Jesuit Father John J. Stochl died November 6, 2016, in St. Louis. Remembered for his lifelong service in the small Central American country of Belize, he was 92 years old, a Jesuit for 75 years and a priest for 62 years.
Born in St. Louis on May 8, 1924, he was one of four sons of John J. Stochl and Marguerite Martini Stochl. Preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Joseph Stochl, he is survived by two brothers, James Stochl of House Springs, Mo., and Thomas Stochl of Fallston, Maryland, as well as his brothers in the Society of Jesus.
He attended Little Flower School and St. Louis University High School, graduating in 1941. He entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus Seminary, Florissant, Misoouri, on August 17, 1941. After First Vows, he studied at Saint Louis University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English. He served his regency – or practical experience – at St. John’s College in Belize City, Belize. After studying theology at St. Mary’s College in St. Marys, Kansas, he was ordained on June 16, 1954. He earned a Master’s in Education with a concentration in guidance from Loyola University New Orleans in 1969 and pronounced his final vows on December 8, 1975.
Fr. Stochl spent his entire apostolic life in Belize, the Central American country he fell in love with during his regency. He was likely one of the last Jesuits to travel to Belize on a “Banana Boat” from New Orleans, and his impact on the country and its people is immeasurable. His first assignment was to teach at St. John’s College, but he developed a special interest in Belize’s Garifuna (Carib) ethnic group and began to put together a dictionary of their language, echoing a great Jesuit tradition. He provided a basis that was later expanded upon by others.
He returned to Belize after being ordained to teach at St. John’s College in Belize City and as weekend missionary to small rural villages. He founded and developed St. John’s Extension College, which provided the equivalent of high school education to many adults. For years, he taught classes at the College during the day, then biked down to the Extension Department for evening classes, putting in long hours. In this work, he developed relationships with many of the city’s poor.
Always available for whatever was needed, he became headmaster of St. John’s High School; this expanded his contacts with some who would become and still are leaders in Belize. Fr. Stochl was the first American Jesuit to become a Belizean citizen. When he became Mission Superior (1977-83), he traveled the country extensively and was active with other Jesuit superiors of the English-speaking Caribbean in coordinating the Jesuit apostolic work in Jamaica, Guyana and Belize. He began the efforts to bring Jesuit novices from several provinces to Belize for their experiential formation.
For many Belizeans, Fr. Stochl was the priest who led them in prayer at the beginning of each day; for more than 25 years, he had a morning devotional program on Radio Belize.
At the age of 80, he undertook a new pastoral ministry at the Belize Prison and helped in the reformation of the country’s whole prison system, utilizing the large network of his former students in both political parties to do so.
Fr. Stochl taught many of the privileged members of Belizean society, but also the poorest of the poor. As much as he loved teaching English, his greatest joy was serving as pastor at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Belize City and being chaplain in the Belize Prison. All his educational skills, his pastoral skills, and his human ability to connect with the other were put to full use. It was said that if a riot ever broke out in the Belize Prison, the one person who could walk through unharmed was “Padre Jack.”
Fr. Stochl had many friends and was known for staying in touch with all of them. He was always ready to help at a moment’s notice. He spent his life going to those on the margins, as both Popes Benedict and Francis have reminded Jesuits that the Church counts on them to do. Those who encountered him never forgot him and, most important, they knew that he never forgot them.