Fr. Roger Gillis, S.J., former teacher of theater arts, popular student advisor and pastoral figure on the Seattle University campus, died on Friday, Dec. 3, after a lengthy battle with cancer. During the past year, students, alumni, colleagues and friends accompanied him on this journey and were moved by the joy and trust he shared daily with visitors and well-wishers who flooded the Jesuit Community with notes and expressions of love and gratitude.
Fr. Gillis was born April 5, 1947, in Anacortes, Wash., one of five children of Joe and Liz Gillis, both who predeceased him. He attended schools throughout Washington before graduating from Gonzaga University in Spokane in 1969. Immediately upon leaving Gonzaga, Fr. Gillis entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in Sheridan, Oregon, and professed his first vows in 1971. He was ordained a priest in 1978 and was an associate pastor at the Jesuit parish of St. Joseph on Seattle’s Capitol Hill from 1978-1981.
He studied drama at the Catholic University of America and participated in a traveling cast that entertained troops and European audiences during his studies. Upon receiving his M.F.A., Fr. Gillis was a professor of theater from 1987-1994. He then entered the role of academic and pre-major advisor at Seattle University, a post he held until this summer when his illness prevented him from continuing. It was in these past sixteen years as “Fr. Rog,” advisor, spiritual counselor, retreat director and friend of all, that has endeared him to so many young people and friends of the university. Even from his hospital bed, he entertained scores of students, alums, brother Jesuits and friends, continuing his hallmark gift of spiritual and human conversation that always conveyed true affection and regard.
Fr. Rog always knew everyone’s name and spent hours each week helping students and encouraging them, especially in difficult moments in their lives. From his sick bed, he insisted that every card and e-mail be read to him, and he would stop to offer kind reflections on their gifts and talents. In a letter to the campus community and thousands of his friends and Jesuit brothers, he said, “I was bowled over by the realization of how much I am loved . . . loved so deeply.” As the consummate teacher and confessor to the end, he added: “It is not always easy to love ourselves. On the other hand, it is easy for me to love all of you. It isn’t too tricky, because if you love other people, they’ll love you back. My apostolic mission at SU has been to love other people. I open up a card and you would thank me for something I did—and you reminded me of it. But lovers don’t keep score…
“Take time to be with each other and to encourage each other. You can’t build community at a distance. We all get busy, but take time for one another, because this is how we know we are loved.”
Fr. Gillis is survived by his brothers Don and Bill, and sisters Hallie and Veronica, as well as his much loved Jesuit Community of the Oregon Province of Jesuits. A reception of Fr. Gillis’s body and public viewing will take place 3:30-6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7, at the Chapel of St. Ignatius, followed by an evening vigil and wake at 7 p.m., also at the chapel. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8, at St. Joseph’s Church (732 18th Ave. E.). Interment will be at the Jesuits’ Mt. St. Michael Cemetery outside of Spokane, Wash. May he rest in Christ’s peace.