When Doing God’s Work Runs in the Family
What could writers Ann Landers and Dear Abby, football players Ronde and Tiki Barber, and actresses Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen possibly have in common with Jesuits Bob and Jim Fitzgerald?
In case you haven’t already guessed, all are twins, and each pair’s careers have involved common choices.
For the Fathers Fitzgerald, it all started in 1935, when they were born 20 minutes apart in Omaha. Later, they both attended Creighton Prep where the example of their Jesuit teachers led to a major life decision.
As Fr. Bob puts it, “Like anyone, I wanted to be happy, and I saw the Jesuits as having that. As I progressed through formation, my understanding of where that [joy and satisfaction] came from deepened.”
Fr. Jim adds, “When I was thinking about entering, I was impressed by the dedication of the Jesuits who were teaching us. They were consistently supportive, even though they were very demanding. They worked hard; they were sincere; they were a team; and they cared for us. For example, I remember our revered but humble first-year Latin teacher coming up the staircase, and it was always, ‘Hi, Jim;’ ‘Hi, Bob.’ He knew every name. That makes an impact on a young person.”
Neither brother wanted to tell the other he was entering the Society of Jesus, so as not to cause undue influence. So, each went separately to the Creighton Prep administration building to apply.
Jim recalls, “It was not until I went through that door into the Jesuit community to be interviewed that I saw Bob making the same choice.”
Both men entered the Jesuits on the same day Aug. 17, 1953. Interestingly, they did so with another set of twins John and Ned Cassem. The Cassems and the Fitzgeralds were childhood friends who grew up together in Omaha.
Over the years, Fr. Bob’s and Fr. Jim’s assignments led them to different ministries, and their distinct personalities led them to implement those ministries in different ways.
“You can be very close, and have much in common, but you have to be your own person, and that’s especially true when you’re a twin,” says Fr. Jim.
Fr. Bob explains, “Jim is gifted with a knowledge of history, and ability to process it. He also has the ability to dream and plan, and then promote those dreams and plans to others. I think of him as an architect of the exterior and myself as an architect of the interior.”
Fr. Bob Fitzgerald, SJ
Fr. Jim Fitzgerald, SJ
As an “architect of the interior,” Fr. Bob has been a writer; founded the substance abuse program at St. Francis Mission in South Dakota and provided counseling; worked as chaplain for the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Elderly in St. Paul, offered retreat and spiritual direction at Holy Spirit Retreat House in Anchorage (Ala.), and served as a chaplain at Creighton University Medical Center. He also taught English at Marquette University High School, Creighton Prep, Campion, and Holy Angels Academy in Minneapolis.
His ministries have brought Fr. Bob many blessings, but one which provides great satisfaction is having written “The Soul of Sponsorship” (Hazelden, 1995), a book exploring the relationship of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and his spiritual adviser and friend, Fr. Ed Dowling, SJ. Fr. Bob also wrote “All My Relatives” an unpublished book of poetry.
As an “architect of the exterior,” Fr. Jim Fitzgerald has been involved in fundraising, alumni relations, and campus planning at both Creighton and Marquette universities.
He recalls developing an interest and ability in fundraising early, during a raffle-ticket sale for St. Margaret Mary Grade School in Omaha. He went on to apply those skills during his Jesuit formation; when funds were needed for a new novitiate in the Twin Cities. He wrote an outline to help others succeed in the effort and enlisted Fr. Ned Cassem SJ to help illustrate the booklet.
Although an assignment in Korea was supposed to be his next post, an abrupt need in fundraising at South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation took him there for a year, during which the operation doubled in size. And so it appears the mold was cast.
Fr. Jim went on to serve as assistant to three University presidents; two at Creighton University and one at St. Louis University. While at Creighton he became involved in neighborhood planning. He was instrumental in determining the location of the Medical Center, developing the Kellum Heights apartment complex near the university and getting the law school built.
He then applied his abilities at Marquette, starting phonathons, finding lost alumni, putting together the first alumni directory, initiating a senior pledge drive, campus planning in the Menomonee River Valley and major gift development. Fr. Jim remains especially grateful for the many dedicated lay partners he met and worked with over the years and eagerly credits them for helping the Jesuits succeed in their mission.
Today these twin brothers have come full circle, able to spend as much time with each other as they did when they were growing up, as part of the St. Camillus elder Jesuit community in Wauwatosa.
And they have much to share, including a love of God, others, and stories of their willingness to go where the need is greatest.