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Arts, Faith and Humanities / People of SU
April 13, 2020
(Photo by Yosef Kalinko)
UPDATE - April 17, 2020: Now available at this link and embedded below is video of the online memorial service held for Father Ely on April 16. (A gathering to celebrate his life will be announced at a later date.)
Seattle University mourns the loss of Peter Ely, S.J., an extraordinary Jesuit, who passed away April 11, 2020, the day before Easter, at the age of 81. He died of an apparent heart attack as he was returning to his residence following a walk.
“A beloved teacher, mission leader and member of our Jesuit community for many years, Peter has touched a great many lives and was a source of inspiration to all who knew him,” President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., wrote to the campus community.
With a glint in his eye and a smile always at the ready, Father Ely had a gift for connecting with others. He took a genuine interest in who they were and who they hoped to become. All who were fortunate to know him were drawn in by his warmth, compassion and a sense of humor that was never far from the surface.
Father Ely was born on Aug. 22, 1938 in Hammond, Indiana. He attended Seattle Preparatory School and then entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1956 in Sheridan, Ore. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Gonzaga University and an M.A. in theology from Regis College, University of Toronto. He was ordained a priest in Seattle in 1969.
After earning a Ph.D. in theology at Fordham University in 1974, he spent the next 16 years at Gonzaga University as a professor and as academic vice president. From 1990 to 1992 he was pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Seattle, and he then returned to Gonzaga to serve as rector of the Jesuit community until 1996. He then served for one year as President of Rockhurst College in Kansas City, after which he began a distinguished period of service at Seattle University as a professor of religious studies and in university leadership.
From 2001 to 2008 he served as rector of the Jesuit community, and from 2008 to 2015 as vice president for Mission and Ministry at Seattle U. In these and other roles, he was the driving force behind a number of initiatives so central to our university’s Jesuit Catholic mission. He founded and for more than 15 years directed the Arrupe Seminar on the Foundations and Vision of Jesuit Education, which has introduced hundreds of faculty and staff to the richness of the university’s mission and living Jesuit tradition. He helped launch the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture and led the university’s Interreligious Dialogue Initiative.
Father Ely was an active hiker and in his spare time enjoyed playing the piano and reading literary works in French. “His greatest gift was to love and serve others without reservation,” said Arturo Araujo, S.J., rector of the Jesuit Community of Seattle University.
Father Ely was known as a dynamic teacher and preacher who loved to engage people in conversation about their lives and their families. In 2018 he published Adam and Eve in Scripture, Theology, and Life (Lexington Books).
Father Ely is survived by his brother John (Kathy) and their children Monica, Bretton and Conrad.
As a way to honor Father Peter Ely’s memory, all are invited to send a very brief remembrance of their gratitude by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please share just a few sentences and include your affiliation with SU and/or your connection with Father Ely.) Contributions will be posted on this page in the coming days.
Updated May 14, 2020, 2:15 p.m.
I’m a 2009 alum. I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Fr. Ely. He was, perhaps unknowingly, a great source of comfort and direction during my time on the Seattle U campus. As my theology professor during my freshman year, Fr. Ely gently asked me to re-write from scratch a paper I’d drafted. The horror! He explained that the paper was fine, but that it was clear that I was trying to be clever and provocative, rather than engaging in good faith with the materials (in this case, St. Augustine’s Confessions). No fan of authority, criticism or extra work, I was nonetheless utterly disarmed by Fr. Ely’s request. I agreed to re-write the paper without protest. How did Fr. Ely so easily extract this concession from me? I think it was because Fr. Ely’s request (and its implicit reprimand) came from a place of genuine love. Fr. Ely saw a young man selling himself short, and he cared enough to call me out.
It also helped that he was utterly unpretentious and genuinely interested in his students. One evening, when he was walking out of Bellarmine Hall to head back to the Jesuit residence, he stopped to say hi to me while I was smoking on the steps. We talked about smoking, about how much he’d enjoyed having one cigarette a night until his doctor told him he had to cut it out. We laughed. He was a priest, rector of the Jesuit residence and my theology professor at the time. I was a 19-year-old bundle of nerves chain-smoking outside my dorm. But that conversation was a light and easy as any I’d have with a fellow student.
May you rest in peace, Fr. Ely. You were a powerful witness of the faith to me. I hope that your humor, your humility, your love of Seattle University and its students will leave a lasting imprint on our community.
- James Kilcup
Peter was two years behind me in high school at Seattle Prep, a Jesuit colleague for 42 years: we taught at Jesuit High in 1964 and were. I hope, good friends. I admired especially his great good balance, holy but not pious, serious but light hearted, intelligent but never overbearing, great sly smile and an honesty about our common frailties.
- L. Patrick Carroll
I join the many friends and admirers of Father Peter Ely, in extending my deep sympathy and condolences to Peter’s family – John and Kathy Ely and their children Monica, Bretton, and Conrad.
I first met Father Ely when my late wife and I were graduate students at Gonzaga in the early ‘80s – and Peter was visiting John and Kathy and their then young children, who happened to live across the street from Bonnie and I and our four children.
Through the years, Peter was a bit of a spiritual advisor to our Family Prayer Group at St. Augustine Parish and would often say Mass for our group of a dozen families. I’ll always fondly remember when Father Ely presided over the co-renewal of marriage vows by all of the prayer group’s couples, including John and Kath at the Jesuit Chapel at GU. Peter had an open and empathetic character that drew you in and made you feel as though The Good Lord loved you – always – because God did.
When Bonnie and I moved to Seattle many years later and began to attend Mass at SU – we were welcomed by Peter as though it had been only weeks, not years since we had been together. Again his open, and welcoming spirit came back into our lives and made us feel at home in Seattle. And, when Bonnie battled cancer he was there for us once again. For that I will always be grateful.
