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In Memoriam

Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. John F. Libens, SJ, who died on February 28, 2024 at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan. He was 84 years old. May he rest in peace.

John is preceded in death by his siblings: William Libens, Sr. Helen Libens, H.M., and Margaret Bernasco.

John was born on September 28, 1939 in Cleveland, Ohio. Before entering the Society, he graduated from Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. He entered the Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus on August 14, 1957 at the Jesuit novitiate in Milford, Ohio, but, because of the size of his entrance class, spent his novice years in the Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. He was ordained a priest on June 6, 1970 at St. Patrick’s Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and pronounced final vows on April 27, 1978 at St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio.

While in the Society, John earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin (1962), a master’s degree in sociology (1969), and a master’s of divinity (1971) from Loyola University Chicago. He also earned a licentiate in philosophy (1964) from West Baden College in West Baden Springs, Illinois, and a licentiate in Sacred Theology (1970) from Bellarmine School of Theology in North Aurora, Illinois.

During regency, John taught Latin and sociology at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland (1964-1965) and, when it was re-established in 1965, at St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio (1965-1967). After ordination, John returned to Toledo where he spent twelve years ministering at St. John’s Jesuit High School. While at St. John’s, he was a teacher, the academic assistant principal (1970-1971), principal (1971-1978), and president (1980-1982). The year after ending his presidency, John spent one year as a retreat director at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

John was then missioned to internal governance for the Detroit Province where he was provincial assistant for formation, studies, continuing education, and province planning (1983-1988). In 1986, in addition to his other duties, he became the provincial assistant for secondary education.

John was rector of the Weston Jesuit Community in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1988-1994), before being appointed the provincial of the Detroit Province (1995-2001). He continued providing excellent care of Jesuits as superior of the Loyola University Chicago First Studies Program (2001-2006) and as superior of the Loyola University Chicago Jesuit community (2003-2006).

In 2007, John returned to his hometown (Cleveland) and ministered at Saint Ignatius High School where he was the dean of teachers and curriculum (2007-2012), interim president (2008-2009), and superior of the Jesuit community (2010-2013). John then was moved to Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan, where he spent four years as superior (2013-2017) before being missioned in 2017 to care for his health.

John was a devoted priest who always kept Jesus — and the Eucharist — at the core of his life. He loved the Society of Jesus and, in addition to knowing and being able to quote the documents, was able to truly live the spirit of the Society. John expressed great cura personalis especially for younger Jesuits and those Jesuits encountering any sort of issue or problem in their life. Because it was so easy to talk with and confide in him, many people sought John out for advice, counsel, or support.

John’s care of others helped him to be a great administrator and leader. Whether he was ministering in internal governance, helping teachers to hone their craft, or re-establishing St. John’s High School in Toledo, he always desired to form “men and women for others” and help everyone live a “faith that does justice”.

John loved spending time with Jesuits at the dinner table, in the community room, or at Villa Marquette in Omena, Michigan, where, during his provincialate, he had his “summer office”. He loved talking with Jesuits about anything. His infectious laughter encouraged others to enjoy John’s joke or clever turn-of-phrase. He was an avid bridge player, and, until macular degeneration interfered, a voracious reader of fiction. Finally, those who knew John were aware that he was cautious about spending money — he was not miserly but he never wanted to squander any of the Society’s resources.

Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, has this to say about John:

It was at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland that John first met the Society and discerned his vocation to become a Jesuit. While he set his heart on secondary education, and generously served this apostolate, he also made himself available for the greater needs of the Society and the Church. His service as a formation director, theologate rector, and provincial gave witness to his vow of obedience. His passion and love for the Society continue in many of us who were inspired by his love of Christ.

Fr. Walter Deye, SJ, has these memories of John:

To me he was a kind, wise, large-hearted Jesuit. His love and care for the Society was inspiring. And he had a great, hearty laugh!