Father J. Robert Hilbert, SJ, was called to eternal life on May 19, 2014. Bob died at St. Camillus, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. He was 88 years old, a Jesuit for 70 years, and a priest for 57 years.
Born in Omaha on March 25, 1926, Bob attended Holy Name Grade School and Creighton Prep before entering the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, Missouri, on August 8, 1943. Bob had the usual Jesuit course of studies at St. Stanislaus, Saint Louis University, and Saint Mary’s College. He was ordained on June 18, 1956. After tertianship in Decatur, Illinois, Bob earned a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Kansas. He professed final vows on August 15, 1959.
Bob did regency at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri. After graduate studies, he taught math at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee and, from 1966 to 1973, served as rector of Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Apart from a few years as director of the Emmaus Center in Des Moines, Iowa, and as provincial assistant for pastoral and retreat ministries, the rest of Bob’s years of active ministry were devoted to service of the Native Americans. For almost 30 years he ministered to the people of the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota (1973-1982) and the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming (1987-1995 and 1998-2010). For a number of years, Bob also served as a member of the former Wisconsin Province tertianship team. Declining health led to his move in 2010 to St. Camillus Jesuit Community, where he remained until his death.
A gentle, quiet man, Bob was passionately devoted to the service of the poor. He was an excellent listener who tried to help others address their own issues rather than trying to fix things for them himself. He was an intelligent, well-read, thoughtful critic of American cultural trends who had a gift for seeing things from the viewpoint of the culturally marginalized. Additionally, he was a good priest whom the Lord drew close to himself and through whom the Lord touched the hearts of thousands of men and women searching for him.
Click here to read A Jesuit’s Journey reflection by Fr. Hilbert on his life’s ministry.