Jesuit Father James E. Von Tobel died on Sept. 23, 2016, at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Michigan. He was 80 years old, a Jesuit for 62 years, and a priest for 49 years.
Fr. Von Tobel was born on March 31, 1936, in Detroit. Before entering the Society, he graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 1954. He entered the Society of Jesus on September 1, 1954, at the Milford Novitiate in Milford, Ohio. He was ordained a priest on June 14, 1967, at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Mich. Fr. Von Tobel professed final vows on August 15, 1973, at the Loyola House Novitiate in Berkeley, Mich.
As a Jesuit, Fr. Von Tobel earned a bachelor’s degree in 1959 and a master’s degree in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago in 1965. He also earned a master’s degree in theology from Loyola University in 1968. Fr. Von Tobel spent his regency teaching Latin at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland (1961-1964). After his ordination, Fr. Von Tobel taught Latin and religion at St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio, for a year, before being called into service for his brother Jesuits at Colombiere Center.
At Colombiere, Fr. Von Tobel was minister (1969-1970) and socius to the novice master (1970-1971). In 1971, he helped move the novitiate to Berkeley, Mich. He remained socius to the novice master until 1974. In addition to this job, he was the prefect of studies for the Detroit Province (1970-1973) and the Detroit Province’s vocation director (1971-1975). Since he had a bit of extra time, he taught theology to the novices during the 1972-1973 academic year. Fr. Von Tobel moved to Cleveland in 1974, where he was the director of religious formation (1974-1975) and then principal of Saint Ignatius High School (1975-1977).
After a well-deserved sabbatical, Fr. Von Tobel was the associate pastor at Gesu Catholic Church in Detroit and the Detroit provincial assistant for pastoral ministry (1978-1981). In 1981, Fr. Von Tobel moved to Marquette in the upper peninsula of Michigan. There, he was pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish and superior of the Jesuit community. In 1984, he became the provincial assistant for pastoral ministry (1984-1993). Fr. Von Tobel took on the added duties of socius in 1993. He was socius to Fr. Howard Gray, SJ, (1986-1989) and Fr. Joe Daoust, SJ (1989-1993). Fr. Von Tobel was also the provincial assistant for formation from 1990 to 1993. After a few months sabbatical, Fr. Von Tobel moved to Colombiere and was the superior and director of Colombiere Center (1994-1999).
In 2000 Fr. Von Tobel returned to parish life and, except for a couple of years, stayed in that ministry until he died. He was pastor of Church of the Gesu in University Heights, Ohio, from 2000 to 2006, in addition to being superior of the Jesuit community from 2000 to 2002. He was then asked to return to the Detroit Province Office, where he was the provincial assistant for advancement (2007-2009). Fr. Von Tobel then spent many years “subbing” for pastors while they took a vacation or sabbatical, or while the parish was in transition. He provided this service in the Gaylord, Mich. (2006-2007 and 2013-2015) and Winona, Minn. (2009-2013) Dioceses. In 2015, Fr. Von Tobel was asked to be the acting pastor of Church of the Gesu in University Heights. He intended to end his term in November 2016.
Earlier in his life, Fr. Von Tobel was an excellent racquetball player. Throughout his life, he also was an avid golfer. Fr. Von Tobel was getting ready to go golfing when he collapsed suddenly at Villa Marquette in Omena, Michigan, one of his favorite places on earth. He died in Munson Medical Center.