By Jerry Duggan
Over the course of his 62 years as a Jesuit, Fr. John (Jack) Hunthausen, SJ, has been a high school teacher, college instructor, assistant professor and administrator, high school president, treasurer and minister of a residence for Jesuits pursuing graduate studies in Rome, pastoral minster to several communities of the Missionaries of Charity in Rome and a spiritual director at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, among other pastoral assignments in St. Louis. While some Jesuits focus on one area of ministry for much of their lives, it is the diversity of his assignments that has kept him feeling fresh and fulfilled.
When Jack was a student at St. Louis University High School (SLUH), his parish held a weekly evening of devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. One intention recommended was “choosing the vocation that God was calling people to.” He prayed that specific intention for the next eight years. After he graduated from SLUH in 1954, he arrived on the campus of Saint Louis University (SLU) that fall.
Within a month he was certain he wanted to become an accountant and a CPA. God had additional ideas – but God’s ideas did not get through to Fr. Jack for a few more years. However, during his final three years at SLU, he served Mass daily in the chapel at the School of Commerce and Finance. One morning during Mass he recalled that a Jesuit at the White House Retreat in St. Louis had helped his father, who passed away on June 24, 1957, resolve a serious business problem. This memory resulted in the thought that Jack might express his gratitude by becoming a Jesuit. In June of 1958, Jack graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce.
“That summer I wrestled with my vocation every night, experiencing a call to the priesthood that included the options of becoming a member of the Society of Jesus or becoming a diocesan priest,” he recalled.
In time, it became clear that the reason Jesuit life would be a better fit for Fr. Jack is the Society’s community aspect. At the time, there existed another reason for his decision: a tradition that says priests and religious are married to the Church.
“I grew up a two-minute drive from then-Kenrick Seminary, and in those days, that was a good 45-minute drive from the Jesuit novitiate way up in Florissant,” he said. “Jesus said that ‘… a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife …’ (Mt 19:5) and it seemed to me that going a little farther away was more like actually leaving home,” he said.
Father Jack entered the Jesuit novitiate in Florissant on February 8, 1959. He spent two and a half years there and then the following three years in philosophy studies at SLU. At the end of his second year he earned an additional degree: a Master of Science in Commerce.
In 1964 he was assigned to Denver for his three-year regency experience. He taught Latin and religion to sophomores during his first year, which he spent at Regis High School. For the next two years, Fr. Jack taught accounting at Regis College. A highlight of that assignment was his experience of a deeper love for his Jesuit vocation and the teaching of accounting. Luckily for him, the Jesuit Provincial at the time recognized Jack’s passion for the field and supported him in tailoring his ministry accordingly; he granted him permission to pursue doctoral studies at the University of Missouri.
Upon completion of his regency in 1967, Fr. Jack moved to Regis College in Toronto, Ontario for a four-year program of theology studies. At the end of his third year he received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree from Collège de l’Immaculée-Conception in Montreal.
At the end of the third year of theology studies in Toronto, Fr. Jack and his classmates were ordained to the priesthood in St. Louis. The ordaining bishop was Fr. Jack’s second cousin, then-Bishop Raymond Hunthausen of Helena, Mont., who subsequently became the Archbishop of Seattle.
In the fall of 1971, Fr. Jack began full-time doctoral studies in accountancy at the University of Missouri. After earning his Ph.D. in 1974, he returned to Denver, eager to go back to Regis.
After just one year as an assistant professor of accounting, Fr. Jack was named director of the Division of Administrative Science and Business. Two years later he helped develop, and later became the first director of, the school’s Master of Business Administration program, which continues to this day.
As much as he left a mark on the accounting program at Regis, the school made a bigger impact on him.
“The warm community of faith and dedicated students and professors made this a most life-giving experience for me,” he said. “My experiences at Regis were significant in my formation as a Jesuit.”
Father Jack keeps in touch with a number of dear friends he met at Regis more than half a century ago and cites lifelong relationships that developed in each of his assignments in Denver. He also has officiated at a number of weddings of his former students. He credits these various personal and family relationships with providing the sustenance necessary to keep going through the many changes life brings.
One of those changes occurred in 1980, when a new assignment required Fr. Jack to leave his beloved Denver and head back to the Midwest. He was assigned to serve as president of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., for six years. This proved to be an initially challenging but ultimately rewarding assignment for him. After 40 years, he is still in touch with students and parents he met while at Rockhurst and has officiated at numerous family weddings.
“I can say much the same about the friendships I made in Kansas City that I said about the ones in Denver,” he said. “These people are still very close to my heart.”
Upon completion of his term as president of Rockhurst High School, Fr. Jack asked to do an entirely different ministry in order to renew the “spark” of his vocation.
“Father David Fleming, the provincial at the time, sat me down for a conversation about what I might do next, including a six-month sabbatical before undertaking a new assignment,” Fr. Jack recalled. “I mentioned that I had never been to Rome and would like to spend my sabbatical there, maybe afterwards to work there. He looked at me like I was crazy, but he was kind enough to let me pursue that dream, adding that I should live there for a while before committing myself to being stationed there.”
Father Jack spent the next 15 years in Rome as treasurer at Collegio S. Roberto Bellarmino and the last ten of those years as minister. The minister of a Jesuit community is the vice rector and plant superintendent. He also worked part-time for five years in the General Curia of the Society as the secretary and assistant to the Delegate for the International Houses of Rome. In addition, he served for six years as a pastoral minister to several communities of the Missionaries of Charity. While he found these assignments to be rewarding, he was just as enthralled with the city and its citizens.
“As a cradle Catholic, I spent a lot of my time in Rome in disbelief that I was actually there,” he recounted. “I concelebrated Mass twice with Pope St. John Paul II and shook hands with him on two other occasions. In addition I had the privilege of visiting several times with St. Teresa of Calcutta. Meeting two eventually canonized saints was a unique privilege and blessing. It was all like a dreamland.”
Upon his return to the U.S. in 2002, Fr. Jack took a yearlong sabbatical that included six months of ministry at Queen of Peace parish in Denver. He then returned for a decade-long assignment at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, located in Shrewsbury, Mo., the next town east from the neighborhood where he grew up in Webster Groves. He spent his first three years at the seminary doing administrative work and the next seven as spiritual director in the School of Theology.
Since 2003, Fr. Jack has been a member of the Jesuit Hall community in St. Louis. He has also done outside pastoral ministry in several parishes, but now ministers exclusively within Jesuit Hall, where life moves at a much slower pace. He periodically celebrates the Eucharist in the chapels at Jesuit Hall, the main community chapel and the one in the Fusz Pavilion, the care facility there for infirm Jesuits. The slower pace has also given him the opportunity to catch his breath and reflect upon his many ministries. He has found that the more time he has to think about all the opportunities his Jesuit vocation has blessed him with, the more content and grateful he is.
“My life has been filled with so many blessings that it would be impossible to name them all,” he says. “Each of my assignments, from St. Louis to Denver to Toronto to Columbia, Mo., back to Denver, to Kansas City to Rome and finally back to St. Louis, allowed me to meet many wonderful people and serve God in distinct ways. For all these opportunities to serve Him, I am most grateful.”