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In Memoriam

Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. Keith J. Esenther, SJ, who died on June 3, 2023 at Trinity Health Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, Michigan. He was 82 years old. May he rest in peace.

Keith was preceded in death by his brother (Glenn) and his sisters (Laverne and Shirley).

Keith was born in Chicago on November 18, 1940 and graduated from Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago before entering the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus on September 1, 1958. He was ordained at Madonna della Strada Chapel on the campus of Loyola University Chicago on June 10, 1971 and pronounced final vows at St. Paul’s Major Seminary in Bussere, Sudan, on February 15, 1978.

While in the Society, Keith earned a bachelor’s degree in English (1964) and master’s degrees in English (1965) and theology (1971) from Loyola University Chicago. He earned licentiates in philosophy (1965) and theology (1970) from Bellarmine School of Theology in North Aurora, Illinois. In 1974, Keith earned a doctorate in Organizational Religious Psychology from the Union Graduate School in Cincinnati.

During regency, Keith taught English at St. Xavier High School and Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio (1965-1968). He returned to secondary education three times where he was principal of Saint Ignatius College Prep (1973-1976), Chicago Province coordinator of secondary education (1976-1977), and an English teacher at Loyola Academy (1983-1985).

Throughout his life, Keith ministered at Loyola University Chicago for a total of fifteen years. His ministries included: chaplain of the Law School (1980-1983); director of the Jesuit Collegian Program (1981-1983); chaplain of the Water Tower Campus (1991-1993); assistant director of university ministry (1993-1995); university ministry (2001-2006); minister of the Jesuit community (2001-2005); treasurer of the Jesuit community (2004-2010); and an ESL instructor at St. Joseph Seminary (2006-2008).

Keith had a missionary’s soul, enjoyed ministering outside of the USA, and found Christ in people from other cultures. He was missioned as a staff member of the Jesuit Mission Office in Wimbledon, United Kingdom (1977) before working as dean and teacher of philosophy and theology at St. Paul’s Major Seminary in Bussere, Sudan (1977-1980). He also taught English at the Jesuit philosophate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (2008), and at Arrupe College in Harare, Zimbabwe (2010-2017).

Keith was available to be missioned wherever the need was greatest. Keith spent over a decade performing internal ministry in the Society. He was a staff member of [the newly founded] Loyola House Jesuit Novitiate in Berkley, Michigan (1971-1973). Keith was socius to Fr. Bob Wild, SJ, the provincial of the Chicago Province (1985-1990) and he was socius to Fr. John Libens, SJ, the provincial of the Detroit Province (1995-2001). Finally, he was an assistant to the UMI socius (2017-2017). In 2018, Keith was missioned to Colombiere Center to care for his health.

A lifelong learner, Keith was eager to understand people, ideas, the Church, politics, and all manner of current events. He earned a doctorate in organizational leadership in order to make himself more effective in leading and guiding people and works. He was a gifted teacher in his younger days, a savvy administrator who could be attentive to detail while animating his people to creatively engage whatever challenges presented themselves. As socius to two provincials in two different provinces, Keith kept the provincial on task and gave wise counsel on all manner of people, apostolates, and communities. Availability and “helping souls” are words that describe this fine Jesuit fully, honestly, and well.

Keith was a man of prayer whose homilies reflected his relationship with Jesus. He loved celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation and was a skilled confessor. As his health failed, Keith adjusted and engaged the limitations as these developed. But his care for his brothers never diminished. Whether doing his crossword puzzles or talking over a meal, Keith always asked about you. While unafraid of talking about his life and issues and world, Keith was very interested in others and willingly listened if someone was willing to share. Keith address his demons as well as the shadows of his life while honoring and delighting in the lights and gifts. One of the last gifts he offered was concelebrating with one of his brethren at Colombiere whose cognitive diminishment required such accompaniment; Keith did this simply, quietly, and graciously.

Keith’s availability was remarkable. From teaching to principal, from provincial assistant to socius, from the United States to Sudan and to Zimbabwe, Keith threw himself into whatever mission he was given, including his final one.

John Ferone, SJ, had these remembrances of Keith:

I first met Keith Esenther on my first day as a freshman at St. Xavier High School.  He was my English teacher. And after many years of school, I still hold him as one of the two greatest teachers I have ever had. He was energetic, incredibly knowledgeable, creative, and demanding. He had compassion, especially for the freshmen who were having a difficult time adjusting to their new high school environment .

Keith was a man of many talents and interests. Anything he touched he seemed to master.  He was an excellent, wise, and compassionate spiritual director who was willing to walk into hell with someone who needed support, encouragement and companionship in their journey and was a superb confessor, a ministry that he enjoyed more than any other in his later years. I will miss this older brother immensely.