Peter made a difference in the lives of many, many, people he loved and guided upon their spiritual journey – and for that we are all blessed and very, very grateful.
Peace Be With You, Peter – and with all who loved you.
- John Powers GU LS ‘84
I had the privilege of getting to know Father Ely when he led a very small group from the School of Theology and Ministry Ecumenical and Interreligious Advisory Committee to examine the question, "What the World Needs Now." Including Father Ely, we represented 5 different traditions: Catholic, Community of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Baha'i, and Zoroastrian.
His sincere interest and gentle questions in finding our common ground was a positive catalyst for this task force!
- Cindy Etter
I first met Father Ely 20 years ago, when I came to Seattle to be a Jesuit Volunteer ElderCorps member. Frequently I would walk to 8:00 a.m. Mass at St. Ignatius Chapel from Cherry Abbey, the JV community in the Central District. One morning I was deeply distressed, for I had just learned that my sister Peggy, who lived in Chicago, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had only a few months to live. Father Ely, upon entering the chapel, saw that I was distraught and took the time to comfort me, assuring me of his prayers for my sister and me.
Frequently I would attend his alumni seminars. His lectures were so engaging and stimulating. Father Ely also was a superb homilist, and as a member of St. James and also a frequent attendee at St. Ignatius liturgies, I was a beneficiary of those. He was one of my favorite confessors.
I will miss his friendship, his inspiring homilies and his joie de vivre. God speed, dear Father Peter!
- Helen Donnelly Goehring
I so enjoyed bumping into Father Ely around campus and continuing our conversations from the Arrupe seminar this past winter and spring. Peter would always bring up our previous conversations and we would pick up the thread together. I loved the way he loved to talk about movies too! The rich and long history of his contributions to Seattle University will live in our hearts.
- Kirsten Moana Thompson, professor and director of Film Studies
Although I never had Fr. Ely "officially" in the classroom during my time at Seattle U, I found myself next to him as the student representative on the Mission Examen committee, and through many encounters in the Chapel of St. Ignatius. I was always encouraged by Fr. Ely's genuine attention, his thoughtful questions and sense of wonder. I am so grateful to have learned from and alongside him during my time as a student.
- Claire Lucas, ’19, psychology, and theology and religious studies
I had Father Ely as a professor just last year. My grandpa passed away during my time in Father Ely's class and he not only was kind with deadlines but went above and beyond to help me practice the bible section my grandma wanted me to read at the funeral. I had trouble with a few of the names and he spent a good amount of time on it with me to make sure I felt ready. He was incredibly kind and thoughtful. I also loved his class and enjoyed his insight on the topics discussed. In class he told us that we should wake up at 5 in the morning to hear how beautiful the birds sound at that time. I will plan on doing that this week in his memory.
- Emma Fleck, '19, biology
I first met Peter Ely SJ when I was on the campus ministry team at Gonzaga U (1974-79), where he taught theology and accompanied scholastics in their formation. He always said “yes” to requests to celebrate student Masses and work on retreat teams. He embodied the Jesuit mission & spirituality and shared it enthusiastically.
He was a mentor to many students and a friend of faculty and staff. More recently, he has been a real gift to St James Cathedral, presiding at Sunday liturgies and sharing his wisdom—and sense of humor—shedding light on the scriptures in his homilies. I will truly miss his friendship, and heaven is blessed with his presence!
- Judy Ryan, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM)
I first met Fr. Ely when he led a retreat for Albers a few years back, and our bond grew through the Arrupe Seminar, the Albers Arrupe Group, and the Interreligious Dialogue Initiative, not to mention the numerous interactions at Colleagues and other such events as well as all the unplanned conversations on the upper mall. I am especially grateful for a personal conversation on the way back from a retreat at Beaver Lake and a lunch that my wife and I shared with him. Fr. Ely has been among those most responsible for my involvement in mission activities, and I will miss his energy, grounded-ness, humor, and desire to listen to and learn from diverse perspectives. Even when I was having a rough day, I would leave our unplanned interactions feeling uplifted that someone cared enough to ask and chat about how various aspects of my professional and personal life were going. I look forward to our reunion in due course. Rest in peace, Fr. Ely.
- Ajay Abraham, assistant professor of marketing, Albers School of Business and Economics
Peter was that rare Jesuit would join the younger Jesuit novices for their summer vacation, which was called “villa.” That’s how I first came to know him. He was the academic vice president of Gonzaga at the time. In those years he inspired me to take on teaching as a vocation. I hope that I have been and will continue to be the kind of teacher he was.
We became close friends through these many years. He was the rare friend who would speak his mind directly and honestly with me when needed! All with an amazing sense of humor and kindness. Things I still aspire to do myself, I realize.
Peter was so full of life. So interested in and engaged with everyone he met and knew. His memory was legendary, not just of people but of all of his life experience and learning. Amazing gifts of love!
I will miss him always.
- Jim Swindal, ’78, professor of philosophy and Henry Koren, C.S.Sp Endowed Chair in Scholarly Excellence, Duquesne University
Fr. Peter was a great supporter of the sisterhood of our two parishes (St. Joseph and San Bartolome in El Salvador). He visited us in the midst of the armed conflict in 1990, I remember him as a great apostle of solidarity and witness of the Kingdom of God. Tomorrow we will radio broadcast our mass to our region, our prayer for his eternal rest is heard by all our people. Our sincere thanks for his solidarity and showing us the face of Jesus and his message.
- Padre Miguel Vasquez, S.J., pastor of San Bartolome Parish, Arcatao, El Salvador
I first knew Peter as a student at Gonzaga. He was a beloved professor of religion. Later, I made the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius with Peter as my spiritual director. He continued to be a wonder spiritual advisor for years even as he was very busy with his academic responsibilities at Seattle U. I remember Father Ely as a smart, caring, dedicated gentle sole, who always had a glint in his eye and a smile on his heart He will be missed.
