By John Dougherty
Bryan Manning has been all over the world, and that was before he became a Jesuit.
Originally from Torbay, Newfoundland, Bryan has lived and worked in six other countries and visited over twenty. A lover of language and adventure, Bryan’s international experience serves him well as he ministers to a diverse array of people.
Now in his second year of First Studies at Fordham University, Bryan also spends time in apostolic work. “For all of last year and for this summer past, I was working with men and women who had recently arrived after crossing the US border,” he said. “My work was to meet them where they are and ask if we can assist them with medical or legal services.” He and another scholastic began an ESL class, which Bryan described as an intersection between the Jesuits’ academic and pastoral missions: “It becomes a conduit for hearing the stories of the people and their journeys to get to America, which are often heart-wrenching, but very inspiring.”
He is also responding to a call to interreligious dialogue, working to build bridges with the Muslim communities in the Bronx while studying to become proficient in Arabic. There is an Islamic centre across the street from the scholastics’ residence at Ciszek Hall. After 9/11, the centre was the target of threats and harassment, and scholastics at the time demonstrated solidarity by forming a human chain around the centre. “It’s pretty moving,” Bryan said, “to know that I can somehow now be a part of that story, maybe help build upon it.”
Finding Purpose across Borders
Bryan earned a Cambridge Certification in English Language Teaching to Adults and, after graduating from university, moved to South Korea. This led to several years of globetrotting, working short-term contracts in small educational institutions around the world. “I was really thrilled by the prospect of being able to move to a different country, after a year, or even after six months,” he said. “But as I got more serious about it, this desire to go to the Middle East started to take root within me.” He spent six months in Aden, Yemen, and three years in Doha, Qatar, and took the opportunity to travel throughout the Middle East. It was a profound spiritual experience: “I had fallen away from my faith. So, I think spending so much time around really strong believers started to reawaken my own faith that had been dormant for many years.”
Returning home to Newfoundland, Bryan worked with at-risk youth, which led to an opportunity to work with adult ex-offenders with the John Howard Society. It was here that he began to notice the stirrings of vocation.
“I started to realize, okay, there’s something more to this work than employment; it’s starting to feel like some kind of ministry,” he said. “I hadn’t been going to church on a regular basis at that time, so the word ministry wasn’t on my lips then. I just knew there was something deeper going on with that desire to help out the men and learn more about them.”
“I just knew there was something deeper going on with that desire to help out the men and learn more about them.”
He contacted the vocations office, and a year later entered the Society. “I haven’t had any reservations about taking that step since. By the grace of God, when I wake up every day, I still feel like this is the right path.”
Rooted in Solidarity and Gratitude
Bryan entered the novitiate at the Villa St. Martin in August 2019. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, he volunteered at a Jesuit infirmary in Ontario. “It was deeply moving to see the trust and the joy that the older men had in our presence,” he said. “But also, it was very sad because we witnessed a number of them pass away.” Caring for these men strengthened his sense of Jesuit vocation and brotherhood.
He spent his long experiment as a guest of the Anishinaabe people in Wiikwemkoong, the unceded territory on Manitoulin Island. Here he learned the value of being present. “I realized that to sit for two and a half hours at a wake was the mission,” he said. “Occasionally someone would say, ‘We want you to be a part of this particular feather ceremony.’ That’s the real spiritual payoff. You’re invited into something that deeply resonates with Anishinaabe culture.” Bryan describes it as an experience of kinship: “A bit like Ignatius laying down his armor and sword, I had to lay down the preconceived notions I had and rather view those people with compassion.”
Bryan’s vocation is rooted in solidarity.
Bryan’s vocation is rooted in solidarity and a deep gratitude for the graces he has received: “As a Jesuit, I am a loved sinner. In that spirit, I find the most joy and meaning in reconciling others with Christ. The sentiment of Luke 7:47 really resonates with me: But he who is forgiven little, loves little. That acceptance of forgiveness can lead to deep interior freedom. In my daily prayer, through words and action, I ask, as St. Ignatius did, for the Lord to teach me to serve. And when I do not know how to direct people back into the light, I find solace in the prayer of St. Francis and ask to be made a channel of God’s peace.”