Born and raised in San Jose, Costa Rica, Father Francisco Javier Díaz Díaz, SJ, dreamed of being a missionary in Russia from a young age. While his circuitous path did not lead to Eastern Europe, he has realized much of what he envisioned as a boy.
Earlier this month, Fr. Díaz was ordained to the priesthood after 14 years of Jesuit formation. He’s also a doctor, a profession he believed would help him as a missionary. As a Jesuit in formation, he was able to serve the Spanish-speaking immigrant population in Washington, D.C., as a family physician.
While Fr. Díaz felt the call to the priesthood at the age of 10, his parents said he was too young to know for sure and needed to grow up first to “see if the Lord confirms it.”
Inspired by the life of Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, Fr. Díaz thought that if he was going to be a missionary, “entering medicine would help me understand people better, and I enjoyed the possibility of serving the sick.” He completed medical school at the University of Costa Rica in 1998 and then volunteered as a primary care physician at a clinic in Costa Rica, while pursuing his vocation.
He first made contact with the Jesuits in Germany, because of their proximity to Russia. However, the German Jesuits advised Fr. Díaz that he would be better off starting his Jesuit life closer to home. His discernment journey led him to engage with the Jesuits in Central America, Mexico and finally the United States, where he entered in the Oregon Province in 2002, which “felt like a very good fit,” Fr. Díaz says.
His time as a Jesuit novice was especially meaningful, as it allowed him to take a break from his work as a doctor and focus solely on understanding what it meant to be a Jesuit.
“It took me a while to understand I didn’t have two vocations — I didn’t have a vocation for a physician and a vocation for a Jesuit — I just had one. I’m a Jesuit and then the rest branches off from that. Medicine is in some sense a tool that enables me to serve within my Jesuit vocation.”After the novitiate, Fr. Díaz studied philosophy at Loyola University Chicago for two years while completing prerequisites for a U.S. medical residency program. He then spent three years doing his residency in family medicine at Texas Tech in El Paso.
Fr. Díaz then went to Washington, D.C., to practice family medicine at the Spanish Catholic Center, a clinic run by Catholic Charities. Serving immigrant patients there, the majority from El Salvador, was consoling for Fr. Díaz because he “understood the language and also many times the culture.
“The apostolic priority that the Society has given to immigrants in the U.S. has shaped what I’ve been able to do as a religious in medicine in the U.S.,” says Fr. Díaz.
He also served as a clinical instructor for Georgetown University medical students and treated infertile couples with noninvasive reproductive medicine, earning him the nickname “Fr. Fertility.”
Fr. Díaz next began studies for his Master of Divinity degree at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, which he will complete next year. While at Boston College, he also volunteered at a free medical program at St. Anne’s Church in Shrewsbury and served as a deacon at St. Columbkille Parish in Brighton.
After Fr. Díaz completes his degree, he hopes to serve migrants in the U.S. “both medically and spiritually.” He also wants to serve those working in health care, to help them “integrate their service to patients and those in need with their spirituality.”
Fr. Díaz is also looking forward to his new role as priest — the one he first felt called to over 30 years ago. “The sacramental aspect of priestly life is something I’ve been longing for.”
As for his dreams of being a missionary in Russia, Fr. Díaz is now happy to be serving in the U.S. “It’s not precisely the romantic, idealized missionary feeling of being somewhere at the end of the world, and I love that still, and yet there are so many other graces that have come from living here.”
He also sees how being in the U.S. has allowed him access to remote places. “When I was at Georgetown, I visited a hospital in Africa and lectured on my experience at the clinic in Washington, D.C. It was very interesting how that experience could have an impact on a hospital in Africa. That’s the type of awareness I have now. I’m open to these bridge-building efforts.”
Working with patients who face the challenges of migration has shaped Fr. Díaz’s spiritualty and helped him reflect on experiences in his own life that are common to theirs. “Although every migrant will bring a different experience, it awakened an appreciation of being attentive to how can I serve a community who has both spiritual and material needs.”
For this Jesuit priest and physician, it’s not just health care, but “caring in a way that integrates the whole human being.”