Fr. Robert L. Bireley, SJ
Fr. Robert L. Bireley, SJ
"Bob was a faithful Jesuit whose life was grounded in his prayerful love of the Lord."
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Fr. Robert L. Bireley, SJ

Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Father Robert L. Bireley, SJ, who died on March 14, 2018, at St. Camillus in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.  He was 84 years old.  May he rest in peace. 

Bob was born on July 26, 1933 in Evanston, Illinois.  He entered the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus on August 8, 1951 at Milford, Ohio.  Bob was ordained on August 28, 1964 in Frankfurt, Germany.  He pronounced final vows on August 15, 1974 at Loyola University Chicago, in Chicago, Illinois. 

Before entering the Society, Bob graduated from Loyola Academy.  As a Jesuit he earned a Bachelor's Degree in Latin (1956) and a Master's Degree in History (1963) from Loyola University Chicago.  Bob earned a Licentiate in Philosophy from West Baden College in Indiana (1958) and a Licentiate in Theology from Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany (1965).  In 1972, Bob earned his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University.

During regency, Bob taught history at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland (1958-1961).  After earning his doctorate, Bob began working at Loyola University Chicago, where he taught for over 45 years.  In addition to teaching many students, Bob wrote many well-researched books and articles, and served on editorial boards and executive committees.  From 1992-1998, Bob was superior of the former Ignatius House Jesuit Community (which was located next to St. Ignatius Parish).  He moved to St. Camillus in January of 2017 to care for his health.

Bob was a faithful Jesuit whose life was grounded in his prayerful love of the Lord; he lived the vows with great integrity; he integrated well the intellectual apostolate of the Church through his scholarship, research, and teaching, alongside his love of the priesthood, celebration of the sacraments, and preaching.  Bob enjoyed and invested in community life. He loved a lively discussion around the dinner table and while strong in his opinions was always eager to listen to those of others as well.  There was always another project to consider or book to review or article to be written as well as another homily to prepare.  At the same time, he enjoyed music and sports and beginning his day with the Sun Times.  Bob lived his vocation with great balance, great passion and a welcoming smile.  

A Memorial Mass will be celebrated for Bob early next week at St. Camillus Jesuit Community.

A Funeral Mass will be celebrated for Bob in Chicago on a date to be determined.

Bob will be buried in Chicago.

The dates and times for these Masses and burial will be forthcoming.


St. Camillus Jesuit Community

10201 W. Bluemound Rd

Wauwatosa, WI  53226


In Memoriam
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March 16, 20188:43 AM
I grew to love Bob for several reasons after joining the History Department at Loyola University Chicago in 1974. I first got to know him at department meetings, where he faithfully represented the Jesuits position among a very diverse and opinionated group of scholars. As a former, dedicated radical, I appreciated his adherence to the official doctrine of the “company.” At the same time, he was never doctrinaire or intolerant of opposing views. He was a good listener and he was always willing to engage in a conversation about the issues facing the department, the university, and the larger world. Bob was a mensch. When my father died in 2003, he came to the memorial service. I was really surprised because I had not made any kind of announcement about it. Somehow, he found out. Moreover, I come from a Jewish family and here was a Catholic priest at the service to offer me comfort. I was deeply moved and I have never forgotten his kind words. Bob was a true Chicagoan. We both grew up on the North Shore, and we both left the city and then returned to it. We shared lots of laughs as insiders on our beloved city’s popular culture and sports teams. I also love Bob because he was my guide into the world of Catholicism. He was a master of patience as I asked what must have been truly stupid questions about Catholic rituals and history. I remember one time when I was in Rome visiting a church that had a whole wall of decorative hearts. I wrote to him, asking if these were the “sacred hearts” I had heard about. He soon answered back with a full explanation. Bob was a nice person and a good friend. I will miss him. Harold Platt Professor of History Emeritus Loyola University Chicago – Harold L. Platt

March 16, 20189:29 PM
Father Bireley is a professor that I had several times while getting my history degree at Loyola. Many times I look back on his humility, the passion he had for history and his pupils as well as the care he had for his faith. He helped shape me into the Catholic I am today so that I can pass on that passion to my children. The fervor with which he taught is admirable and I was lucky to have him several times. You will be missed Father Bireley but your spirit will live on in us all. Please care over our souls from Heaven, you are in a happier place I am sure. – Alana Underwood (Collins)

March 19, 201810:17 AM
Fr Bireley, SJ served as a reflector for Ignatian Volunteer Corps for many years. He accompanied volunteers on their spiritual journeys as they worked with the materially poor. IVC is so thankful for Bob's commitment and generosity and prays that he may now rest in the love and peace of God. – Maura Rogan, Ignatian Volunteer Corps

