Bruce Botha, S.J.
When I entered I went to our noviciate in Cape Town. It was a good time, though also a time of testing. One of the experiments that I did was in the area of HIV and I was so taken by it that I wanted to continue with it when I returned to the noviciate. I wasn’t able to, and the frustration I experienced over that helped me to clarify my desires: above all, I wanted to be a Jesuit, more than an HIV counsellor. That was my primary identity.
After taking my first vows I went to London to do my philosophy studies at Heythrop College. While I enjoyed London, I can’t say that I enjoyed philosophy. But that’s ok; it’s not every body’s cup of tea. Before coming back to South Africa to begin my Regency I spent 6 months in New York doing Clinical Pastoral Education, which trains one to work as a hospital chaplain. This remains one of my best formation experiences ever, a period where I was able to work on the life-long task of personal integration that Jesuits are called to strive for. I then spent the next two years working as the director of counselling for an HIV research institute based in Soweto. This work brought together two of my passions, HIV work and teaching. On an apostolic level I was very happy, because I was able to work as a Jesuit, doing something that I was passionate about. Community life for a number of reasons was difficult, and here I learnt a valuable lesson: the reasons we stay in the Society are not always the reason we joined.
I then went to the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California; to do a Master’s in Divinity. My three years of studying theology were a deeply enriching period of my life. I loved the studies and graduated with distinction. While there, I volunteered at San Quentin Prison. This too was a powerful formation experience for me. The prisoners had a sense that they shared responsibility for the Jesuit students formation and tried to teach us what it meant to serve. I returned to South Africa, and was based in Holy Trinity Braamfontein while I completed my final year of studies at St. Augustine College. After ordination I continued to work on the pastoral team at Holy Trinity, with a focus on university chaplaincy work.
After 5 happy years at Holy Trinity I was sent to Ghana to do the final stage of my formation, Tertianship. It was an opportunity to rediscover the Spiritual Exercises and the rich heritage of the Society of Jesus. It was truly a “school of the heart”, where I could fall in love again, with Jesus and the Society of Jesus. Upon my return I was made parish priest of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Orlando West, Soweto.