Fr Manfred Hösl is parish priest of St. Michael, Göttingen, in Lower Saxony. St. Michael has particular meaning for me: it was my local Jesuit community for five years, the first place where I came into contact with Ignatian spirituality in practice, and I was received into the Church there at Easter 2014. So I’m very pleased that Fr Hösl was happy to speak to me about his own path. We conducted the interview over email, with his answers in German; the translation is mine and so are any errors. Deutsche Version.
When, and how, did you feel the call to join the priesthood?
I studied theology, sociology and education at Regensburg. Any religious or priestly vocation was out of the question for me, above all because of the celibacy requirement. I knew the Jesuits only through books. But I was impressed by the order’s international outlook. And I held many Jesuit personalities in high regard: Karl Rahner, Oswald von Nell-Breuning, and many others.
In the middle of my studies, in the mid-1980s, I plunged into an identity crisis and lost my faith. Searching for it, I met the Jesuits again, this time in the context of the Spiritual Exercises, spiritual life and contemplation.
What brought you to the Jesuits?
Books, first of all. Then, at Regensburg, I came into contact with Fr Richard Loftus SJ, who was a researcher at the Faculty of Zoology. He put me in contact with Fr Merz SJ, who then became my spiritual director. He advised me on my way towards the order, between about 1988 and 1991. After a number of conversations with the then Novice Master Fr Hans Abart SJ, and the usual entrance interviews, I was accepted and entered the Order in 1991.
Did you feel drawn to a specific ministry when you entered the novitiate? Did any of the experiments have a particular effect on you?
My big question was: does God exist? Is the Bible correct? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? All other questions––such as those about way of life or a particular career path––were secondary to me. If there is no God, then nothing matters and nothing makes sense. If he does exist, career path isn’t so important then, either, because you can serve God in many ways.
After this, my other preoccupation was the question of life and death. In the novitiate, I worked with the dying in cancer wards and hospices. That affected me deeply. I still find working with the grieving, the dying and their problems both crucial and interesting.
Wherever I work, I will always talk about Jesus Christ and especially His death and resurrection. That’s the most important thing: not the place or the task.
How did you come to St. Michael?
Before the end of my tertianship in Dublin, the Provincial of the Order made me four offers of potential placements––but Göttingen was not among them. Then he sprung it on me, because he urgently needed a parish priest in Göttingen. I agreed and came to Göttingen and to St. Michael very happily. The work here is very varied and challenging.
What does the Jesuit identity mean to you?
I like that Jesus is the benchmark for the order and not Ignatius, the founder. I like that the order engages with modernity (modern schools, universities, journals, books…). I find the debate with atheism, philosophy, with ideologies and intellectual currents important and interesting.
I like the Jesuit spirituality (called Magis: more, i.e. the dynamic of the order). I like the order’s intellectual bent. I am happy to be allowed to live my life in an apostolic community, one in which we as individuals don’t ask: what do I want? but: what do we want? I find our organisational system good and efficient. Everyone’s voice is heard, but then the Provincial decides: there are no endless discussions! I find it good that we are always given a new task every six to ten years. This way, you can and must always try new things. You travel a lot. In my twenty-odd years in the order I have been in eight parishes in three countries, so far. This broadens the mind. I love being a Jesuit, and I owe the order a great deal. I enjoy living in community and I am happy being a priest.