March 19, 201812:11 PM
My heart goes out to the family! In all the years that he must have comforted others, perhaps he used scriptures such as Revelation 21:4. God knows the pain we experience when we lose our loved ones, so He made a provision so that we never have to experience death at all. That provision is linked to the death of Jesus Christ, which we will commemorate on Saturday, March 31, 2018. I hope everyone in the family can attend to hear how Jesus’ death benefits everyone now and in the future. Click on the link to find a time and place near you. – Anonymous

March 19, 20182:37 PM
Offering our deepest condolences. May 'the God of all comfort' be with your family at this time of loss. Romans 15:4 – Kathryn

March 19, 20182:37 PM
Offering our deepest condolences. May 'the God of all comfort' be with your family at this time of loss. Romans 15:4 – Kathryn

March 19, 20188:31 PM
Fr. Bireley was a very kind, very learned man. He truly saw the good in everyone and every situation. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone, even difficult people. In this sense, his heart was as admirable--and perhaps even moreso--as his very fine mind. May he rest in peace. – Christine Curran

March 20, 201812:31 PM
A wonderful scholar, a model Jesuit, and a fount of information on old-time Chicago. Those of us who study early modern central Europe will miss him a lot. – Robert L Kendrick

March 21, 20182:33 PM
A great man has closed his eyes! For good. This is the kind of death that doesn't bring sadness. On the contrary, we too close our eyes, for a minute, to say a thanksgiving prayer. For all that Bob has been to us. What a blessing! You were a great great man, Bob. In your last message to me you told me he you were preparing to meet the Lord. What a great way to leave this world!!!! Should I say I am happy for you? Everyone who met you loved you. I loved you dearly as a father. A grandfather. A mentor. A scholar. Thank you Bob for the time we spent together. I too learned so much from you. Your gentleness. Your great way to disagree without hurting. And thay you for these final words that I will live to cherish... as you pray for us. "Kaf, I very much enjoyed being with you at Loyola, and I learned from you and your buoyant spirit. Yes, let's pray for each other. I'm preparing to meet the Lord." Feeling sad yet grateful for you Bob Bireley. I will miss your friendship. But surely, I win a guardian angel. An intercessor. And a shining star to guide me through the days ahead. Take Lord and Receive your gift to us... – Toussaint Kafarhire

March 26, 201811:08 PM
Bob and I were classmates at Loyola Academy, Class of 1951, both in the Honors Course, as I remember. We saw each other only rarely during our years as priests (I was ordained in 1960). My respect for him began when we were freshmen; there was something special about him. His vocation and life proved that. May he rest in peace. – Fr. Joe O'Donnell, CSC

April 02, 201812:41 PM
i Knew BOB through his sister, Barbara, RSCJ. i admired him very much for his kind spirit and peaceful approach to life. Ann rscj – Anonymous

April 03, 20182:53 PM
Fr. Bireley made a true impression on me as a young history student at Loyola 20 years ago. I am sorry to hear of his passing and extend my heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. – Karen Altman (Augustine)

June 21, 20189:07 AM
Fr. Bireley was a fascinating professor and an excellent teacher. He made many efforts to get to know students and push them academically. His scope of knowledge of the churn of early modern Europe was such a resource in class. May God rest his soul in peace. – Mark D Perry

August 28, 20183:03 PM
I knew Fr. Bob for approximately the last 10 years of his life, having met him at a meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association. I was impressed by his scholarship, but even more so by how he placed his scholarship in the context of his life’s spiritual journey, and by his kind and open heart. Since our first meeting, we met for lunch in Chicago once a year or so, discussing topics of Counter-Reformation, the Jesuit Order, the practice of discernment, religious art and art history, and many others, including my doctoral program in art history, in which I was focusing on a Jesuit Marian invocation in Mexico. For my work, he always offered good suggestions, asked pertinent and challenging questions, and provided encouragement. He spoke occasionally of the expected end of his journey, not with sadness but with gratitude. However, one of my sadnesses at his passing was that he was not able to see the acknowledgement that I offered him in my completed dissertation. I include that here: “I have very much enjoyed my annual lunch meetings with Fr. Robert Bireley of Loyola University. I am grateful to him for sharing his insights on religious history since the Counter-Reformation, for giving me a window into Jesuit life, and most especially for being an exemplar of the combination of devotion and scholarship.” Thank you, Father Bob. – Bernard Cesarone

December 03, 201812:35 AM
The news of Bob Bireley's death has reached me only now. I met him through our common professional interest in the history of 17th-century central Europe, but I came to appreciate him deeply not just as a historian but also as a wise and gentle and generous friend. He loved his work as a historian, his role as a teacher, his membership in the Society of Jesus and of course his huge family of nieces and nephews and their offspring. What a fine man he was. Chris Friedrichs Vancouver, B.C. Canada – Chris Friedrichs

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