- Jim Mallahan
I always looked forward to joining Father Peter while walking across our beautiful campus. He was kind and candid, knowledgeable and curious about many things. We talked about Ukraine's religions and about his preparation for a new cinema class. Our last conversation was on whether a soul had a gender, to which he has responded, "It is a mystery."
Father Peter will be greatly missed, may he rest in peace.
- Olha Krupa, associate professor, Institute of Public Service
Over the many years of knowing Fr. Ely, he has been an endless stream of joy and kindness. I will miss his thoughtful candor, willingness to listen and sense of humor.
- Eric Guerra, associate athletic director
Fr. Peter was an early, enthusiastic and insightful supporter and board member of Seattle Nativity School. A school that would not have been possible without his love and leadership.
- Michael Mott, board chair, Seattle Nativity School
Peter was one of the Jesuits I loved to work with, mostly because he remembered my name, always asked how I was, and shared his curious, playful spirit generously with me. One of the many characteristics that Peter taught me was to cultivate curiosity and ask good questions. He was a lifelong learner and invited me to do the same, both in an academic setting and in my personal life. Peter worked with my dad at Gonzaga, was the VP at Gonzaga when my mom was a student, and taught me in two different classes at Seattle U. I also worked alongside him at the Chapel of St. Ignatius as a student for three years; thus he was infamous in my household. I'm sure that wherever his spirit is walking now, he's bringing a whole slew of questions and curiosities to whoever is walking alongside him now.
- Jacqueline Shrader, SU alumna, '13
What a blessing to have received such a beautiful introduction and deep dive into the Foundations of Jesuit Education and of Jesuits through the Arrupe Seminar that Fr. Ely co-instructed with Jen Tilghman-Havens. I was touched by the sincerity of Peter’s presence, his open heart, and his devotion to enduring traditions and ongoing learning. Godspeed your journey home, Fr. Ely.
- Virginia Klamon, Executive Leadership Program coach
I had the distinct pleasure to work for Peter Ely when he has the pastor of Saint Joseph in Seattle. But he always reflected upon our working “with” each other as members of a team to help others. And I felt he really meant that. I was the principal of the school. He was the pastor of the parish. He always seemed to be in a positive mood and he had a ready and quick smile on his face when anyone approached him. He was a great listener and had the unique ability to reflect with people both what he heard them saying and the implications those words and thoughts had in the lives of people. I found him to be a deeply spiritual man who thought long and hard about questions, challenges, and situations that were brought to him. He led by following and he followed by leading. He was an exceptionally strong advocate for Catholic education and was very involved with the community—actually with many communities. He was always trying to reach out and help. I will miss him. Seattle will miss him. The Jesuits will miss him. The world will miss him. We are all a little bit lesser than we were because of his passing from our lives, but we are all much better than we ever would have been because of his presence in our lives.
- George Hofbauer, principal, St. Paul School
What evolved into a friendship between Fr. Ely and myself began with his serving as my confessor during one of the communal penance services at St. James Cathedral: his insight, his pastoral care, and his spiritual guidance served as a springboard into what became an ongoing conversation which developed over the years. One chapter of this conversation took place in his office at Seattle University, during which he gave me a very early draft copy of his book; just a few years ago, as our paths crossed on a street corner, I asked how the book was going, and whether it was nearing publication. It saddens me deeply that I will never have the chance - at least in this life - to discuss the finished book with him; it saddens me further that I will never again see his bright face, hear his soothing voice, absorb his trenchant wisdom - at least in this life. Rest in peace, dear Peter.
- Ward Johnson, parishioner, St. James Cathedral
It was always a joy to run into Father Ely, whether passing on campus, or at Colleagues or other events. It’s unimaginable that he won’t be there when we return to campus. He always expressed genuine interest and always conveyed that he had an abundance of time for others, including me. Each encounter reminded me to slow down and be present to the moment. I will let his memory continue to remind me. I am honored to have shared Seattle University and this world with him.
- Kathleen Cook, associate professor, practicum director and chair, Department of Psychology
Father Ely was one of the kindest and most attentive members of our Seattle University community. Each and every time he passed me on the street, he took the time to stop and ask not just how my day was but how my week, month, year had been going. He never seemed to lack capacity to listen to the details of people's lives--or to show true interest in them. I will so miss those lovely and unexpected opportunities to reflect on life and to be heard in that way. Thank you, Father Ely.
- Susan Meyers, associate professor and director of Creative Writing Program, Department of English
Father Ely was a constant. I would see him everywhere; events for faculty but especially ubiquitously at student events.I had a what seemed to be a long-standing tradition to meet with him in the rooms before we organized to process for graduation to talk about the interpersonal origins of Ethics and and the work of Levinas. What was so interesting is that he remembered each year where we had left off and wanted to deepen the conversation. He remembered our conversations and connected them to the years of conversations he had with others, George Kunz, in particular.
He was a gatherer of not just ideas but also someone who was constantly reaching for connection to others. He wanted to know what was happening and he had so many questions. He reached for us. He also had the delighted gleam and barely contained laughter of those who have closely gathered into God's endless expanse. He was a hilarious person who knew that even in, or perhaps especially in, great suffering, the world also held great joy and immense possibilities for love. His life manifested the enduring the power of the wisdom of love and I will indeed find new ways to love him. Godspeed Father.
- Claire LeBeau, assistant professor, Department of Psychology
Peter was a cherished friend to us and to our Seattle L’Arche community where he’d been celebrating mass for 30 years, most recently at our last community night together before the quarantine. Mass with Peter was always warm and deeply personable.
