July 1, 2019

Called To Communicate: A conversation with Father Eric Sundrup, SJ

Called To Communicate: A conversation with Father Eric Sundrup, SJ

Media and communications have been a constant part of the mission and ministry of Father Eric Sundrup. He entered the Jesuits in 2002 and, during his formation, he co-founded The Jesuit Post, an online media outlet. He was ordained five years ago and spent the last three of those years in New York, at Jesuit-run America Media.

Father Sundrup, 38, will be the keynote speaker at the 2019 Catechist Conference of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington, which will be Aug. 10 at the Cathedral of  Christ the King. Father Sundrup will speak on “Through a Mirror Darkly: Evangelization in a Media-Saturated World.”

Since the beginning of July, he’s served as the new pastor at Bellarmine Chapel at Xavier University in his native Cincinnati. He spoke with Cross Roads as he transitioned his life and ministry back to the place his vocation was born.

CROSS ROADS: WHAT ROLE HAS COMMUNICATIONS PLAYED IN YOUR MINISTRY, BETWEEN YOUR

WORK WITH THE JESUIT POST, AMERICA AND OTHER AVENUES?

FATHER ERIC SUNDRUP, S.J.: If you think you have a calling to the priesthood, in some way, one of the things you’re doing is trying to communicate the Gospel. You’re trying to introduce people into a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. … [W]hen I entered, I was 22, so I ended up being in charge of all the tech at all the various houses, because I was in with a lot of guys who were older than me. I spent time explaining social media, talking them through that, and through that I became interested in the question: How can this be used to evangelize? …

A couple of my buddies and I spent a lot of time talking about that in philosophy … and we were looking around at the ways the Jesuits were communicating, the ways our communications works were operating. And they were starting to become sort of antiquated and not in touch with how things were going. So we decided we would try a project where we got together a bunch of young Jesuits, not knowing exactly how it would go or what it would do … to ask the question: Can we be evangelizers on social media? What would that look like? What would we experiment with? … I see The Jesuit Post as kind of like an R&D wing of the Catholic press.

CR: WHAT OF YOUR WORK IN CHURCH COMMUNICATIONS FOLLOWS YOU INTO YOUR NEW

ON-CAMPUS PASTORAL ROLE IN CINCINNATI?

FATHER ERIC SUNDRUP, S.J.: The questions about how the Church communicates— those big questions follow me there. … I’m going to be thinking very locally. I will be asking a lot of the questions: What are the most effective ways to reach people? And I’ll use a lot of the data and gathering that we’ve done [at America] to understand what are people’s media-saturated lives like? What is the type of information they’re swimming in? And how can a Catholic institution present information in a way that can cut through some of that noise, if it can at all? Those are the big questions I’ll be bringing there.

What I’m really lucky with is that’s a parish on a university, and so it’s a parish that’s deeply interested in: … Can we be a model? Can we look at new and interesting ways of doing things? I’m going to learn a lot from them on the ground. My job for the first couple of years of being a pastor is essentially just a whole lot of listening, because I need to understand who the people are, what they need, what’s going on there. And then from there, let’s talk in concert and see where the Holy Spirit is leading us. There’s a little bit of overlap in terms of communications. I might probably still do a podcast — I’m looking at some ways of doing some homily stuff.

CR: IN THE CHURCH, THERE’S OFTEN THE FRUSTRATION THAT WE STEP ON OUR OWN MESSAGE.

HOWEVER, POPE FRANCIS IS SOMEONE WHO HAS GENERALLY TRANSCENDED THAT. AS A JESUIT AND

AS A COMMUNICATOR, CAN YOU SPEAK TO HOW YOU SEE THE POPE APPROACHING THESE ISSUES?

FATHER ERIC SUNDRUP, S.J.: It’s just been so interesting to watch a Jesuit as pope, as a Jesuit. I remember when he was elected, my mother called me and said, “I thoughtyou said a Jesuit couldn’t become pope.” I said, “Well that was true until about an hour ago.” So trying to watch the way he does things, I think that the really crucial component of that — and this is expands well into communications — there’s not a lot of books of Ignatian spirituality and communications … the Jesuit charism has you paying very close attention and listening to everything that’s going on around you. … [Y]ou try to hear from everything, so you can bring all that into a discernment. I think that has served Francis well in times of crisis, because he can hear from a lot of different voices and understand how things are heard differently by different groups or different people or different cultures. And so that allows him then to craft a message that can cut through some of the initial breakdown in communication that happens across cultures, time zones, ideologies. …

[A]nother aspect is that … Jesuits are known in their preaching for going to someone’s heart as the first move. His personal nature has spoken that way to people. I think he’s relatable. … [A]nd I think that allows people to be predisposed to listen.