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In Memoriam

Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. James L. (Jake) Empereur, SJ, who died on February 24, 2024 at St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwautosa, Wisconsin. He was 90 years old. May he rest in peace.

Jake is preceded in death by his siblings: Anthony Empereur, Shirley Woyak, and Deanna Miller.

Jake was born in Fairbanks Township, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1933. He entered the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus on August 8, 1952 at St. Stanislaus Jesuit novitiate in Florissant, Missouri. He became a member of the Wisconsin Province when it was created in 1955. He was ordained a priest on June 8, 1965 at the Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and pronounced final vows on August 15, 1973 at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JSTB) in Berkeley, California.

While in the Society, Jake earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Saint Louis University (1959). He earned a licentiate degree in Sacred Theology from Woodstock College in Woodstock, Maryland (1967). Jake earned his doctorate in historical and liturgical theology from the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California (1972).

During regency, Jake taught Latin, history, and theology at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1959-1962). After ordination and graduate studies, Jake taught liturgical and systematic theology at JSTB and at GTU for almost 25 years (1969-1993). After a well-earned sabbatical, Jake spent almost three decades performing pastoral ministry at the Cathedral of San Fernando (1994-2008) and St. Matthew Catholic Church (2009-2021) in San Antonio, Texas. In 2021, Jake was missioned to St. Camillus Jesuit Community to pray for the Church and the Society.

Jake taught a great number of Jesuit priests about liturgical theology and the liturgy. He had an important influence over the development of a theological and liturgical sense in many young priests. With the foundation and understanding that Jake provided, these priests have influenced the way that countless people experience Christ in the Eucharist. While at JSTB, Jake founded the Institute for Spirituality and Worship, a nine-month renewal program which has trained people from all around the world. He also was the founding editor of Modern Liturgy Magazine, which is now the Ministry and Liturgy Magazine

He was an engaging teacher, creative liturgist, and challenging preacher, and a spiritual director for many years. He offered workshops internationally on the theology of the Second Vatican Council and authored several books including: La Vida Sacra; The Enneagram and Spiritual Direction: Nine Paths to Spiritual Guidance; Spiritual Direction & the Gay Person; and The Liturgy that Does Justice. While ministering at parishes in San Antonio, Jake prepared countless parishioners in English and Spanish to assume leadership roles in the Church.

Jake kept a positive attitude until the end. Recently, he said, “patience with health troubles is important” and “I live in the present but stay connected to past relationships so they can be part of the present.” [His regular correspondence with friends numbered 50+ in Spanish and English.] He also had great hope for the future of the Society of Jesus. This hope is expressed in his statement: “I expect young Jesuits are able to carry on as needed in changing times.”

Fr. Michael Moynahan, SJ, had this to say about Jake:

I was a student of Jake Empereur’s way back in theology, then a graduate student of his at the GTU. He was my teacher, my mentor, my colleague and friend. He was, for my class which includes Mario Prietto, SJ, John Mossi, SJ, Bill Muller, SJ, and me, arguably the most significant influence on our priestly and pastoral formation.

While these last few years of his life were not his easiest or most enjoyable, when I spoke with him, he always spoke of the extraordinary care he was receiving at St. Camillus Jesuit Community. My thanks to all the care professionals.