By Celine Klosterman
From the time Brother James Jensen was young, he was on fire for his faith.
As a second-grader, he showed enthusiasm while preparing to receive the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist, paid special attention to Bible stories, and asked lots of questions about the prophets, apostles and saints, Patti McTaggart recalled. She taught his class at Regina Elementary School in Iowa City.
His education and his family — who found it important to attend Mass together on Sundays — planted the seeds of faith that got him thinking about a religious vocation as a youth, said Br. Jensen, 30.
God’s calling stayed with him over the years, even as he earned degrees in business and accounting and worked in corporate finance. In pursuit of further discernment, he entered the Benedictine community at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Ind., last year. On Aug. 6, he professed temporary vows with the order and received the name Br. James. (His birth name was Brad).
“I have been pleased with my personal and spiritual growth in the last year,” he said. “That has truly been a blessing from God.”
His spiritual life before entering the monastery was especially impacted by two events.
First, he attended a 1999 youth conference in St. Louis, Mo., that was organized by the Franciscan University of Steubenville. “He told me on many occasions that it was a life-changing experience for him and brought him to an even deeper appreciation of his Catholic faith and what it truly means to be Catholic,” McTaggart said. She is now youth minister at St. Mary’s in Iowa City, his home parish.
Later, a trip to World Youth Day in Germany in 2005 helped Br. Jensen see the global Church, he said. At that event and the Steubenville conference, “I was able to connect my faith with other Catholics across the country and the world.”
The year he participated in World Youth Day, he graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.B.A. in accounting. He later earned a master’s degree in accounting science from Northern Illinois University and worked for five years as a certified public accountant.
“He spoke of discerning a vocation a lot throughout the years,” McTaggart said. “He was hesitant for quite some time about quitting his very good job as an accountant and heading to the monastery. But he also talked of being so drawn to it.”
Br. Jensen said, “The thing that got me to finally leave my career path and pursue the monastic vocation was that I had done all the discerning I could do on my own.” Knowing he had a marketable skill he could turn to if religious life didn’t work out, he applied to the Benedictines at Saint Meinrad. The order’s daily balance of prayer and work appealed to him, he said. “Living a life in common with other men seeking God was attractive in discernment because I could identify my faith journey with some of the monks I had met.”
In 2012, he joined the Benedictines as a candidate for three months —r a time period he compares to the early dating stage of a romantic relationship. In August of that year, he entered the novitiate, a year of prayer and learning intended to help a novice discern a vocation as a monk.
In professing simple vows last month, he became “engaged” to the monastery, he said.
Simple, or temporary, vows typically are for three years. During that time, Br. Jensen will study for a master’s degree in philosophy. “I am excited to be starting school full-time this fall,” he said.
“Although discernment is never crystal clear, there are graces from God that come up along the way, and it is important to pay attention to those.” Some of those graces have come from St. Mary parishioners, whom he thanks for their prayer and support.
“As I continue the formation process,” he said, “I look forward to the future and what God has planned for me.”