Feb. 21, 2023 – Fr. James Aloysius Gillon, SJ, was born in Holyoke, Mass., on Oct. 17, 1942, the second of three children of Vincent P. and Edna Marie (Lafond) Gillon. Upon graduating from Sacred Heart High School in Holyoke, Fr. Gillon entered the College of the Holy Cross in 1960 where he studied for two years. On Sept. 1, 1962, he entered the Jesuit novitiate, Shadowbrook, in Lenox, Mass., where he spent two years of novitiate and one year of juniorate. He did philosophy studies at Weston College (1965-1967). For regency, he was sent to complete a Ph.D. philosophy program at the University of Notre Dame (1967-1971).
He studied theology at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge Mass., (1971-1974). He was ordained to the priesthood in June of 1974 at St Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Following his ordination, he received his first assignment to the missions when he was sent to teach philosophy at Sacred Heart College in Madura, India. After two years, his visa was not renewed. Although greatly disappointed that he could not stay in India, this experience of working with Jesuit scholastics and living in the missions was to have a profound impact on the rest of his Jesuit life.
From 1976-1977, he lived and taught at St. Michael’s in Spokane, Wash., while completing his tertianship. Upon completion of his tertianship program, he returned to the missions to Wau Seminary in Sudan where he once again taught philosophy to seminarians preparing for priesthood.
The missions and formation work as a philosophy teacher, a spiritual director, and novice director with both diocesan seminarians and Jesuit Scholastics would define the remainder of his life as a Jesuit.
He taught philosophy and theology from (1981-1983) while also serving as the dean (1983) at St. Michael’s Seminary in Kingston, Jamaica.
In 1983-1984 he returned to Notre Dame as both a teacher and student of philosophy as he prepared for a return to work in Sudan, this time as dean, philosophy teacher, and spiritual director at St. Paul National Major Seminary in Juba, Sudan (1984-1989). He also served as the superior of Jesuits in Sudan (1988-1989).
Health concerns, that in some sense would remain with him throughout the remainder of his life, forced him to return to the New England Province in 1989 where he worked as a Province Assistant for formation, international ministries, and director of refugee services, while also serving as the superior of the Province curia residence.
In 1991, he would become the assistant director of novices, and the acting superior at Arrupe House, the New England Province novitiate in Jamaica Plain, Mass. During the following year (1992), he began a ten-year mission as the director of novices and superior at Arrupe House.
In 2002, his missionary heart still on fire to return to Africa, he was assigned as the Socius to a new novice master in Arusha, Tanzania, a man whom he had once taught when he was in the minor seminary. There he served happily for the next seven years (2002-2009). In 2009, requiring some medical care, he returned to the United States where he received that care while he worked as the minister at the Weston Jesuit Community in Cambridge, Mass.
Sufficiently recovered, and with enough strength for one last foray to the missions, he again returned to Africa, specifically to Xavier House in Kampala, Uganda, where he worked as spiritual director for the scholastics and vocation promoter in Uganda as well as the community bursar.
In 2012, he returned home to the United States with increasingly challenging health issues. He was assigned to the assisted living facility at Campion Center where he received care while continuing to work in the ministry of spiritual direction and the giving of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Over the past two or three years, his body was increasingly ravaged by various ailments. Yet, he remained remarkably serene and peaceful. When asked how he was doing, he would often reply, “I’m happy.”
Upon news of his death in the early morning of Feb. 16, 2023, the Provincial of the East African Province, where he had lovingly labored for so many years, wrote to the Socius of the UEA Province and said, “It is sad news, that Fr. Gillon has died. May he rest in God’s eternal mercy and peace. Fr. Gillon had struck strong and lasting friendships with companions in AOR Province. His work and witness, especially in the formation of Jesuits and seminarians in this part of the world was a significant contribution to the growth of the Church. He lived the Universal Apostolic Preferences before they were formalized, especially leading people to God, journeying with those at the margins, and keeping an ardent faith in the youth.”
Indeed, Fr. Gillon had much to be happy about. May he rest now in peace.