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50 Years a Jesuit

Acting Director, Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in Sedalia, Colorado

Father William T. Oulvey, SJ

“I still am not sure I believe it’s been 50 years,” says Fr. Bill Oulvey, who this year celebrates 50 years as a Jesuit. “I say that because it has been a magnificent gift; it truly is.”

His Jesuit life has taken him far from his hometown in Fairview Heights, Illinois, and perhaps even further from the Jesuit life he imagined when he entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1974. The son of pharmacists, Fr. Oulvey studied chemistry at Rockhurst University, where Fr. James D. Wheeler, SJ, suggested a Jesuit vocation to him during his senior year. Fr. Bill initially envisioned his life as a Jesuit would involve an academic career.

“I thought I was going to get a Ph.D. in chemistry, move back to Rockhurst, and take the place of one of my Jesuit teachers there,” he said. Instead, he’s been sent on unexpected assignments in Belize, as vocations director for the former Missouri Province and to the Jesuit Curia in Rome.

Reflecting on his diverse assignments, Fr. Oulvey said, “It’s always been an adventure as a Jesuit. Internally, it has been and continues to be a call to greater trust in God. It has also been an adventure to meet new people from various parts of the world. All of this continues to be a source of grace and life for me.”

Ministering to others and being a “sympathetic listening ear,” both to lay people and brother Jesuits at the beginning of their vocations or at the end of their lives, has left an enduring impression. “To be entrusted with their stories, that’s been a powerful gift,” he said.

Father Oulvey completed his religious studies at Regis College in Toronto in 1986, during which time he was ordained to the priesthood at St. Francis Xavier College Church in St. Louis. The people he encountered while ministering in the remote Newfoundland village of Conche helped him appreciate the gift of priestly ministry. “They said it by their presence, ‘Yes, we want you as our priest.’ That was powerful, that acceptance where God’s people are saying, ‘We want you.’”

Many of the highlights of his years as a priest have been celebrations of baptisms, weddings, anniversaries and ordinations.

Fr. Bill Oulvey, SJ, presides at a Mass during a province retreat.

After teaching chemistry during regency at De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, his first assignment at St. John’s College in Belize returned him to the classroom for six years. In 1992, Fr. Oulvey returned to the United States, serving in a pastoral assignment at St. Peter’s Parish in New Jersey and then spending a sabbatical year as a student at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

There he returned to the study of chemistry, which he loved. He was surprised when then-Provincial Fr. Ed Kinerk, SJ, said, “This is wonderful, you’ve fallen back in love with your discipline. I have another idea.” He was invited to serve as the vocation director for the former Missouri Province, a role he held until July 2001. “I didn’t see that coming,” he reflected, later describing “seven very wonderful years” in the role.

Father Oulvey’s ministry again took him abroad. First, to Belize as the superior of the Jesuit Community until 2006, and then as the regional secretary to the USA Assistant in the Jesuit Curia. “It was in Rome serving at the General Curia that I saw the devotion and dedication of Jesuits around the world to the Society of Jesus and to the Church. If ever I needed a vivid, lived example of the fourth vow, it was working there,” he said, referring to the vow Jesuits take to serve where the pope needs them.

Seeing Pope Benedict XVI embrace Father General Peter Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, at General Congregation 35 in 2008 also made an impact. “This is what it means, this is what the worldwide Society offers to the Church,” he said. “That was just magnificent.”

In 2010, he returned to Rockhurst University to serve as the rector of the Jesuit Community and in the Mission and Ministry Office. Following that assignment, he moved in 2016 to Colorado, serving as the superior of the St. Ignatius Loyola Parish Jesuit Community and rector of the Regis University Jesuit Community until 2022. After spending a year in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, he returned to Colorado to serve as retreat director at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House and was named interim vice-superior for the community in August 2023.

The presence of others throughout his Jesuit life has been a sustaining force through decades of change and unexpected new assignments. “The stability is the people; the guys who are with you, and it is our superiors,” he said. The support of the Jesuit brotherhood has been evident especially during times of grief and loss, particularly of his parents and youngest brother. “The brotherhood came together and said, ‘What do you need?’ That’s the strength. That’s just what we do.” He now considers it a privilege to walk with older Jesuits and “help them to die well.”

“That’s been a powerful gift,” he said.

Father Oulvey has found that these relationships have made obedience and availability for mission come easily. “My superiors, my provincials, know me, and they’ve listened to what I’ve said, my dreams and desires, and used that knowledge in my assignments. And that is the bottom line after 50 years of this life,” he said.

“We are known, we are loved, and therefore we can be sent.”

Hear more from Fr. Oulvey in this 2023 video.

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