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Rev. John P. Reboli, SJ, Associate Professor of Fine Arts emeritus at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA from 1973 to 2009, died peacefully at Campion Center, Weston, MA, on February 17, 2024. Specializing in 19th and 20th century art history for more than four decades at Holy Cross, he taught, among other courses, Introduction to Visual Arts, a Survey of the art from the Renaissance to Modern Art, and Art in the Modern World; he also served several terms as chair of his department.

His Jesuit friends remember him as humble and kind, characteristics that shine through his 2009 interview with the Jesuit Oral History project. Besides those two virtues, what stands out in his interview is his matter-of-fact openness to the significant opportunities that came his way, and his trust in the people who played a role in his life. A keen observer of Jesuit life that he began in the Jesuit novitiate at Shadowbrook in Lenox, Massachusetts, he appreciated more than most the profound transition taking place at the time in the Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus. Rather than seeing reactions to these changes as invitations to choose either a flat-out rejection or thoughtless embrace of all the new currents, he calmly moved forward, trusting his common sense and the example of his friends. Candidly admitting his own uncertainties, he told an interviewer, “We started to live in a world that was increasingly confused and lacking direction.” Drawing on his own relatively serene and secure childhood for comparison, he noted “a definite tension was starting to grow up between the way of life that was actually being lived and the formalities that were still in place.” Never completely thrown off course by these cultural and ecclesiastical changes, however, John observed about these changes what he once observed about his philosophy studies, “I did well, and it was a successful excursion intellectually.”

Teaching high school students at Fairfield Prep (such teaching is customary for Jesuits on their way to ordination) in John’s words “opened my eyes to a whole world I had never seen before,” “but,” he characteristically added, “it was somewhat isolated, I didn’t realize that at the time, because it didn’t feel that way, but in fact it was.” Refining his views, he reflected, “if I had to pinpoint one feature about the years I spent as a Jesuit, it was how much they turned out to be an experience of a church and religious order in transition.” This led him to another conclusion: “God operates in so many different ways and somehow makes everything work out. . . That’s why I think it’s important that people coming into the Society shouldn’t overly plan what they think their life is going to be like or how they’re going to operate, because it’s not going to work out that way.”

His theology studies at Weston and Cambridge gave him time to further develop his love for the arts – painting, the history of art, music, especially opera and musicals. During his theology studies in Cambridge, John fed his passion for opera, one reason being the brilliant opera productions at the time in Boston under the famous impresario Sarah Caldwell. As for tickets, John was not above borrowing the time-honored business practice of buying low and selling [enjoying] high. From the uppermost balcony, he scanned the audience for empty seats, racing to the seat seconds before the overture began.

John was marked out for college teaching and the subject of his teaching would be the fine arts. To prepare himself, he decided on Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, a state school that offered him generous support. Open to the future, he admitted, “I had never been west of the Hudson River before that—I was very parochial in that sense. Out there I was all by myself, there were no other Jesuits there.” Though he spent time helping the local parish on Sundays, he focused on his studies and managed to finish his degree in three years. In 1973, his doctorate in hand, he began his four-decade teaching career at Holy Cross.
At Holy Cross, John did more than teach Fine Arts. He worked memorably with Classics Professor Ken Happe to oversee ACT, Alternative College Theatre, a student-run theater group that offered students the opportunity to direct, star in a show, design, work on a stage crew, manage publicity, or engage in any aspect they wished of theatrical production. Among the little-known facts of his involvement was recruiting the football team for the chorus in the musical Brigadoon. A few of the athletes later complained that football practice was a piece of cake compared to Father Reboli’s demands at the rehearsals and performances of Brigadoon

During summers, John used to go to New York City to do research and catch up on museums, concerts, and theatre. He found a parish that needed a second priest to meet the congregation’s needs, St. Peter’s in lower Manhattan. He worked there thirty summers. Reflecting later, John noted that it involved “meeting people on their turf, not your own, and you had to figure out a way to deal with them. It was very challenging in some ways, and yet I was able to do it and actually liked it. I think the experience brought out new things in me, and I was happy that it worked out as it did.” Again, typically, “We [the pastor and I] were connected for a long time, and I stayed in touch with him after he retired.”

After 2009, he continued to serve the College of the Holy Cross as a professor emeritus of visual arts. In 2018, Fr. Reboli moved to the Campion Jesuit Community in Weston, MA, where he was missioned to pray for the Church and the Society of Jesus. He died peacefully on February 17, 2024

John P. Reboli was born on September 9, 1938, in Port Jefferson, NY, to Louis and Mary (Brett) Reboli. The family actually lived in Stony Brook. His father was born in the US, the son of an Italian immigrant from Italy; he worked in construction, eventually rising to company foreman. His mother was born in Ireland. The parents met in New York City. John had a younger brother, Louis, Jr., to whom he was greatly devoted. In a largely Protestant town John had to travel across Long Island to Patchogue, to a Catholic school Seton Hall High School. Just across from the Long Island Sound where the Reboli family lived was Fairfield University. John enrolled there in 1955. Fairfield at the time was relatively new, with just one dormitory, a nearly-all Jesuit faculty, and a distinct New York orientation. John was a business major, though keeping open the possibility of becoming a Jesuit, influenced by his much-admired mentor, Joseph McCormick, S.J. Faced with compulsory military service, John chose the six-month option, which required six years later in a reserve program, over the alternative option of two straight years immediately. His six months at Fort Dix in New Jersey taught him “a lot,” but most importantly helped him decide to become a Jesuit. With Father McCormick’s help, he was accepted into the Society. John Reboli followed the usual Jesuit course of studies, novitiate and juniorate at Shadowbrook (1960-63); philosophy (193-65); regency at Fairfield Prep in Connecticut (1965-67); theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology (1967-70); ordination (1970); final vows (1985); doctoral studies at Ohio University (1970-73); teaching at Holy Cross (1973-2009; professor emeritus 2009-2014); Campion Center, Weston, MA (2014-2024).