By Jerry Duggan
Father Phil Steele, SJ, is rarely in the limelight, but his role as rector of the Jesuit Hall Community at Saint Louis University is critically important to the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province. He is responsible for overseeing the single largest Jesuit residence in the province.
Jesuit Hall is home to about 70 men, most of whom are retired or semi-retired senior Jesuits. The community includes an infirmary that provides around-the-clock nursing care.
At the top of his priority list these days is assisting with the transition to Garden Villas North, which he thinks will greatly benefit the men he serves.
“Garden Villas North will be a great new place for us,” he said. “There is a lot of beautiful outdoor space, which we lack at our current facility on SLU’s campus, which our men can enjoy directly or from the balcony in their bedroom. We will have our own entrance, with all the traditional features of a Jesuit community: chapel, dining room, recreation room, computer room, exercise room, etc.
This will be a significant move, but some things will not change; Fr. Steele will continue to treat each man of the community with kindness and respect.
“All of our men here at Jesuit Hall have given their lives in service to the Church and the Society, and it’s important that they feel comfortable and at ease,” he said. “It’s always important to our families and benefactors to make sure our more senior men are well taken care of, and rightfully so – they deserve it after all they have given to so many.”
Father Steele points out that Jesuit Hall (and, in the future, the Garden Villas North community) is not simply a retirement home. Many of its residents are still involved in ministry, in areas such as parishes, hospitals, high schools, or spiritual direction.
“Our men all stay active as much as they can, and some of our men are still quite busy with assignments,” he said. “It’s my job, and the job of our other staff, including the nursing team we have on hand, to ensure that each man stays as engaged as possible while still receiving the degree of medical care he requires.”
His role combines supervision and caregiving. He also helps many men transition from full-time ministry to retirement.
“Jesuits are used to being very busy, so the transition to having a less-full calendar can be difficult for some to accept,” he said. “It’s my job to accompany them through that.”
He also meets weekly with nurses and other staff to discuss each resident’s needs. There is no ”one size fits all” approach here; some men require more care than others, and some men have specific needs or concerns that have to be addressed.
In addition, Fr. Steele coordinates the social calendar for the community, including meetings, community Masses, special celebrations and other events.
His work meets a relatively new need in the history of the Society.
“The notion of having communities that are predominately for our more senior Jesuits is a pretty new concept – people just didn’t used to live as long as they do now,” he said. “But these men have much to contribute to the Society. They are full of wisdom, lived experience of service and are great role models for our younger men.”
Fr. Steele has served at St. Louis University High and Rockhurst High and was president of his alma mater, Regis Jesuit High School in Denver, for almost a decade.
His role as rector at Jesuit Hall, which he has had since July 2017, represents an entirely new ministry for him, but one that he has found rewarding.
Father Steele believes that he will continue to feel blessed by his ministry.
“This role was a real shift in gears for me, but I have enjoyed it,” he said. “It is important and worthwhile work. Our men at Jesuit Hall deserve the best, and I have tried to provide that for them as rector.”