By Jerry Duggan
When they enter the novitiate, many Jesuits have ideas about what active ministry they feel best suited for. For some, the pull toward a particular ministry is a matter of the heart. Others already have academic degrees in a particular field, so it seems logical to apply their experience in the context of their Jesuit vocation. Father Ian Gibbons, SJ, thought along those same lines.
Having already completed a bachelor’s degree in economics and a Master of Business Administration from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, he thought it made sense to apply that background in his Jesuit vocation. He assumed he would be assigned to a role that utilized his academic training.
“I had a business background, and so I imagined I would put that to use in my ministry as a Jesuit,” he said.
That is, until Fr. Gibbons arrived at the stage of his formation process known as regency. A regent typically spends 2-3 years in a Jesuit apostolate, usually a school or university, often as a teacher but sometimes in other roles.
For his regency, Fr. Gibbons was assigned to Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo. This assignment changed everything for him.
“Before my regency, I never had any interest in being an educator,” he said. “Had I not become a Jesuit, education was not something on my radar at all. I had always been drawn to business, finance, economics and the like.”
After his regency, Fr. Gibbons completed his theology studies and was ordained a priest. During this time, he found himself content in his Jesuit vocation, but longing for a return to the secondary educational setting.
“I was what they call a ‘regency widower,’” he explained. “There are many Jesuits who so enjoy their regency that, after it ends, they find themselves longing to go back to it. That is not to say we do not enjoy other aspects of our vocation, but rather, that we had such a great experience as regents.”
Jesuits take a vow of obedience, and Fr. Gibbons was prepared to go wherever the provincial deemed he was needed for active ministry, but he knew where his heart was.
“I found a home as a secondary educator,” he said. “I feel like working in this field, as a Jesuit, is where I am meant to be.”
In his active ministry, Fr. Gibbons has been assigned to various roles in Jesuit secondary education. He has been promoted time and time again, evidence of his passion for, and expertise in, this line of work.
A six-year assignment as director of pastoral ministry at Rockhurst High School was followed by an internship year as a special assistant to the president at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston.
Next came a three-year stay as assistant principal at Regis High School in New York City. Since July 2017, Fr. Gibbons has served as principal of St. Louis University High School.
Each successive assignment has brought increased responsibility, and for Fr. Gibbons, each has brought a similar set of graces.
“The high school years are a very important time in a young man’s development,” he said. “As a Jesuit educator, I am called to help form young men for a lifetime of service toward God and humanity. To me, there is no work more crucial than that.”
Father Gibbons has been deeply touched by those he has encountered in his ministry of education.
“In a high school setting, it’s pretty easy to see God at work in our students,” he said. “To be able to watch these young men grow and mature as they are on the cusp of becoming adults, fathers and leaders has been an incredible gift for me.”
Father Gibbons professed final vows in fall 2020 in front of a socially distanced SLUH community and several members of his family. Although the pandemic prevented the day from being what he had expected, he found it to be a wonderful experience.
“Being able to have the Mass on campus in front of the school community was a tremendous grace,” he said. “I’m blessed to be able to lead the community, so for them to be there to support me along with my family, brought me great joy.”