Jesuit Father William D. Ibach passed away on December 24, 2017. He was born on February 20, 1929; entered the Society of Jesus at Shadowbrook, Lenox, Massachusetts, on July 30, 1946; and was ordained on June 13, 1959, at Weston College, Weston, Massachusetts. He pronounced his final vows on November 5, 1980.
Like many of his contemporaries, Fr. Ibach was born in the Dorchester section of Boston, attended Boston College High School, and then entered the Society. He was the older son of William and Helen (MacDonald) Ibach. His father was of German ancestry, his mother of Scottish/Irish ancestry, from Nova Scotia. An uncle was an engineer for the Canadian National Railway and had a railroad pass, so Fr. Ibach traveled a lot as a boy along the East Coast and to visit family in Nova Scotia. He grew up in a devout family. The desire to be a priest took shape in the sixth grade when he was an altar boy and was reinforced by the Jesuits he met in high school.
In July 1946, he and some of his B.C. High classmates took the Albany train from Boston to Pittsfield and entered the Shadowbrook novitiate. Fr. Ibach said that he felt as though he never quite fitted in with the World War II veterans and college graduates in the novitiate, so he developed a habit of silence that lasted all through his years of study. His desire to be a missionary like Xavier only grew, however. He found studies a challenge, especially when he got to Weston. Only years later did he hear a sentence from a graduate school professor at Fordham that changed his life and his prayer: “Never read a book to discover what is in it; always read to discover the author.”
When regency approached, Fr. Ibach’s missionary zeal was focused on Japan, but the province was committed to Baghdad College, so, in 1953, he was sent there to teach English, math and religion. Three years later, he was back at Weston for theology studies. He was ordained a priest in June 1959. After a tertianship year in Cleveland, he returned to Baghdad in 1961 to teach English and scripture at Al-Hikma University, which the Society had established five years earlier. Superiors felt that he should have a graduate degree so he spent two years (1966-1968) at Fordham, earning a master’s in English literature. He returned to Baghdad just as the government closed Al-Hikma and then Baghdad College, expelling the Jesuits from the country.
Fr. Ibach taught briefly at Cranwell Prep and then for seven years at Cheverus High in Portland. In his role as part-time guidance counselor he found himself talking more to parents than students and began to discern a ministry there, which led to his directing retreats during school vacations and summers. In 1976, he left high school teaching for good, doing a CPE course and then studying theology during a sabbatical year at Regis in Toronto. The province had started a center, in the Charlestown section of Boston, which offered retreats, spiritual direction and evening classes to working men and women. Fr. Ibach spent seven years there, the last three as superior.
For the next 20 years, his work was primarily giving retreats throughout the U.S. and Canada. For two of these years (1997-1999) his base was as coordinator of a house that Weston School of Theology had established in Cambridge for older men and women of different faiths doing sabbaticals in theology and ministry. Then he moved to one of the scholastic communities for five years.
His work directing retreats took him from Boston to Jesuit retreat houses in Wisconsin and Michigan, where he made such an impression that he was invited to organize and direct a faith-formation program for diocesan lay ministers. Three years later, in 1998, he moved to Campion Center, where he was an active part of the retreat team and offered spiritual direction until his final illness. He died peacefully late in the evening of Christmas Eve, 2017.