on my case when I did stupid things. In my junior year, I decided that class was just not my cup of tea. I was so involved in extracurricular activities that I forgot I was going to school to get an education. He prodded me to strike a balance between academics and extracurriculars.

On the flip side, he encouraged me when I was doing something worthwhile. It was Rob who led me to a peace and justice group. It was Rob who encouraged me to run for the presidency of the Philippine-American Association at Saint Peter's and who encouraged me to run for the Student Senate with him so we could make a difference in our community. Rob, who worked in the registrar's office at Saint Peter's, knew everybody and used his contacts to help me land a job at school. All these things are indicators of Rob's loyalty to and love for others.

Rob is also very intelligent; he absorbs knowledge like a sponge. Take the way he attacked the study of Latin. Rob took tutorial after tutorial to learn the language. He read Latin constantly and engaged in "Latin Battles" with fellow Latin scholars. In the end, he could (and did) teach Latin to high school students. But even with his intelligence, he recognizes areas about which he needs to learn more, and he's humble enough to accept his limitations.Spiritually, Rob has gone through many stages. When we first met, Rob and I didn't discuss our faith. I knew he was concerned about peace and justice because he encouraged me to join the college Peace and Justice Group. But I didn't associate this with his spirituality. In fact, the only overtly spiritual thing we did in our first year of friendship was attend mass together.

I first became aware of the depth of Rob's faith during my first Emmaus retreat at Saint Peter's. Rob wrote me a deeply moving palanca, a letter of support written to current Emmaus retreatants by past Emmaus participants and family members. In it he told me how he perceived our relationship and how it had affected him on many levels. He talked of human love and divine love, and from then on we were able to share openly our faith and spirituality.

But there was also a time when Rob was devastated by events in his life that, I believe, led him to doubt his faith. Rob had just gone through a bad breakup with a girlfriend, and his reaction was pretty negative. He was less concerned about how God loved him or how he could love God. It was then that I invited Rob to help me form a Christian Life Community. Rob accepted, and this to me was a sign that deep down he really didn't want to give up on his faith.

Rob thrived as a member of CLC, exploring his faith with his peers. He became more open about his spirituality, and in the process he helped countless people in their own faith journeys. He has challenged my own faith, and because of Rob's influence I now constantly ask the question, "How can I love God more?"

He has also positively influenced the growth of many young parishioners at Nativity, his parish. He took a youth group that was rudderless and gave it direction, vitality, and variety in its activities. When I went on retreat with the group, they were effusive in their praise of Rob, saying how easily they could relate to him. Coming from teenagers, that indeed was high praise.

He and I have chosen two different vocations. I have chosen marriage. Beth and I got married this past August, and Rob was one of my groomsmen. He has chosen religious life and priesthood and will be a great addition to the Society. It was a bittersweet day when Beth and I returned from our honeymoon and saw Rob off to the novitiate in Syracuse. But, as the Jesuits have always taught and what Rob embodies, ad majorem dei gloriam.

Robert Santos is an assistant vice president with CS First Boston in New York and a member of the San Pedro CLC. He and his wife, Beth Viray, live in West Orange, New Jersey.