Fr Jerome Leon shares his faith journey with Jared Ng
Fr Jerome Leon speaking after his ordination at the Church of St Ignatius on Aug 19. Photo: VITA Images
He was 40 when he joined the Jesuit novitiate in 2007.
However Fr Jerome Leon did not let the age gap between himself and fellow novices deter him in his journey to the priesthood.
“At that time, the [age] gap between some of the other novices and myself was about 15 years,” recalled Fr Jerome, who considered himself an introvert.
As a result, he found it difficult “to share and relate.”
However over time, through “ample support and encouragement” from his fellow novices as well as formators during sharings and sessions, he was able to open up and “adjust better to community living.”
He was ordained at the Church of St Ignatius on Aug 19.
Archbishop William Goh, in his address during the ordination Mass, encouraged Fr Jerome to “depend on the Lord” in his priestly ministries.
Archbishop Goh said Fr Jerome may sometimes feel inadequate in his service to the Church.
However, “in your imperfections and inadequacy, this is where people will see the glory of God. No one is perfect. If we were, there would be no need for God,” said Archbishop Goh.
Fr Jerome, now 50, worked in the engineering industry prior to joining the Jesuits.
Coming from a family of converts, Fr Jerome shared that his sister, Eunice, became a Catholic when she was a teenager.
“She would bring me along to some of her activities in church like the SSVP” [Society of St Vincent de Paul]. It was there that he saw priests and Religious serving the poor and needy.
“That shaped the image of Church for me when I was young,” he added. Fr Jerome was baptised in 2004 after attending the RCIA.
It was during the RCIA that he felt God prompting him to take up a Religious vocation.
Two days before his baptism, Fr Jerome shared that he and some Elect visited a few parishes on Maundy Thursday. “Our first stop was St Ignatius Church,” he recalled.
He came across a Jesuit vocation poster which had the words: “Sinners, yet Called”.
“I was deeply touched my those words and I soon developed this urge to contact them” [the Jesuits]. After much thought, Fr Jerome said he picked up the courage to contact Fr Philip Heng, then Jesuit novice master.
As part of his discernment, Fr Jerome said he was encouraged to get involved in Church communities.
He served at the Singapore Leprosy Relief Association (SILRA) with Jesuit novices and also got involved in the SSVP at the Church of the Risen Christ, his parish.
“My experience at the leprosy association helped me deepen my relationship with God and while serving the residents, it was clear to me then that service to God and His people was my calling.”
He shared that his family had concerns about him joining the Jesuits.
“They asked me if I was sure about the decision and had many concerns. However these concerns were out of love and I knew they supported me in my choice,” said Fr Jerome.
Upon entering the novitiate, Fr Jerome said he faced “uncertainties” as to whether he had made the right decision.
Among these were the change from working in a secular environment to studying and attending classes in a religious environment.
He said “prayer and community support from my fellow novices and novice master” helped him to settle down in the novitiate.
“They were patient and always very encouraging,” he said.
As part of his novitiate formation, Fr Jerome was posted to serve at St Joseph’s Home, to Jurong Bird Park as a cleaner, and to living and working with migrants from a landscaping company.
He served at each posting for about six weeks.
Fr Jerome recalled how living with the migrants was an “eye-opening and humbling experience.”
“They shared with me dreams of returning to their own country one day to buy a plot of land to farm and live,” he recalled.
After completing his novitiate, Fr Jerome went to a university in Manila to complete his Philosophy studies from 2009-2011.
He returned to Singapore to complete his regency from 2011-2013 after which he left for Boston, Massachusetts, USA, to finish his Theology studies.
Fr Jerome said he “relied on the Lord through prayer” whenever he felt alone or lost.
The community he lived with was also very supportive and they had pizza meals every Friday evening as a form of bonding and fellowship.
His advice to those thinking of joining the priesthood, “Go see a spiritual director for support and guidance, and don’t let fear get in the way.”