Recently he had joined the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative retreat team in bringing Ignatian retreats to Monroe Correctional Complex. I’ll never forget Peter’s first retreat with us in November when he sat in on my small group. At the end of the day, he wept openly, telling the men how moved and grateful he was to be there, how they had ministered to him and how he was in awe of their interior freedom. One man reached over, patted him on the hand and said, “Oh bless your heart, Father.” It was an exquisite experience of deep respect and mutual tenderness. Classic Peter, when arranging his 6:15 a.m. pick up earlier that day, wrote this to the Catholic Chaplain whom he had never met before. "Sounds good. I will be outside, propped on a tree, catching a few extra winks, dressed in my clerical pajamas."
My last encounters with Peter were on two Arrupe seminar Zoom calls earlier this month in which he took my breath away with his unhurried attention to and thoughtful regard for everybody present –the colleagues, his dear friend Fr. Dave Leigh, and me, a guest to the group. Peter we will miss you terribly are so grateful for your inspirational life.
- Jennifer Kelly, '85, and Gerry Scully
I had the good fortune of being able to be in Fr. Ely's Arrupe Seminar this year. I almost didn't sign up because I was worried about overcommitting, but I decided if I didn't that I would regret it. I'm so grateful that I did because it gave me the chance to get to know Fr. Ely and watch him in his element.
There are two things stand out for me about him. There were some issues we discussed that raised tensions in our group about the Catholic church in general, and sometimes priests in particular. He never got defensive. He often agreed. He always gave context and talked about the need to keep working to improve things. I would watch him with surprise and respect as he encountered these hard conversations. He seemed to genuinely appreciate them and the people raising the issues, which is so rare.
The other thing that I'll remember is that after campus was closed down and we were all working from home, he canceled our next Arrupe seminar and hinted that we might not be able to continue. However, rather than end there, he decided to learn Zoom, and he delighted himself and our group that he was able to do it. At 81, here he was, mastering leading an online course. Our group was grateful to him for the continuity, for his connecting us to inspiring people living Jesuit values. If it weren't for his energy and curiosity, we would have ended our year isolated and early. As it turned out, he was not meant to finish with us.
Peter was a wonderful, gentle, funny man. When I heard that he passed away after a walk and possibly stopping to smell some flowers, I was sure that that was a gift to us. I've been stopping to enjoy the cherry blossoms this week and I think of him.
- Christine Campbell, Admissions, School of New and Continuing Studies
I only knew Fr. Peter Ely for a little more than a decade, and I'm very aware that a person of his maturity of age leaves a human shadow of authenticity, intelligence, sincerity and kindness that extends far beyond my limited experience.
Peter was part of the generation of Jesuits who taught me as a high school student in St. Louis in the early 1970s, and most of them struggled to know how to teach the Catholic faith in a post-Vatican II church. His generation attempted to share the faith of a church that grappled for three-quarters of a brutal century that included a Depression and two world wars, a century in which the Catholic Church did not always align itself on the right side of history, or the values that are now promoted clearly and unambiguously in the Catholic Church's evolving social justice tradition. (As Peter knew so well, this tradition is owed, in no small part, to the Society of Jesus.) I believe Peter's generation of Jesuits has had one of the most difficult eras in the nearly 500-year history of the Ignatian tradition, trying to animate a tradition that is ever ancient and ever new for a modern and post-modern world. He lived and breathed that tradition in a contemporary way.
Peter knew that the Catholic heritage needed to pave a new path that made room for ecumenism and interfaith dialogue in ways that previous generations did not understand or even consider important. He, like the rest of us, didn't have a clear language for this new articulation of the faith tradition he loved so passionately and sought to pass on to future generations, but he knew that this required new ways of thinking, acting and even feeling, and he stood in that crucible with a sense of hope, trust and unflinching enthusiasm for a future that is only seen in a mirror, dimly (I Cor. 13:12). Peter Ely was a remarkable man who lived fully in his era yet reached beyond it to something beyond his grasp in this life. I have no doubt he now embraces, with a sense of joy and fulfillment, an understanding he longed to experience and share with others throughout his earthly sojourn.
- Mark Markuly, dean and professor, School of Theology and Ministry
Fr. Ely’s impact on my life can be summed up in these words: life-affirming and transformative. In addition to being work colleagues, I was a student in his Catholic Traditions class exposed to Catholic thinkers whose ideas were new to this student raised in the Lutheran tradition. It was an assignment near the end of the term that altered the course of my response to a family tragedy. A Letter of Forgiveness to Alzheimer’s opened my heart to a new way of grieving and acceptance of my father’s journey with the disease. That assignment became the genesis of future coursework and writing projects as I continue to work through my dad’s passing earlier this year.
Through his grace, compassion and gift for teaching, Fr. Ely strengthened my intellectual curiosity. His classroom along with the Arrupe Seminar provided a platform—an environment steeped in Ignatian spirituality---where I learned to find God in all things. What a remarkable discovery. We shared a fondness for good cinema and exchanged DVDs of personal favorites. As colleagues, Fr. Ely would slip into my office looking for help with Word documents as he worked to edit his manuscripts or fiddle with a jammed printer. I was always eager to help because I knew I was in the presence of greatness who animated his care and concern for others in a genuine way. He always appeared humbled by his intelligence and achievements in life, which was his super power with how he engaged with his students. Intimidation was checked at the classroom door in favor of open dialogue and inspired learning.
My heart was immediately lifted to a better place being near him. It was his welcoming spirit, the glint of humor in his eyes and warm smile that I recognized and cherished so much. That’s the impact this extraordinary human being had on my life. It was an honor and a gift to be his student, a joy to call him a colleague and a privilege to have known him. My prayers are with the Jesuit community, his family and the Seattle University community as we all process and mourn this loss. Rest in Peace, Fr. Ely.
