AT 27, WITH A WHARTON SCHOOL OF BUSINESS DEGREE and a job at General Electric, James Martin decided to try something completely different: the priesthood. Ordained a Jesuit in 1999, he is now a prolific author,magazine editor, and media commentator whose elucidations on Church teaching are sought by everyone from newsman Bill O’Reilly of Fox News to satirist Stephen Colbert on the Comedy Central cable channel.
“I began to grow dissatisfied with my job,” Martin says, recalling his decision to leave the corporate world and enter the seminary. “I felt [I was] in the wrong place. One day, I turned on the TV and saw a documentary about Thomas Merton. It just captivated me. Something about the look on his face—a look of serenity—called out to me. That prompted me to read his books, and that started me thinking about doing something else. I always joke that my vocation began with television.”
His coworkers and relatives reacted to his vocation with stunned surprise. “My parents were horrified,” he says. “How could they not be? I just sprang it on them. A few of my friends at work thought I was crazy—literally. One said, ‘You should see a psychologist.’ I said, ‘I already am; that’s how I was helped to make this decision.’ He said, ‘You should see another psychologist!’”