Jesuit Father David M. Clarke died on April 4, 2015, at age 87 at Hospice House in Spokane, Washington. A man known for his keen intellect and passion for solving problems, Fr. Clarke spent much of his life in the academic world but also nourished the spirits of many through his photography of nature and pastoral approach to life.
The oldest of two siblings, Fr. Clarke was born on November 28, 1927, in Chewelah, Washington, to Melvin and Louise (Van Bibber) Clarke. The family later moved to Spokane where he attended Longfellow Elementary, Havermale Jr. High, and North Central High Schools. Higher studies were at the University of Washington and Gonzaga University; at Gonzaga, he found in Jesuit Father Timothy Leary both a mentor in the physical sciences and spiritual guide.
Having been drawn into the Catholic Church through Fr. Leary’s inspiration, Fr. Clarke desired to become a Jesuit like his learned friend but church rules required him to wait three years. Ever the practical man and problem solver, Fr. Clarke studied at Northwestern University and completed a doctorate in organic chemistry in the spring of 1953. Doctorate in hand and waiting period over, Fr. Clarke entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Sheridan, Oregon, in September1953 to begin studies for the religious life and priesthood.
Lamenting the scant science training for his Jesuit peers, he was assigned to teach the sciences at Mt. St. Michaels School of Philosophy and help raise the academic rigor of that department. In 1961, he began his theology studies in Weston, Massachusetts, for the priesthood. While there, Fr. Clarke discovered a federal program that paid institutions to install and maintain seismic monitoring stations. He applied for and received a significant grant with which he installed the equipment on the seminary campus. With the completion of his theology studies, Fr. Clarke was ordained in Spokane on June 13, 1964, and worked at Gonzaga University in a variety of administrative and teaching positions.
In 1972, Regis University in Denver sought out and hired Fr. Clarke as president to help guide it out of a deepening decline. Hiring and empowering some of the best people he could find, Fr. Clarke brought Regis into a solid future through the establishment of several off-campus teaching sites and the development of distance learning programs for older and non-traditional students. He served as president for 20 years and transitioned to the role of chancellor for 20 more years. During those years when the pressure of his many roles grew stressful, Fr. Clarke would drive into the Colorado Mountains and take remarkable pictures. Many of these hang in public buildings in Denver and in the classrooms of the building erected and named in his honor on the Regis campus in 2012. Fr. Clarke also published a book of his photographs.
With a decline in health Fr. Clarke moved back to Spokane to join his older brother Jesuits in a ministry of prayer for the church and world. Fr. Clarke is survived by his sister, Ann Nechodom (Warren); nieces: Mary Van Bronkhorst (Eric), Laura Lewis (Trevor), Nancy McPherson (Bruce); and nephews: David (Faye), Stephen, Mark, Kevin (Pat), and Dan (Rosy) Nechodom. There are numerous grand-nieces and nephews, cousins, countless friends and colleagues as well as his brother Jesuits who will miss his deep laughter, thoughtful words and gentle presence.