Ann Christine Nornes, staff member (2007-2017); Albers School of Business and Economics alumna (2014, 2017)
Peter was my boss from 2009-2015 while I served as the director of Magis at SU. While it was our professional worlds that brought us together, it was my personal and family life where he made the greatest impact. From renewing the marriage vows of my husband James and I in a surprise ceremony at St Ignatius Chapel on our 10-year wedding anniversary, to journeying with and supporting me every step of the way of learning of my surprise pregnancy with twins through their birth and early years, Peter was an incredibly compassionate, curious, steadfast and dear mentor, colleague and ultimately friend. He will be so missed and I am forever grateful for knowing, working and serving with him!
- Brooke Rufo-Hill, SU alumna and former director of Magis, 2009-2106
I have known Fr. Peter for many years. The times I treasure the most is when his niece Monica Ely worked at Providence Hospitality House. He became Uncle Peter to Sara Cotto and myself. I continued to call him Uncle Peter throughout these years. Recently, I was walking on campus and ran into Uncle Peter walking from class. We had a nice short visit. He always brought me up to date on Monica’s life. He loved visiting her family. May you Rest In Peace. Prayers for the Jesuit Community.
- Sr. Beatrice LaFramboise, Sisters of Providence
Father Peter Ely possessed a sneaky humorous streak. He was gifted with depth of intellect and his heart was as big as a barn. When I first met him, perhaps a decade ago, I found him to be stern...but in a very short amount of time I realized that was just a thin veneer. I recognized his true colors when I participated in the Arrupe Seminar which he co-facilitated with Jen Tilghman-Havens. I always looked forward to those monthly early morning sessions....and when it came time to go to work, afterwards, I felt peaceful, strong and inspired to take on whatever my work day had in store for me.
I am so fortunate to have participated in a study group for his book: “Adam and Eve in Scripture, Theology and Literature. Sin, Compassion, Forgiveness” which was coordinated by Jessica Palmer in ICTC. I’ve learned so much reading his book, listening to his explanations and participating in the lively discussions. Like my Arrupe Seminar experience, I felt renewed strength and hope, at the end of our meetings. Our study group met with him via Zoom on April 3 and I recall he was smiling broadly and truly joyous that we were exploring the last four chapters of the book. “You’re almost there!” he exclaimed.
When I read the campus email that brought the sad news of his sudden passing, I wept, not realizing until then, the impact that he had made not only in my professional life, but in my spiritual life: I learned the importance of placing my trust in God in all dimensions of my life.
This brought to my mind the reassuring line from “Three Little Birds” -- the Bob Marley song: “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright...”
That’s how I felt whenever I was in Father Ely’s presence and knowing him brought me, closer to God.
- Mary Jane Brogan, MA ’09, paralegal, School of Law
Fr. Ely has been my friend and spiritual director for the past six years. He helped me when I was struggling to discern my vocation, as well as helped me navigate the first three years of my ministry as a priest. He was one of my biggest encouragers and a father to me. I'm so grateful for him and I will miss him so much!
- Fr. Chad Green, priest administrator, Mary, Queen of Peace, Sammamish
I was Fr. Ely's admin. from 2006 to 2008 during the last two years of his term as rector of the Arrupe Jesuit Community. I had been in the job for just over one year, when my dad died unexpectedly. Peter wrote me a little note of condolence, and in it he said, “Now you will learn to love your dad in a new way.” That gesture of writing me a note and those words have stayed with me ever since.
So now we can all take Fr. Ely's words to heart, and we can learn to love him in a new way.
- Margaret Moore, administrative assistant, Arrupe Jesuit Residence
As the widow and companion of my late husband, Jack Southall, Class of 1955, Father Ely is truly special. He was one of the concelebrants at Jack’s funeral in June of 2014. In a conversation in 2015 Father Ely referred to me as resilient. Since then I have come to understand and appreciate resilience. There are three components — having an attitude of gratitude, knowing your gifts and talents and using them, celebrating all the good things that happen along the way. With gratitude to Father Peter Ely S.J., resilience is my motto.
- Rose Southall
I had the honor of knowing Fr. Ely during my student days at Gonzaga, through the Seattle University Board of Regents, and for the past decade through the Seattle Nativity School. I will always remember him for his authenticity, kindness, welcoming nature and for his incredibly sharp mind. I will treasure my memories of working with Fr. Ely during the early feasibility days of the Seattle Nativity School and his ability to discern and ask measured questions.Rest in peace Fr. Ely.
- Diane Siderius Kocer
The first time I met Fr. Peter Ely was when I interviewed at SeattleU, and rather than staying in his office in the Administration Building, he invited me to go for a walk around campus, which ended at the Student Center. What was a short tour became a showing of his favorite spots on campus.
That morning, we had a nice conversation about ministry, his hopes as VP for Mission & Mission and in regards to my role in regards to liturgy and sacraments at SeattleU and the usual "interview conversations." But what stood out from our conversation is that Peter asked me what I desired in life - who knew that an interview would turn into spiritual direction!? When I accepted the position and as I embraced my role, Peter would check in on me from time to time and encourage me during my short tenure at SeattleU. A small number of check-ins were opportunities for me to join him on a short walk around the track at Logan field and chat for a little bit and hear some of his dry humor where I would just roll my eyes. Rest in peace, Peter, and rise in glory.
- John Michael Reyes, former SU campus minister
As an alum of SU and a diocesan priest for almost 40 years, I had many opportunities to encounter Fr. Ely. He always impressed me as being very Christ-centered, with an openness to bringing that to others in a way that met them wherever they were on the spiritual journey. Peter’s consistent sense of peace and serenity are things our world will miss. May the angels lead you into paradise, and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem…
- Fr. William Heric (1996), pastor, St. Bridget Catholic Church
Fr. Ely led the Arrupe Seminar when I participated, and I credit him with grounding me in the Jesuit ethos and Seattle U’s mission. As a colleague, he was intentional, curious, and humble. In loving ways, he would raise questions that moved me to think more deeply about how Office of Multicultural Affairs programming tied to mission.
