Jesuit Gardens: 'A Gift'

Jesuit Gardens: ‘A Gift’

By Adam Klinker

The Rev. Don Doll, SJ, never really thought he’d be a priest.

“I wasn’t one of those kids who, every day from the age of 7, had the dream of being a priest,” says Fr. Doll, the Charles and Mary Heider Endowed Jesuit Faculty Chair and internationally renowned photographer, who celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination in June. “I wanted to be a Jesuit, but the priesthood was so distant, some 15 years in the future.”

Fr. Doll, who has spent 49 of those 50 years at Creighton and on assignments for such publications as National Geographic and the A Day in the Life book series, recalls as a whirlwind the period of discernment in which he came to the Society of Jesus and began his priestly formation.

Approaching his graduation from Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Fr. Doll was set to go to the University of Notre Dame and study chemical engineering and join Notre Dame’s Air Force ROTC program in hopes of also becoming a pilot, when he was invited to a send-off for a friend preparing to join the Jesuits.

“On the drive home, I got to thinking about it and that night, I couldn’t sleep,” Fr. Doll says. “The next morning, I went down to Fr. Fahey and told him what I was thinking. He said, ‘Sounds like you’re ready,’ and two weeks later, I’m in the novitiate. Dad was able to get the deposit back from Notre Dame.”

Fr. Doll’s early years in Jesuit formation were punctuated by trips to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where he learned he had a gift for teaching and walking alongside the Native Americans living there. He also picked up a camera for the first time.

“I took a walk on the prairie one evening and asked myself, ‘What am I going to do as a Jesuit?’” he says. “And a voice came to me and said, ‘Stay with the photography. Stay with the teaching. And if it takes 10 years, it takes 10 years.’ That’s a voice I’ve listened to a lot in my life and the voice we pray about in discernment, asking ourselves, ‘Is this really the Holy Spirit nudging me to do these things?’ And it usually is.”

Fr. Doll stuck with the photography and has stuck with teaching, having some of his most celebrated moments in the classroom and behind the lens with the Native Americans at Rosebud. His career has taken him around the world, where he has photographed and been alongside refugees and marginalized people in Asia, Africa, Australia and beyond.

“It’s a gift,” Fr. Doll says of his priesthood. “It continues to amaze me just what a blessing I’ve been given. As a photographer, being a priest has afforded me an opportunity to pray with and for the people I’m taking photographs of, to be able to glimpse the love, compassion and appreciation that God has seen in them. To be a Jesuit and a priest has been a global entry card to the world and to the lives of the people we serve.”