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In Memoriam

Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. David H. Gau, SJ, who died on February 9, 2024 in Wauwautosa, Wisconsin. He was 93 years old. May he rest in peace.

Dave is survived by his brother, James, and many nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his siblings: Paul Gau, Martina Winckler, and Rose Nickel.

Dave was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, on November 8, 1930. He attended Marquette University for one year before entering the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus on August 17, 1949 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 12, 1962 at the Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and pronounced final vows on August 15, 1965 at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

While in the Society, Dave earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy (1955) and a master’s degree in history (1959) from St. Louis University. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in Sacred Theology from St. Mary’s College in St. Mary, Kansas (1964).

During his first year of regency, Dave taught Latin and math at St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota (1956-1957). His second year of Regency was at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha, Nebraska, where he taught history and speech (1957-1958). After ordination, Dave taught Latin and French at Marquette University High School (MUHS) for nineteen years (1964-1983). While at MUHS, Dave was also rector (1972-1975) and minister (1977-1982) of the MUHS Jesuit community.

In 1983, Dave returned to South Dakota to minister to Native Americans. He was the associate director of the Mother Butler Center in Rapid City (1983-1984), the associate director of the Sioux Spiritual Center in Plainview (1984-1988), and the associate pastor of St. Francis Mission (1989-2001). Dave then ministered for ten years as the associate pastor of St. Margaret’s Church in Riverton, Wyoming, before being missioned [in 2011] to St. Camillus Jesuit Community to pray for the Church and the Society.

Dave was a quiet, steady, and practical man, He was an excellent teacher, a good pastor, and a good companion in community. He touched the lives of many, many people. He lived simply and worked easily with the poor. He was gentle with others. 

In the fall, Dave spoke to Fr. Chris Manahan, SJ, about how he learned the art of conversation and listening from his years on the Native American reservations and, not one to get to know people quickly, often found it difficult to establish close relationships as his contemporaries passed.

Fr. Doug Leonhardt, SJ, has this to say about Dave:

Dave Gau was the superior of the Marquette High community when I went there as principal, two years after ordination. He was a man of few words but when he spoke, they were always words of compassion, care, interest in an individual, never about himself. I will always be grateful for his encouragement and support of me as a community member and administrator. But what stood out more for me was his tender care of two of the men in the community who suffered from mental illness which debilitated them at times. He made sure they had the best care and he always showed them kindness and encouragement in their life and in their ministry. He was a true and true Jesuit whose heart was filled with kindness and pastoral love. This made his ministry in Wyoming so effective among the Native Americans. It was a privilege to be with him in community at St. Camillus. Dave was aways low maintenance but high performance in his love of God and his brothers.

Fr. George Winzenburg, SJ, has these memories of Dave:

Dave was kind, thoughtful, and intelligent. He was an avid reader, an adventurous traveler, and a lifelong learner who gave his mind and heart to everyone he served. He enjoyed stimulating conversations about literature, classical music, theology, religion, and current events. He listened well and was an astute observer. He regularly attended organ concerts and symphonies. He used a walker and walked outside every day for an hour, unless there was ice on the sidewalk or bitter temperatures. He wanted to keep his legs strong. 

He loved teaching French at Marquette University High School (MUHS) and often spoke of his two sabbatical years in France: 1968-1969 at College St. Joseph, Bordeaux, and 1976-1977 at College Ste. Genevieve, Versailles. 

 In 1983, he left MUHS after teaching for 19 years. He said, “I should leave the boys before they leave me.” After some years in Rapid City and Plainview, South Dakota, he moved to St. Francis Mission to do parish ministry. He gained many insights about himself and the human condition by his pastoral ministry with the Lakota.

He was a popular associate pastor at St. Margaret’s Church in Wyoming. He kept in touch with friends by letters and phone calls. A diocesan priest and a rancher visited Dave in Milwaukee and they went fishing on Lake Michigan. After moving to St. Camillus in 2011, Dave celebrated mass in a nursing home for ten years.