Adventures of a priest: from Michigan to Moscow

Adventures+of+a+priest%3A+from+Michigan+to+Moscow

Aliza Gray

[media-credit id=2182 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Fr. Jordan Lenaghan is the current Executive Director of University Religious Life at Quinnipiac, yet where he came before may shock many who know him now.

Growing up in Michigan and attending a Catholic school administered exclusively by Polish speaking nuns, a young Jordan Lenaghan was introduced to language and culture at an early age, a unique aspect of his education that would shape his career.

Fast-forward a decade and Lenaghan is now walking the halls of Michigan State University (MSU) as a Russian language and linguistics major.

“Your four years of undergraduate are a time of great revolutionary change in life,” Lenaghan said. “Who you are when you’re 18 versus who you are when you’re 22 is markedly different.”

Two years later, as his sophomore year came to a close, Lenaghan’s passion for this particular field of study had begun to dwindle.

“It’s one of the first times I began to wrestle with the existential questions,” Lenaghan said. “‘What do you really want to do? What is true satisfaction? What has meaning?’ And I just knew by the time I finished my sophomore year that I didn’t know what I wanted, but it was time to figure it out.”

When the opportunity came to work in corporate security, doing everything from direct action military raids to working with presidential candidates, Lenaghan leapt at the chance. After about two years outside of the classroom, he knew he could not prolong finishing his degree forever, and so he returned to MSU to discover what it was that he was truly meant to do.

After Lenaghan became one of two undergraduate students in the ancient biblical studies and linguistics department. He found himself in lecture halls filled with graduate students, and though still an undergraduate himself, he learned along side them, hearing the same lectures and taking the same exams. It was at this point in his education that Lenaghan first began considering priesthood.

“I said ‘maybe,’ but that really isn’t something you commit to in college,” Lenaghan said. “I’m not going to tell you I had some big St. Paul experience and I said ‘Now I know!’ It’s not like that. It’s more like where do you find meaning and value and satisfaction for what you want to do and the more I explored being a priest, the more I found those things.”

The adventure had only just begun for Lenaghan upon settling on the idea of becoming a priest. He discovered the Dominican Order, a sector of priests with just a few thousand members and was immediately drawn in.

“I liked the people that I met, the work they do and they way that they engage the world, so I applied and joined,” Lenaghan said, explaining the lengthy, gradual process of joining the Dominican Order and eventually the priesthood.

It was a process stretching several years that brought this man from Michigan all over the United States, from Cincinnati to Washington D.C. where he earned his graduate degree over the course of five years.

Lenaghan called D.C. home during these years, but when classes finished for the summer, he and his peers were sent out across the nation for what was referred to as “practical training” to exhibit the lessons and behaviors they learned in the classroom and to practice how to “be present and be effective” in the lives of those in need.

“One summer I was sent to New Orleans to work with teenage runaways and very young homeless kids, some of whom had even been involved in prostitution, and it really was amazing to connect with young people in that way,” Lenaghan said.

He went on to reminisce on his birthday that year, which fell during the summer while he was working with these young people, remembering the moment that has stuck with him all these years later.

“These two girls baked a birthday cake with blue frosting and a big card, and one of the kids signed it ‘Brother Jordan, happy birthday hope you live to see another one,’” Lenaghan said, as he looked to the ceiling and gave a subtle shake of the head as he recalls the moment.

“You have to wonder, what’s the existential state that that’s the wish, and it was one of the few times of my life where the Bible really came alive. All these people coming together truly illustrated all those biblical stories.”

Upon finishing his education and becoming ordained to the priesthood, Lenaghan’s next adventure brought him abroad, spending around a year in Russia during the turbulent 1990s.

[media-credit id=2182 align=”alignright” width=”199″][/media-credit]“I was transferred from Columbus, Ohio to St. Petersburg, Russia,” Lenaghan said, throwing his head back and laughing. “Makes perfect sense right?”

His experiences in Russia were something straight out of fiction, perfectly summed up by Lenaghan himself, referring to the period in his life as “a cross between a Dostoevsky novel and Fellini film.”

He traveled next to Moscow, where he began living in what he calls a world of mirrors.

“Nothing was ever really what it appeared to be and no one was who they said they were,” he said.

Out of self-preservation, Lenaghan partook in this behavior, telling anyone who might approach him the street that he was not an American priest but a Dutch student, so to avoid any unwanted attention.

He admitted his true identity to just one local; a cadet who referred to himself as a student of a “secret, mapmaking university.” The cadet was eager to learn languages, and offered to exchange lessons in Russian language should Lenaghan help him with his English. Lenaghan obliged, providing the young man with things such as copies of Time Magazine.

Lenaghan has also made a profound impact on the students here at Quinnipiac ever since he came in 2013.

“Father Jordan is a completely different kind of priest than I’ve ever met,” sophomore Quinnipiac Catholic Chaplaincy leader Grace Senra said. “I feel like I can ask him anything and he will explain it in a way that I can understand.”

Through his many years of service in the priesthood, around the globe and now here in Hamden, it seems he has finally answered the existential question he formed for himself when he was just 20 years old: “What do you really want to do, what is true satisfaction, what has meaning.”