Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. Jim l. Michalski, SJ, who was called to eternal life on December 6, 2014, following a short battle with an aggressive cancer. He died in hospice care in the presence of Jesuit brothers and friends. Jim was 72 years old, a Jesuit for 54 years, and a priest for 42 years.
Born on April 30, 1942, in Milwaukee, Wis., Jim attended St. Veronica’s Grade School and Marquette University High School before entering the Society in 1960 at the Jesuit College in St. Bonifacius, Minn. He went through the normal course of studies — juniorate at St. Bonifacius, philosophy at Saint Louis University, and theology studies at Regis College, Toronto — before being ordained on June 8, 1972, at the Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee. He made tertianship in Dindigul, Madurai Province, India, and professed final vows on April 22, 1980.
As a regent, Jim taught at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland and continued in the secondary education apostolate at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha after ordination. At both places, he taught English, and at Prep, he chaired the Theology Department and designed the freshman retreat program, a model that numerous schools across the country have since adopted. Following tertianship, Jim went to Kampala, Uganda. There, he helped establish the new Jesuit residence, served as vocation director, and worked in the National Youth Office. After six years in Africa and a year’s sabbatical, Jim returned to Omaha, where he began research into establishing a Jesuit presence in north Omaha. Community leaders told Jim that too many young black males were being lost to the streets on account of inadequate education. That led to Jim and three other Jesuits to begin the Mulumba House Jesuit Community in 1995. A year later, Jim became the founding president, chaplain, and religion teacher of the Jesuit Middle School of Omaha. Jim remained at the middle school for the next 15 years. By the time he moved on in 2011, the Jesuit Middle School of Omaha (now Jesuit Academy) had become a respected and integral part of the north Omaha African American community. In 2012, Jim took up a new assignment among the Lakota at St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Though his work there was primarily in parishes, he left his mark across the reservation, including on those he visited in prison and at hospitals. Illness brought Jim to Omaha in the late fall of 2014.
In many ways, Jim was a trailblazer. His regency at Saint Ignatius in Cleveland came decades ahead of the merging of the Chicago, Detroit, and Wisconsin Provinces. The freshman retreat program at Creighton Prep, missionary activity in Eastern Africa, and tireless work establishing a Jesuit presence in north Omaha all forged new paths for the Society. Jim embraced all of these with great generosity, energy, and cheerfulness. In recent years, he continued to exemplify Jesuit availability by dedicating himself to the people of the Rosebud Indian Reservation. To all of these apostolates Jim brought much hope: for him, everything was a celebration of possibility. Many will remember Jim as a giant among Jesuits, least because he was an all-conference tackle his senior year at Marquette High, and mostly because of his exemplifying Jesuit simplicity and availability, being humble in all he did, and having a great love for Christ, his Jesuit communities, and those to whom he ministered.
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