- Monica Nixon, staff member, 2006-2016
Father Ely has been an important person in my life and we developed a close bond over the past 10 years. I worked for Father Ely for one and a half years when he was first Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Seattle University. Later when he retired as Vice President he asked me and I happily agreed to work for him for his last 6 months and close down the Vice President office in ADMN 114. He often said that the first moment he laid eyes on me during my interview for the job that he was going to hire me. I'm glad he did. From Father Ely, I learned everything I know about Jesuits and Ignatian spirituality, about finding God in everything and everybody. I have a greater appreciation for nature from him and our walks where he knew every plant and flowers. He provided spiritual direction when I was at a very low point and for that and I will forever be grateful. He was my friend and colleague, not by boss. My thoughts and prayers are with the SU Jesuit community and the entire SU community. We have lost a dear friend who contributed so much to everyone he knew. Rest in Peace, Peter.
- Mike Giles
My wife Chloe and I are Seattle University alumni and were lucky enough to be married by Fr. Ely in June of 2017 at the Seattle University Chapel. Fr. Ely met with us multiple times before the wedding to discuss scripture readings, ceremony traditions, and what was most important for us to experience during the ceremony itself. He was always incredibly insightful, patient, and compassionate; his insights helped us better realize our love for each other and how our love reflects God's love for humanity. We will be forever grateful for the role he played in our wedding.
- Matthew and Chloe Thomas (Class of 2014)
Father Ely was always so wonderful to have a conversation with, even if it was a brief one. He was so kind, caring, gracious, and thoughtful that I always walked away feeling better. There is so much more that comes to mind as I reflect on Father Ely. One thing I recall with special fondness is that he took time to appreciate and thank those around him.
- Travis Nation, associate chief information officer
I am so sorry to lose someone like Peter Ely. Peter was a dear friend of mine, ever since I had the privilege to live with him as a novice, and then during my time teaching at Seattle University. He embodied compassion, curiosity, wonder, and the desire to know as much as possible. He did all of this with warmth and kindness. I have so many memories, but one in particular was during my recent visit to Seattle in December: recounting the story of seeing Fr. Pat Howell the day he died, Peter then asked if I’d be willing to make dinner for our Arrupe Jesuit community on a Saturday. We had a lovely French dinner followed by a showing of his favorite film, “Babette’s Feast.” Truly a feast and a memory I will never forget. Peter’s spirit, humor, and enduring kindness will be remembered forever.
- Lucas Sharma, S.J., trustee; former faculty, Anthropology and Sociology; Research Fellow, Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture
I came to know Father Peter Ely when I was the first Visiting Scholar in Catholic Studies at the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture in 2013-2014. Along with Catherine Punsalan, he was a moving force behind the Institute, and became a valued colleague and cherished friend then and in subsequent years. I later invited him to deliver the Huegli Lecture on Christian Higher Education at our Lutheran Valparaiso University: his lecture on “Jesuit Higher Education in the Age of Pope Francis,” later published in “The Cresset,” was a brilliant tour de force and a great contribution to ecumenical reflection on faith, learning, and community. Beyond his superb intellect, Peter Ely was warm and humorous and deeply compassionate. He was my dear friend, and I will miss him greatly.
- Mel Piehl, Christ College, Valparaiso University
Father Peter Ely was my spiritual director since 2008, and he was the main celebrant for my first vows in November last year. I will really miss him because he was a great friend a deep spiritual support. We both always enjoyed speaking friend together and that make our relationship more special as french is my first language. May his rest in Peace.
- Marie-Thérèse Gnamazo, Sister of Providence in Seattle
Peter Ely and I entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Sheridan, Oregon together in 1956. I spent most of my Jesuit life outside the Pacific Northwest but whenever I returned and had a chance to meet Peter again it was an enrichment of Jesuit brotherhood. Strong Jesuit spirituality and apostolate—Peter has taught much to me by his example—thank God!
- Peter Henriot, S.J., director of development, Loyola Jesuit Secondary School, Kasungu, Malawi; member of Bellarmine Jesuit Residence, Tacoma
As a student, I entered Father Ely's class to satisfy a core requirement. I have a very complicated relationship with religion, but in one quarter, his humor, wisdom, and kindness helped me find God in my life, and I'll never forget him for that.
- Matthew Rutigliano, '21, Computer Engineering
Fr. Peter Ely was a very thoughtful and kind man as well as a fine scholar. From early days he supported the work on forgiveness that Jan Rowe and I started in the 1980s. He himself recently published a book on forgiveness. We shared a fondness for the movie Babette’s Feast which he used in his course on the sacraments. Knowing that I won't run into him when I walk across campus saddens me; he was always ready to chat and he gave you his full attention. Such a loss for the Jesuit community and for all of us.
- Steen Halling, professor emeritus, Department of Psychology
I first crossed paths with Peter at Gonzaga in the late 70s. I was friends with a small group of Jesuits who lived just off campus on Mission. Peter was the rector and in visiting with my friends there, I got to know him just a bit. Enough to learn that, at that time, he was accompanying a colleague and a very good friend in his last weeks of life. To have glimpsed even a few, small moments of what it meant to him to accompany his friend was a grace I still recall.
- Michael Caputi
Fr. Ely connected with me in over two dozen ways. He was always fully present and he remembered everything—he once recounted a story I had told him 20 years before. He knew everyone in my family and inquired about them often. He comfortably thought out loud, even about his weaknesses. His anecdotes are memorable. In addition to helping people directly, like being my spiritual director, he also got people help by connecting them with others. I brought people to him and he always helped to meet their needs. After his “retirement,” he stayed busy. He personified life, joy, excitement, generosity, and respect for diversity and for everyone. My life has been blessed by each of my many interactions with Fr. Ely, and I will be blessed with memories of him to the end of my life. He was one major factor that made Seattle University a transformational force in the world.
