The Man Behind St. Ignatius

Beloved Jesuit Father O'Leary leaves SU

Written by SU Magazine staff
Photography by Chris Kalinko
May 28, 2016
Over the years Patrick O’Leary, S.J., has met countless individuals and for some, that introduction has come via St. Ignatius. More specifically, Father O’Leary as St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. Seattle U’s senior Jesuit embodies St. Ignatius for his “Ignatius talk” presentations familiar to audiences around campus.

After many years of service at Seattle University, Fr. O’Leary is leaving the university this summer to join the Manresa Jesuit Community at Gonzaga Prep and assist in Jesuit ministry in Spokane.

Fr. O’Leary first arrived on the university campus more than 50 years ago and taught philosophy and theology from 1964 to 1970. In 1993, he returned to campus as assistant to the president for Mission and Ministry. Since 2002, Fr. O’Leary has been chaplain for faculty and staff, giving spiritual direction and working on retreats.

Among other ministries, he has led alumni and staff on pilgrimages, has been active in the Spiritual Exercises in Every- day Life (SEEL) program, the Ignatian Spirituality Center, which he helped to found, and the Arrupe Seminar. Countless students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university have had the privilege of hearing his “Ignatius Talk,” a captivating presentation in which he shares, in first-person form, the life and spiritual journey of the founder of the Jesuits.

In 2012, O’Leary fittingly received the St. Ignatius Medal in recognition of his leadership, humility and service to the community and mission.

It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate recipient of the St. Ignatius Medal, the university’s highest honor, than Fr. O’Leary.

When presenting the award to him, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., said, “Of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in America, we at Seattle University are the only ones who can say they have St. Ignatius on their campus. ... Pat truly animates the students as they pursue their studies and launch lives of purpose and meaning.”

In accepting the award, Fr. O’Leary said, “In such a gathering as this evening it is humbling and a bit embarrassing to be singled out. In all honesty, however, it is a delight as well to share this occasion with my family, a delight to know that this award is not just for me but embraces
as well by brother Jesuits and so many colleagues, partners and friends. What a privilege and joy it has been to be a part of Seattle U’s commitment to form and inspire young people toward a more just, loving and humane world.”

A Calling
 
Fr. O’Leary’s call to the priesthood had a lot to do with family, he says. His mother died when he was young and he moved in with relatives in Tacoma. He lived a half block from St. Leo’s parish and went to Bellarmine Prep, which meant he had a lot of opportunities to interact with Jesuits.

“The example of the Jesuits I knew there and the faith of the family I’d come from were the seeds of my vocation.”

Fr. O’Leary has vivid memories of his ordination 50 years ago. “You’d think I’d have all kinds of pious and spiritual thoughts of that day,” he says.

“The night before (the ordination), all of a sudden I get a knock at my door and its one of my best friends who was to be ordained with me and he said, ‘I can’t go through with it.’ So I was more concerned about what he was going to do than my own ordination.”

In the end O’Leary’s friend got ordained. As for the ordination itself, he remembers it mainly as one of the hottest days in Spokane history. The following day was as much of a scorcher and Fr. O’Leary recalls fighting through a steady stream of perspiration as he celebrated his first Mass.

Best wishes to Fr. O’Leary as he embarks on this next chapter.
O'Leary After many years of service at Seattle University, Fr. O’Leary is leaving the university this summer to join the Manresa Jesuit Community at Gonzaga Prep and assist in Jesuit ministry in Spokane.