10 Questions for 1 Alumnus

Eric Couto, S.J. '13
What was your experience like at Belen?
I had an incredible experience as a student at Belen. I arrived in 6th grade from a small public school and without many friends attending Belen, but I instantly connected with so many students and quickly made friends with people who will be my friends for the rest of my life. There are so many memories and experiences that have shaped me and helped in forming me. The trips, athletic events, school activities, and everyday grind of being a student at Belen instilled an appreciation for the little things in life, which allows me to do the big things in life. At Belen I grew as an academic, an athlete, a person, and as a man of faith. 
What type of student were you?
I was a decent academic student. I was not the best test taker, but I was a hard worker who thrived at Belen because I always did my homework and assignments. Along with my academic progress, I really found my Belen identity outside the classroom. I participated in a variety of different extracurricular activities such as Student Council, Peer Ministry, CLC, Basketball, and Track and Field. These activities showed me what it meant to be a man who is disciplined, sacrifices himself for others and works hard. 
Can you describe one funny moment while you were a student? 
One of the funniest and greatest moments of my time at Belen was during the Senior Skit my senior year. I acted as DQ, who was then the Dean of Men. Our theme for the year was “The fire rises” inspired by DQ and originated from the Batman movie that had just come out (The Dark Knight Rises). For the skit, we filmed scenes of me in a Batman mask and dressed as DQ on the roof of Belen protecting the school and figuring out how to save the world from ending. It was quite a memorable experience in which the entire school was able to laugh and enjoy.
What is one thing that you will never forget that you learned in school? 
I learned to be a man of integrity and character. Growing up, there were multiple occasions where I encountered a fork in the road. I had the choice to do the right thing or the wrong thing. I didn’t always choose the right thing, and that is precisely when Belen held me accountable for my mistakes and helped me learn from them. At the end of the day, I learned what it means to be held accountable and be treated like a man and not like a boy. The real world holds people accountable and there are consequences for things. From a very young age, Belen showed me that there are consequences for my actions and that things should be done the right way. I learned not simply to do the right thing so that I do not get in trouble, rather, I do things the right way because that is my identity and the standard of what it means to be a Belen student. 
Who made an impact in your life? 
While we playfully refer to him as “salty Vic,” Coach Victor Arrieta ‘95 has had a profound impact on my life. As a student, I would enter Victor’s office and settle into an old recliner, where I would talk with him. I shared my problems, successes, failures, dreams, and fears, and throughout it all, he would sit there and attentively listen. After my ramblings, he would often pose a simple question or offer wise advice. It was similar to having a much older, wiser, and holier best friend. Victor was the first person who truly listened to me, teaching me how to listen and care for someone, regardless of his or her situation. Another one of Victor’s admirable traits is his humility and service-oriented attitude—a man who genuinely does everything for the kids. Despite the success of his program and teams, it’s never about him; it’s always about the kids. Reflecting more deeply on this friendship, Victor demonstrated, through his example, how Jesus himself would listen and care for others, not judging them but loving them unconditionally. Victor is a true Man for Others.
What do you hold most dear?
I hold my Jesuit vocation in the highest regard. This calling to the priesthood and the Society of Jesus originated and flourished during my time at Belen. Observing the Jesuits and witnessing the way they lived their lives with immense joy, freedom, and unwavering love greatly inspired me. Their demonstration of faith and devotion to Jesus prompted me to reflect on what I, and what God, desired for my life. Belen provided me with opportunities and frameworks to connect with God and develop into a man of faith.
How has your Jesuit education shaped and helped you in your life?
My Jesuit education has helped me see the world with the eyes of Christ. I not only see people, situations, and experiences through the eyes of Jesus, but I also see Jesus in others. One example of this is when I was in 7th grade we had a bullying situation going on. I remember having a grade-wide assembly in the Roca Theatre. Mr. Ralph Ledesma had about ten students go up on stage. He began to speak about the importance of not bullying and all those typical things that counselors say about not bullying. Then Ralph points to the student in the middle and says, “imagine this is Jesus that you are bullying, would you keep bullying him?” This impacted me in a profound way. I had never thought of looking at someone as if they were Christ, especially those on the margins. 
Can you describe the moment you decided to pursue your vocation to the priesthood? 
I first felt the calling in the 7th grade at Belen. I was sitting in Deacon O’Malley’s Theology class when I felt an indescribable feeling of love and passion flow into my soul. I honestly cannot put into words what I felt that day. When that happened, I immediately went to speak to Fr. Willie to seek his advice. He said to me, “your vocation is like a flame, sometimes it will be burning bright and hot like it is today, but sometimes it will be barely flickering, it is your job to keep the flame alive. If this is what God wants, it will come to fruition. Go and live your life normally and trust in God.”
Has there been a moment in your Jesuit formation that has been a pivotal moment of growth?
During the Novitiate, the first two years of Jesuit Formation, a Jesuit novice must do the 30-day silent retreat called the Spiritual Exercises. During these 30 days, I encountered God in a way in which I never even considered possible. Until that point I guess I loved God, but during that retreat, I truly fell in love with Him. I finally understood in a deep and profound way that God created me, loves me, and sent his Only Son to die for me. It was during these 30 days that I was able to deepen my relationship with Jesus and understand my true Jesuit vocation.
What advice would you give students interested in the priesthood?
First, continue deepening your relationship with God. Go to Mass on Sundays, pray, and be true to who you are. Never be afraid to ask God what he wants for your life. At the end of the day, He is faithful and He will never let you down. Next, talk to a priest or someone in religious life to speak about your vocation. They can give you spiritual direction to help you discern your vocation. Lastly, live your life normally. God calls us to be faithful, not perfect. Do not try and figure everything out in one day. Live the journey of each day and ask God to help you discover your vocation. 
500 SW 127th Avenue, Miami, FL 33184
phone: 305.223.8600 | fax: 305.227.2565 | email: webmaster@belenjesuit.org
Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.