“What makes you think you have so much to say?” The question caught Mark Link, SJ, completely off guard. He was a 31-year-old Jesuit scholastic who’d just begun writing the first of his more than sixty books, Prayer for Millions.“I was pretty excited about the project,” Fr. Link recalls, “but one of my professors there, Fr. Edmund Fortman, SJ, wasn’t as impressed. When he heard I was trying to write a book, he asked me, ‘What makes you think you have so much to say?’”Fr. Link can’t remember exactly how he answered, but he still remembers being excited about writing at that time. That same excitement still animates him —and his many writing-related projects— almost 50 years later.Fr. Link will be 80 in April. He’s now the writer-in-residence at Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, IL, where he also directs retreats. Bellarmine, a serene retreat center tucked away in gently rolling hills some 40 miles north of Chicago, seems the perfect place for Fr. Link to ease out of the hustle and bustle of more than half a century of ministry in the Society of Jesus.What excites Fr. Link most is discovering God’s presence in the world: through prayer, in the news, in the stories he hears, in the lyrics of a song, or in the seemingly mundane occurrences that populate each and every day of each and every one of our lives. In fact, he can actually remember one of the first such “discoveries” he made. “I was a sophomore in high school. We used to ice skate at Lake St. Mary’s, which was at that time the largest artificial lake in the world. That’s where I was when I first experienced God. I’ll never forget it. It was a really a nice evening, and we had a big fire going. There was about an inch of snow on the ice. When I was out there all alone skating, I said, ‘wow! this must be what heaven’s like’.”That experience stayed with him as he competed on a state tournament baseball team, earned the lead in two of his school plays, graduated, entered the Air Force, served for three years in the Pacific Theater, and won three battle stars. When he returned, he put the GI Bill to work and enrolled in the architecture program at University of Cincinnati.During his last three years of school, Fr. Link split time between classes at University of Cincinnati and the city of Cleveland, where he did co-op work with the Austin Company, an architectural firm responsible for the designs of the Atomic Energy Plant in Oak Ridge, TN, and the Cincinnati Chemical Company. While golfing in Cleveland, Fr. Link met Len Schostek, who invited him to his house for some company and a home cooked meal. Len’s son Don was a senior at St. Ignatius High School and had just won the role of Edmund Campion in the school play. “I remember hearing about the play, hearing about Campion’s life, and being intrigued by the Jesuits, even picturing myself as a Jesuit,” Fr. Link recalls.The real clarity came later. “I was at a benediction and there was a 15 – 20-minute meditation. That’s when it really hit. I was looking for something significant in my life. There was a hunger. And then it was clear. I should become a Jesuit. It’s hard to explain, really, what I felt. I just knew I should become a Jesuit.”Days later, he boarded a bus to return to Cincinnati for more classes. For most of the ride he slept, then, suddenly, awoke. Outside the window, flashing past almost too fast for him to read was a sign: “MILFORD 7 mi.” Milford, he knew, was the location of the Jesuit novitiate. He made a few retreats, and two years later designed a retreat house for his senior thesis. He graduated in 1950, and then entered the Milford novitiate.Fr. Link had long been a writer —as a high school student he covered a variety of high school sports for his local paper— but during his studies to become a priest he began writing more seriously. During his theology studies at West Baden College he wrote a weekly column for the Indianapolis archdiocesan newspaper and also began work on Prayer for Millions. By 1960, the year he was ordained for priestly ministry, he’d published his first book and was already hard at work on the second and third.Soon after he was ordained, he asked then Provincial, Fr. John Connery, SJ, if he could enroll in a writing program at the University of South Carolina. “You don’t need to go to writing school,” Fr. Connery said. “You write just fine. You’ve just got to figure out something to say.”“Instead of the writing program,” Fr. Link says, “the Provincial sent me to Lumen Vitae, an institute in Brussels, Belgium, devoted to the study and popularization of theology.”While there, he learned among other things that he definitely had something to say. In the 42 years since, he’s published more than 60 books, including Path Through Scripture, Path Through Catholicism, The New Catholic Vision, and the “2000” Series, that includes Challenge, Vision, Mission, Action, Bible, and Psalms. He’s also produced a 9-tape video meditation series called “Walks with Jesus,” and written a weekly column, “Faith Connections,” which goes into 250,000 church bulletins. He scripted and was featured in 20 “Prayer and Scripture” TV shows produced by the same company that produced the children’s shows “Barney” and “Wishbone.” He’s given retreats in five English-speaking countries and lectured in nearly every major city in the United States. More than 700,000 of his books have been distributed in 800 prisons around the United States by the group Victory 2000.During his prolific writing career, Fr. Link has also remained active as a teacher and pastor. He taught at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago for 17 years before co-founding the Loyola Pastoral Institute at Loyola University, where he taught for another eight years. He taught at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary and the National Institute for the Formation of the Clergy.In 2001, Fr. Link retired from teaching and moved to Bellarmine. To say that he’s retired, however, is at best inaccurate. Fr. Link rises around 4:30 each morning, spends half an hour on a “prayer walk,” says the liturgy of the hours, and then celebrates Mass for some folks who live near the retreat house. Then he begins writing. He’s able to write for 6-8 hours a day, seven days a week.“Writing is just something I feel compelled to do,” Fr. Link says. “It’s one of the greatest ministries. You see things aren’t the way you think they ought to be and you want to change them. And there are so many stories out there. As Christians we’ve got one heck of a story to tell. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Excerpted from a Spring, 2004, article in PARTNERS Magazine.