WASHINGTON, D.C. — The lieutenant governor of Washington announced March 19 that he will not seek re-election and instead will enter the Society of Jesus this autumn.

Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib (D), 38, will end his eight-year career in public office after what he described as “two years of careful and prayerful discernment” led him to apply to join the Jesuits.

Habib, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2016, is the highest-ranking Iranian-American elected official in the United States.

As his discernment process was “almost entirely private,” Habib said that he expected many of his constituents and supporters would find his decision to be a “major surprise,” particularly he was considered by many to have a bright political future.

“Many will be wondering why someone who has spent the last eight years climbing the political ladder and who has a not insignificant chance of acceding to the governorship next year, would trade a life of authority for one of obedience,” Habib said in an essay explaining his decision in America magazine, which is published by the Society of Jesus.

In the essay, he credited his Catholic faith for initially motivating him to enter politics, and for guiding his decisions in office.

“My priorities in office were firmly rooted in Catholic social teaching, which places the poor, the sick, the disabled, the immigrant, the prisoner and all who are marginalized at the center of our social and political agenda,” he wrote in America.

Habib lost his sight at the age of eight due to cancer and is a three-time cancer survivor. He wrote that his life experience has given him a sense of empathy for those on social margins.

Despite his political successes and bright prospects for the future, Habib told America that recently he felt called to a different lifestyle, “albeit one that is also oriented around service and social justice.”

“I have felt a calling to dedicate my life in a more direct and personal way” he wrote.

“I have come to believe that the best way to deepen my commitment to social justice is to reduce the complexity in my own life and dedicate it to serving others.”

And while acknowledging the importance and influence of a role in public life, Habib said he realized that “meeting the challenges our country faces will require more than just policy-making,” and that people “are in dire need of spiritual support and companionship.”

Habib praised the Jesuits for their commitment to education, and said that it is “far too early” to know where his life in the order will lead him, “but I am confident that it will involve teaching, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, advocacy and spiritual accompaniment.”

Jesuit formation typically takes between eight and 17 years. Habib did not say which of the four American provinces of the Society of Jesus he would be entering in the fall, but he did request prayers.

“I ask you all to keep me in your prayers as I travel this new road; you will, of course, be in mine,” he said.