Called to a Different Path - By Suzanne Alcott

It's not every day that an engineer decides to become a priest but that's exactly what Jeff Moore '10 chose to do.  Since leaving Olin, Jeff has taken on many roles in the church including camp counselor, parish intern and is now studying at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.   I had a chance to check in with Jeff - currently in his 4th year of Seminarian training in the Catholic Church.


Summer assignments seem to be a large part of your training thus far. Which was your favorite? What were some of your responsibilities?

It is difficult to choose a favorite summer assignment, as I have been blessed to do so many wonderful things, each with its own joys and difficulties.   In general, the more like the priesthood it is, the more I like it.   

This last summer at Western Washington University Newman Center in Bellingham, WA was wonderful because I got to participate in a university chaplaincy for 4 weeks before school ended. Seeing the vibrant and zealous faith of these 18-21 year olds really kept my own faith burning brightly and reminded me why I went to seminary in the first place. Plus, so much of parish ministry has me dealing with parishioners 20-50 years older than myself, in very different life phases than my own, so it was nice to work so closely with college kids and recent graduates.

One of the primary responsibilities of a minister is to be present, so much of my work could have been classified as simply "showing up."   Sometimes I was called up to teach, sometimes to witness, sometimes to sing or to serve Mass.   At times I would need to go to a picnic or a retreat or a birthday party.   But the core responsibility was to enter into relationship with the parishioners and students,  to witness to my own love of Jesus Christ, and to help them grow in their own relationship to Jesus Christ. This looks very much like building a lot of friendships, but they are friendships oriented toward helping each other grow in holiness.


Jeff goofing off with his instructor and two of his classmates from the Spanish Institute of Puebla, where he studied Spanish for 6 weeks. (June 2013)

What is a typical day like at your seminary in Chicago?

  • 6:30am - Wake up, etc.
  • 7:15am - Morning Prayer in community
  • 7:40am - Mass
  • 8:20am - Breakfast
  • 9:15am - 4:00pm: Classes, studying, meetings
  • 5:15pm - Evening prayer in community
  • 5:30pm - Dinner
  • 6:15pm - 10:00pm: Free time for recreation, homework, etc.
  • 10:30pm - Bed
  • I am also expected to find another 30-60 minutes of personal prayer time in the chapel, plus another 30 minutes for liturgical prayer.
  • Some days we have Rector's conferences or other community events that we need to attend.
  • Often, I also have to spend 2-4 hours/week helping out at a parish during the week.

Camp.jpgJeff as a camp counselor (July 2010)

Are you able to incorporate your engineering background into what you are learning now?

The thing about engineering is that there is engineering as a way of thinking, and there is engineering as a specific set of known things.   I do not have a ton of opportunities to use my computing background (specific set of known things), but being able to think like an engineer has been a HUGE asset.


First, Catholic theology is a complex system just like any mechanical or electrical complex system.   We have spent, literally, millennia making sure that everything works together smoothly. So in order to understand one part of theology, I have to understand the whole and how that part contributes to the whole. Being able to think systematically has allowed me to understand and integrate Catholic theology in a way that has given me an advantage at seminary.


Further, pastoring a parish is (not analogous to, but IS) running a small non-profit in the business of souls.   As many of my fellow alumni can attest, being an engineer is a huge asset in business because you have to be able to see the system,  troubleshoot its flaws, and constantly improve the mechanics and efficiency of the business.   Finally, though it is improper to think of people as problems to be solved, having an engineering background does allow me to provide spiritual direction in a different way than men with a philosophy or social science background, and some people respond well to that. (Okay, and P.S., I did actually migrate and redesign my summer parish's website this year, so the computer expertise does come out here and there.)


Jeff and three other seminarians with Mundelein's rector, Fr. Robert Barron. (October 2013)

How did your time at Olin prepare you for the priesthood?

Olin prepared me to become a priest by first, training me to think like an engineer (see above).   But in a significant way, Olin prepared me for the priesthood by providing so many opportunities for community activism/engagement.   My time in CORe (class rep, then Vice-President of Student Initiatives) taught me how to manage community organizations, how to budget, how to build consensus, and how to represent and look after the best interests of a diverse community.


My leadership roles in BOCA (Catholic Club) and OCF (Christian Club) taught me similar lessons, but also taught me what is meant to be responsible for a community of faith and their growth in holiness.   I also re-wrote the charters for both of these clubs, so they got me thinking about what a well-functioning community ought to look like.


I think my most important experience at Olin was as Honor Board Chair. Being responsible for the Honor Code caused me to reflect deeply about the role that it plays in our community and how it has contributed to the general peace and unity the Olin community displays. We really have an incredible Honor culture. As Honor Board Chair I also learned what mercy and justice were in a very concrete way, as I had to preside over multiple "trials" in which "jurors" from the Olin community discussed what the proper response was to a violation by one of their peers. I can think of few things which will help me more in preparing to hear confessions, and helping people understand the role of and response to sin in a community.


Olin also taught me what it meant to care deeply about something and to fight for it, by constantly making the reinvention of engineering education a community endeavor that we were all expected to care deeply about.  I learned what zeal was at Olin, and also how to moderate it.   


Finally, Olin did a great job of teaching life skills in general, especially teamwork and presentations, both of which I have already been using to great effect as a seminarian and will continue to use as a priest.


Oliners on pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzagovina. This is a place of reported Marian apparitions. From left to right: Sarah Allen ('10), Jeff Moore ('10), Lisa Mazzocco, Fr. Charlie Becker (priest from Chicago), Andy Pethan ('11), Erik Kennedy ('10). (May 2010)


What advice do you have for Oliners that might be pursuing a different path from engineering?

Thinking about doing something else?  Here's what I'd say:

  1. Take your engineering seriously, and get the degree. You will never, ever regret it, and will be so much better for it.
  2. You will feel somewhat alienated jumping into a non-engineering community, but that's okay. You will provide an important perspective for whatever community you are joining, and you should not be afraid to share it. But also keep up your Olin friendships as much as you can.
  3. Stay current. Do SOMETHING to keep SOMEWHAT knowledgeable about engineering. I was E:C, so I listen to the TWIT podcast about Microsoft so that I know, at least partially, what is going on in the computer world. This is a bare minimum, but it has allowed me to maintain some value as a technical person in a non-technical field.

Listen to Jeff Hawkins' address at Olin Commencement 2011. Do everything he says!

Posted in: A Broader World View, A Different Path, Alumni Speak, Making a Difference