- Lê X. Hy, associate professor, Psychology Department
I met Fr. Ely at a family friend’s dress rehearsal for her wedding at the Chapel of St Ignatius where she was an alumna and the only flower girl at the ceremony was my then four-year-old daughter. I talked with Fr. Ely about my firstborn going to St Joseph’s School because he asked about her and he said that he was once a pastor at that parish. He highly recommended the Jesuit education. Sixteen years later, my firstborn is a college senior at Seattle U, graduating in a couple of months. Thank you, Fr. Ely, for your advice and reassurance, the Jesuit tradition and formation made a huge difference. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. Requiescat in Pace.
- Eleonor Ugay, parent of two Jesuit-educated women
Peter Ely was a beautiful expression of God’s love, graciousness and accompaniment. I first met Peter through his Ecclesiology class. As a faculty member he delighted in a student’s questions and exuded joy in accompanying his students. I also came to know Peter as the Vice President for Mission and Ministry. In this role he was a true servant leader, empowering lay colleagues, offering gentle wisdom in a homily and always ready to partake in mission related events or prayer.
I learned much from watching Peter as an educator and administrator. Yet, what I’ll remember most about Peter was his pastoral care. While I was an employee at Seattle University, my parents died within fifteen days of each other. In my grief and managing details, I had not reached out to the Jesuit community about their deaths. Nevertheless, there was Peter at the church ready to concelebrate and console. His gift of presence brought tears of gratitude to my eyes, provided me with comfort and endeared Peter to me. I am grateful for all Peter taught through his classes, homilies and leadership. Thank you, Peter, for always professing that God is with us and demonstrating what it means to be a man for and with others.
- Seán Bray, former Campus Minister and School of Theology and Ministry alum ‘08
It was two years ago that I last saw Peter Ely, when I retired as administrative assistant for the Theology and Religious Studies department, and it was a shock to hear of his death last weekend. He was such a pleasure to know, and he was interested in so many different things that always gave rise to good conversations. We particularly loved to talk movies, and I remember him telling me how he used the movie “Babette’s Feast” in one of his courses. I’ll never be able to think of it now without thinking of him.
When I lived on Capitol Hill, I sometimes saw him with Roger Gillis, another Jesuit film buff, going to see movies at the old Harvard Exit theater. Perhaps the most unique exchange I had with Peter was my first one, when, new to the department, I took a call from a man who was looking for an exorcist! Peter was the only Jesuit in his office that afternoon, so I went to ask him for his help. He didn’t blink an eye when I told him what I needed (whereas I was flummoxed by the most unusual phone call I’d ever answered), and had me direct the man to the Chancery Office of the archdiocese. I can hardly believe he is gone now. Rest in peace, beloved Fr. Ely. You will be missed by so many whose lives you touched, and far beyond the SU campus as well.
- Lauren St.Pierre, retired staff, Theology and Religious Studies
I once ran into Peter while he was out for a walk. He stopped and told me a story of a man he met in prison. Peter was worried the man would have a hard time finding a job. The man was amazing, Peter told me, but he had tattooed the phrase “********” on his forehead. I’ve censored the word here, but I assure you Peter repeated it many times. This was the first time I had ever heard a priest swear and I absolutely loved it. Peter showed me that we are all human and God is everywhere; even on our foreheads. Thanks, Peter. Miss you.
- Luke Ware, instructional technologist/adjunct faculty, Center for Digital Learning and Innovation
Gratitude for Peter Ely, SJ’s leadership and ministry at Seattle University:
As our supervisor when Mike Bayard, S.J. and I co-directed Magis: Alumni Living the Mission
As a Jesuit who empowered women in ministry and believed in the inclusive leadership with the People of God
As a friend, who gathered with my extended family of many faith traditions, to attend a Santa Clara University basketball during his sabbatical and intently engaged my brother-in-law in a theological discussion about forgiveness...not sure we remember the score of that basketball game!
As a healing pastor, who supported a very sick family member and directed me to immediately contact our doctor
As a welcomed campus companion and for all our conversations on the Upper Mall as I departed Loyola Hall and Peter was coming or going to Arrupe.
Peter, I simply cannot fathom SeattleU without you. Deep gratitude and peace to you.
- Erin Swezey, faculty instructor, College of Education
Father Ely embodied community, genuine interest and concern for others and kindness. I looked forward to bumping into him on campus. He would always take time to stop, ask me about my daughter and my marathons and the goings on of the Criminal Justice department. I did not know him on a personal level and did not work with him directly but felt closer to him than most people at SU when passing him on campus which says a lot about how warm, inviting, caring and interested in other people he was. He had a special way of cutting through issues we sometimes find ourselves in conflict with each other about with kindness. His kindness is what I will remember most about him. I feel fortunate to have known him and am sad I will not have the opportunity to bump into him again.
- Jackie Helfgott, professor, Department of Criminal Justice; and director, Crime and Justice Research Center
Peter and I were classmates both coming to SU in 1998 so we shared an extra bond. Every time I met him on campus, he’d always bring that point up and it always made me smile. Peter was so attentive to everyone and had the special ability to listen intently and make everyone feel welcomed in any conversation. He thrived in issues of “tension” and welcomed various points of view. I will really miss Fr. Ely. Our community has lost a great leader. Rest in peace, classmate.
- Daniel Smith, associate professor, Department of Biology
Like many, my memory and gratitude for the service and leadership of Fr. Peter Ely, S.J. was in the wonderful direction he provided for the Arrupe Seminar. I had the privilege to get to know him during the seminar and we remained in contact through various campus events such as Arrupe II and Colleagues in Jesuit Education.
