Father Jim Martin: Wharton graduate, Jesuit priest...and film consultant?
Martin, a 1982 Wharton graduate and former Daily Pennsylvanian cartoonist, has led an eclectic career since leaving Penn: a job in corporate finance for six years at General Electric, a life change to become a priest in the Jesuit order in 1999 and now, a consultant on director Martin Scorsese’s passion project, the film “Silence,” starring Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield. On Tuesday, Martin premiered the film in a special screening at the Vatican.
Scorsese, who for a long time has wrestled with his devout Catholic upbringing, on the 1966 novel of the same name by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. It tells the story of two Jesuit missionaries in Japan during the country’s isolationist period when Catholics were persecuted and tortured for their faith.
The DP exchanged emails with Martin, who has been in Rome to premiere the film, to learn more about his experience working with Scorsese and his own spiritual growth since Penn.
DP: In general, how was working with and advising Martin Scorsese? Perhaps what was the capacity in which you consulted him? Was there a spiritual conversation or was it more consulting on technical aspects?
JM: It was a deeply moving experience. In essence, I helped in a few areas: First discussing with Mr. Scorsese and his co-screenwriter, Jay Cocks, the script in various stages. They were very open to my suggestions about how to make it more faithful to what a Jesuit would say and do in particular situations. And the conversations were both technical (how would someone celebrate Mass, for example), but also more spiritual (what a Jesuit’s response be to a period of spiritual silence might be.) Second, helping the actors, especially Andrew Garfield, whom I led through what we call the Spiritual Exercises, an intensive program of prayer and meditation, which took over six months.
DP: More personally, what defined your transition from man of the suit to man of the cloth? What sparked it and made the Jesuit order stand out?
JM: Well, I had gone to Wharton as an undergrad and then took a job at GE in New York. Wharton is, needless to say, an excellent school, and GE was a great place to work, but eventually I discovered that I was in the wrong place. One day I came upon a TV documentary about the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, and that prompted me to think about religious orders. Then a chance remark from a priest led me to the Jesuits. And what I liked most about them was the variety of their ministries: you have Jesuit scholars, pastors, physicians, social workers, and on and on. That appealed to my sense of adventure.
DP: The stereotypes of Wharton as a place that worships money abound — do you find them accurate?
JM: Remember, I graduated in 1982, so things may have changed. But I have to say, sadly, I did find some of that in the air when I was studying there. I received a superb business education, and was readied for a great career, but not once did anyone ask me the most important of questions: What are you made for? What would you most want to do with your life? Perhaps professors and advisers assumed that I knew that already, being at Wharton, but those essential “vocation” questions, which all young people need to hear, were not asked.
DP: Is there any overlap with Scorsese’s long relationship with the Catholic faith and your spiritual direction?
JM: Oh yes. Mr. Scorsese’s long relationship with the church has been, as he described it last night in a talk in Rome with us Jesuits, a “pilgrimage.” We all are traveling along a road when it comes to the church, and it can be smooth at times and bumpy in others. I feel much the same. It’s like any relationship, after all.
DP: How do you think your time at Penn and Wharton prepared you for meaningful and positive life? There is a social impact aspect of Wharton, but that is sort of pigeonholed. If things lacked, what advice do you have for Penn grads who seek to be better people?
JM: Penn changed my life. How could it not? It’s an amazing place. For one thing I am still close to my friends — many of whom I met in my freshman year at the Quad (Speakman [Hall], to be exact). Friendships like that always change your life. Second, my studies at Wharton really did help me to understand the world better. I often smile when I meet Jesuits who rail against corporate America or the business world, without really knowing much about the topic. So Wharton helped me to understand the way much of the world works.
As for advice to Penn students? I suppose it would depend on the Penn student. But in general I might say that Penn, while one of the greatest universities in the world, sometimes has a rather professional aspect to it. Maybe is colored by my experience at Wharton, and maybe this endemic in the 1980s but it sometimes felt that the mission of Penn was to help you get a good job. And that’s rather limiting. So my advice might be to try to prepare yourself not for a good job but a good life. What courses, situations, encounters, and so on, will help to, as we Jesuits say, “form” you into a good person?
DP: What about other alumni who find themselves in positions of high political power?
JM: Well, one of them is about to become president. But I’d say the same to all alumni in any position of high power, political or otherwise. Make decisions that are based not just on the bottom line, or on advancing your career, but on morality and the common good. Also, always ask yourself, “How will what I do affect the poor?” And if you are in a position of power make sure that you still encounter and accompany those who are poor and struggling.
This interview has been lightly edited for style and condensed.
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