To continue celebrating vocations throughout the month of November, the national Jesuit Conference is publishing a vibrant and engaging series of vocations profiles, titled, “Answering God’s Call.” The first profile features Dr. Javier Diaz, SJ, a Jesuit scholastic and medical doctor from Costa Rica, who is currently studying theology at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. In Our Company will feature all three remaining three profiles over the next few weeks. Visit Jesuit.org for more information.
Jesuit scholastic Javier Diaz’s path to the Society of Jesus was a circuitous one. Born and raised in San José, Costa Rica, Diaz was just 10 years old when he first heard the call to the priesthood — and the Society of Jesus in particular — but it would be many years before he answered it.
“Because my name is Francisco Javier, I was given a booklet very early about the life of Francis Xavier. That’s how I first came to know about the Jesuits,” Diaz recalls. He also joined the Scout movement as a boy, which at the time had a Jesuit as the executive director of education in Latin America, so Diaz was exposed to many Jesuit publications on spirituality.“I discovered that many of the elements of my prayer had something to do with Ignatian spirituality.”
While Diaz felt the call to the priesthood at a young age, his parents encouraged him to “grow up” first and see if the Lord would confirm his call. Diaz decided to go to medical school at the University of Costa Rica, because he saw medicine as another way to serve people.
After graduating medical school in 1999, Diaz still heard the call to priesthood and felt a desire to be a missionary in Russia. “When I finished medical school, I wanted to serve in a place where there were many nonbelievers. Because of my desire to go to Russia, I didn’t apply initially to the Central American Province Jesuits, I applied to the Jesuits in Germany because they were closer to Russia.” However the German Jesuits advised Diaz that he would be better off starting his Jesuit life in his own culture and then asked to be transferred later.
During this time, Diaz, who was trained as a general practitioner, worked as a primary care physician for at-risk youth in Costa Rica. “I was working with a lot of young patients with health problems, such as asthma and allergies, and family problems.”
I think that the mission of a doctor is very close to the priestly mission. …The priest and doctor spring out of one source in some sense — healing.
After three years, Diaz went to Mexico to work in gang ministry, and there he met Oregon Province Jesuit FernadoÁlvarez who invited Diaz to Oregon to pursue his vocation. “As soon as I arrived in Oregon, it felt like a very good fit,” Diaz says.
Diaz entered the Society of Jesus in the U.S. in 2002. After two years in the novitiate, he went to Loyola University Chicago to study philosophy, but most of his studies there were geared toward preparing for exams so he could practice medicine in the U.S.
After passing his exams, Diaz spent three years doing his medical residency in family medicine at Texas Tech in El Paso, Texas. He then went to Washington, D.C., to practice family and restorative reproductive medicine at the Spanish Catholic Center, a clinic run by Catholic Charities.
“I was working mainly with immigrants,” Diaz says. “I had the opportunity to provide health care for a population in great need. There weren’t many providers with the ability to provide medical services at low cost who spoke Spanish. Seventy percent of my patients were from El Salvador and most were very low income. It was a very blessed opportunity.”
This fall Diaz arrived at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, where he will study theology for the next four years before being ordained to the priesthood.
“I have been encouraged by my superiors to continue to practice medicine as a priest,” he says of his hopes for after ordination. “I look forward to the possibility of serving the immigrant population and working with couples with fertility issues.”
And there are always challenges when combining a profession with a passion: “The contemplative aspect of religious life has to balance the rush to efficiency within the medical profession. … Sometimes in medicine, there is a temptation to have money at the center of the system more than the person. It’s a challenge to get back to a person-centered approach.”
However, he feels the two complement one another. “I think that the mission of a doctor is very close to the priestly mission. …The priest and doctor spring out of one source in some sense — healing.”
Both of Diaz’s dreams — to become a priest in the Society of Jesus and a doctor in the United States— are long journeys, but they are well worth the effort for Diaz. And while he thinks of Russia with affection, he laughs when asked if he still hopes to serve there one day. He says he’s happy to have found his place in the U.S.“I’m extremely grateful to the Society and my superiors. It’s a wonderful opportunity to serve.”