- Dale Watanabe, director, International Student Center
Fr. Ely was a great person, professor and Jesuit. I took his class during my undergraduate years at SU. Once I graduated and began working at SU in 2013 as a staff member I ran into Fr. Ely and he remembered me being one his students. From then on whenever we saw each other on campus he would take time to stop and talk. Rest in peace, Fr. Ely.
- Winston Wedge, SU graduate and current staff member
Peter was an important person in my life for nearly 30 years and remains so to this day as he enters the fullness of life with our Lord. He was a great supporter, teacher, spiritual director and beloved friend to me, and I miss him more than I can say. My first thought when I heard that he was no longer with us was, “How are we going to do without him?!” My prayers are with the entire SU Jesuit community who have lost a dear brother and friend who contributed so much to everyone he knew.
- Joy Sherman, DMA, director emerita, Choral and Vocal Music
For me, Peter radiated light with his gentle and generous spirit. Forgetting no one he esteems, he said to me once after a Sunday mass at St. Ignatius, “Did I ever tell you that your dad was one of my favorite teachers in high school?” Having never known my dad, who passed when I was two, he added, “I’m going to send you a poem I remember to have been his favorite from his time as a soldier that he shared with us.” That 55-60 year old memory and effort was a beautiful gift. He was a gift.
- Tim Reilly
Among other connections, I shared the second floor of the Casey Building with Father Ely. In our wing, we often have treats. Although Peter was frequently trying to restrain, his weakness was dark chocolate…NEVER milk chocolate—and he made frequent visits to my department. I tried to keep some chocolate in reserve, as I enjoyed his company and the always good conversation.
- Kimberly Gawlik, Institute of Public Service and Environmental Studies
I met Peter Ely S.J., in 1999 when I joined the staff of SU Campus Ministry as Liturgical Music Coordinator. We both lived in Campion Hall as resident ministers. I was also blessed to have him as my boss when he was the VP for Mission and Ministry and I was the Interim Director of Magis: Alumni Living the Mission. He was also a strong supporter of and presenter for the Ignatian Spirituality Center, where I now serve as Program Coordinator.
This physical distancing somehow makes it feel as if Peter has just vanished from us in an instant. However, even if life were back to "normal," his death would be just as or even more difficult for me to accept. The news of Peter's passing has been devastating and heartbreaking, and I have to admit I still wish I could see him. I had the blessing of having a sweet little phone conversation with him on March 18th, before Seattle University shut down. In reflecting upon that conversation and upon Peter, I notice the of his qualities that I will miss very much: 1) He had a certain lightness or on the surface, a certain "nonchalance" that actually manifested a deeper trust—in God, in life and in others; 2) He was so relatable, personable and naturally supportive of me and my ministry, and genuinely cared about other people, always asking about me and my family; and 3) He had a dry sense of humor and wit that made me smile and sometimes laugh out loud.
We will miss you, Peter. Thank you for your friendship, support, ministry and service which has really made an indelible imprint on our hearts!
- Andrea Fontana, program coordinator, Ignatian Spirituality Center, and former SU staff member
Father Ely was instrumental in my introduction to Jesuit values at Seattle University through the Arrupe classes. His teaching has influenced my pedagogy at a profound level. Father Ely, it was always a pleasure to learn from you, to see your kind eyes and smile! RIP you are missed.
- Robin Narruhn, assistant professor, College of Nursing
I was lucky enough to know Peter as Kathy’s brother-in-law, pastor, fellow pilgrim in Spain, preacher at St. Ignatius, director of Arrupe Seminar, SEEL presenter, author & book group member and convener, and dear friend of L’Arche. I am so grateful for all he gave me, and I miss him greatly. He is teaching me a lot about death and resurrection.
- Mimi Krsak, College of Education ’73, ’78
I completed the Arrupe Seminar with Father Ely not too long after I started at Seattle U and he was so kind, agreeable, and thoughtful 100 percent of the time - always willing to discuss anything about Catholicism or the history of the Jesuit order. He also always remembered my name when I'd see him on campus. He was a special man to many people, I'm sure.
- Lincoln Vander Veen, external affairs manager
I am a member of the Baha'i Faith and when I attended the New Faculty Orientation in 2009, I spoke with Father Ely about the presence of other faiths within Seattle University. He always remembered me and that conversation, which resulted in my participation in the Inter-religious Dialogue Initiative.
- Lauren Lawson, assistant professor and community/public health track lead, College of Nursing
I was just a friend to Peter but was able to witness him pull of a pastoral miracle in the care he showed to a shattered family at Harborview after the suicide of their beloved relative. In addition to the expected grace of last rights Peter, in response to the distraught mom's revelation that her son had not been baptized responded "...just get me a cup of water" thereby closing the sacramental loop which brought such needed comfort in such a trying time. It was amazingly beautiful to witness. Such a flexible and graceful servant of God. You will be missed, friend.
- Mike Mullen, mechanical shop lead, Facilities Services
Here is how Raven Lidman and Peter Ely met again some 20 years ago.
Raven was sent from Delano to organize the grape boycott in Toronto in 1967. Peter was in the Jesuit Community in Toronto at that time. Raven found some Jesuits were eager to support the farm workers. One of whom was Peter. The two intersected on campus and Peter recognized Raven and asked if she was ever in Toronto. It took Raven (then on the Law faculty) a beat or two to see the young Peter she knew as this same Peter 35 years later and a continent apart.
That was a lovely outcome from their joint commitment to social justice. Peter and Raven are both gone now and I like to think they are reunited in a very different way.
- Russell Lidman, professor emeritus, Institute of Public Service
I got to know Fr Ely as a leader of my Arrupe Seminar where he introduced me to the richness of Jesuit history. I marveled that whenever I talked to Fr. Ely, I left wanting to be a better person. He spread a message of hope and love and kindness and I like to think his influence on thousands of friends over the years moved the needle a bit towards a more civil society. May he rest in peace.
- Sarah Bee, senior instructor, Department of Accounting
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