Father Raymond Fitzgerald, S.J., who served as president of Jesuit High School for three years before stepping down in 2014 after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, died Saturday. He was 58.
School officials announced Fitzgerald's death. He had been receiving care at St. Charles College and the St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Pavilion in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, the Jesuits' infirmary and retreat house.
"Fr. Fitzgerald’s wisdom, sense of humor, and empathy for others made a significant impact wherever he served," said Fr. Anthony McGinn, S.J., who preceded Fitzgerald as Jesuit's president and stepped in to replace him when he was forced to retire because of his diagnosis in 2014. "I am personally grateful to him because his leadership and insight have left a mark on me, countless others, and Jesuit High School.”
When Fitzgerald first learned he had ALS, the terminal neuromuscular disease commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, he was open about the diagnosis and used his trademark humor to ease the concerns of students and the Jesuit High community.
“There are a variety of other interesting and instructive items that we can chat about: New Orleans restaurants, the care and feeding of zombies and Greek verbs, to name but three," he said to students at a morning assembly to discuss the diagnosis.
His outlook was inspiring and continued to encourage others, up until as recently as last month, when he was profiled by Peter Finney Jr. in a Clarion Herald column. In it, he explained that the “principle and foundation” of the Spiritual Exercises of the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, declare that “man is created to praise, reverence and serve God,” and whether a person is healthy or ill does not change that life’s work.
"We are created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and we can do that in any circumstance, as Christians have been doing for centuries in all points of life and in all manner of ways," he said.
“One of the many great blessings of my life has been the opportunity to spend time with some extraordinarly good young men here (at Jesuit),” he told WWL-TV in a 2014 interview as he was preparing to step down as president.
A 1976 graduate of Jesuit High School, Fitzgerald was a New Orleans native who grew up in Broadmoor. He was a student at New Orleans Academy from kindergarten through 7th grade. In 1971, he entered Jesuit as a pre-freshman. He graduated as a National Merit finalist and attended Loyola University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in classics and history in 1980.
Three months later, he entered the Society of Jesus. He continued his studies at St. Louis University and earned a master's degree in history in 1984. He attended the Jesuits’ Weston School of Theology in Cambridge and in 1990 was awarded a master of divinity degree. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest one year later at Spring Hill College. He professed his final vows as a Jesuit priest in 1999.
As a Jesuit teacher and administrator he taught at both the Jesuit schools in New Orleans and Dallas. Here in New Orleans he was a beloved teacher of Latin, Greek, English, and theology. He also served in administrative capacities, including co-director of campus ministry, chaplain, and director of records.
At Jesuit, Fitzgerald’s legacy as president includes the renovation of Jesuit’s Holy Name of Jesus Chapel and the creation of a strategic plan that paves the school’s way for decades to come.
He is survived by his mother and a sister.
A funeral Mass for Fr. Fitzgerald will be celebrated on Saturday, September 24, at 1:30 p.m. at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.
(© 2016 WWL)