By Patrick Howell, SJ
Father Howard Gray, S.J. made a lasting impact on Jesuit higher education. He served major roles at Boston College, John Carroll, and Georgetown. And his writings, lectures, and presence have been felt and warmly received on every one of our Jesuit campuses. Howard’s lectures on Jesuit spirituality and the Jesuit intellectual tradition were a treat in every way. They were memorable. They were packed with insight and laced with humor.
In 1962, he had made tertianship, the last stage of Jesuit formation, with Fr. Paul Kennedy, S.J. at St. Beuno’s in Wales, who introduced the young Jesuit tertians to making the Spiritual Exercises in a more personal, experiential, one-on-one manner. From then onward, Howard was in the vanguard of those who transformed the giving of the Exercises from a rationalistic, ascetical manner to a personal, experiential encounter with Christ and a calling forth of one’s own gifts and talents, endowed by the Creator. Howard had a marvelous way of breaking open the insights of the Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit Constitutions by bringing to bear on the texts deep learning, prayerful insight, and years steeped in literature and human experience. I attended one of his four-day workshops on the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises in June 1985, and I have used his contemplative engagement with the material ever since. He favored Luke’s Gospel while unpacking the different “weeks” of the 30-day retreat. In the meditation on the Crucifixion, he underscored how Jesus was repeatedly declared “innocent” by Pilate and eventually by the hardened Roman Centurion. “Truly, this man was innocent.” Howard went from there to ask: Who would support the lonely teacher who had given her life to her students and was largely abandoned? Who would visit the prisoner wasting in his cell? Who would support the student who made life choices for service rather than a lucrative income—and was mocked by his peers? Who would do these works of mercy and compassion if not we who had been shaped and formed by encountering Christ in the Spiritual Exercises?”
Howard spent the early years of his life in the formation of young Jesuits. He was also engaged in what we Jesuits call “internal ministry” in roles as the provincial of the Detroit Province and then as rector of the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge. In his later years—from age 66 onward—he plunged into the formation of lay colleagues and students by making the Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit tradition available to a vast number of faculty, staff and students in our Jesuit universities. He played a pivotal role at Boston College in garnering a major grant from the Lilly Foundation for a program in discernment of one’s personal vocation. During these years he also did more writing and made his lectures available on tapes, DVD’s, and then podcasts. He moved with the times.
Tributes to Howard will fill whole books. But we at Conversations wanted to make a small contribution to the lore and the fabled stories. We are especially grateful to him for his in-depth, seminal, transformative articles that he wrote for the magazine, which have been used throughout the worldwide Jesuit network and which are re-posted here on this page. May he rest in peace and enjoy the vision which he already seemed to glimpse in every encounter and on every sacramental occasion.
More information about the life of Fr. Gray, as well as funeral information, can be found at the Jesuit Midwest Province website.
In memory of Fr. Gray, Conversations Magazine will re-feature three of Fr. Gray's previous articles in the "Web Features" section of our website.
Patrick Howell, SJ, is the Chair of the National Seminar on Jesuit High Education. He currently serves as the Interim Director of the Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange, CA. Fr. Howell has taught pastoral theology at Seattle University since 1985 and has been keenly involved with the formation of lay ecclesial ministers for the Catholic Church and ministers in 10 Protestant denominations. He has served as Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry, Vice President for Mission and most recently Rector of the Jesuit Community.