Jesuit Father Robert G. Gilroy died on Oct. 31, 2017. He was born in Boston on Oct. 19, 1959, and grew up in Weymouth and Canton, suburbs south of Boston, one of the seven children of Edward and Dorothy (O’Connell) Gilroy. He attended Boston College High School and Bates College, which he graduated from in 1981.
He worked for the Carroll School for the Blind before studying art therapy at Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1986, he entered the novitiate of the New England Province, which then was at St. Andrew House in Boston’s Back Bay. After his first vows in 1988, he spent the next two years doing first studies at Loyola University of Chicago.
In 1990, he was assigned to St. Francis Mission, on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, a place and a people that would influence much of his later ministry. There he worked as a hospital chaplain, from 1990 to 1992. Then he moved to the Sioux Spiritual Center, in Plainview, South Dakota, where he worked as a spiritual director for a year. In 1993 he returned to New England for theology studies at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, in Cambridge. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1997.
After ordination, he returned to the Rosebud Reservation, where he worked as a hospital chaplain and spiritual director until 2000. The following year he spent in the tertianship program at Milford, Ohio. In 2001, he returned to the work he had been doing on the Rosebud reservation. From 2004 to 2007 he was one of the spiritual directors and part of the retreat team at Eastern Point Retreat House, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, returning frequently for visits to the Rosebud Reservation. He then spent a year in Boston, working with the Jesuit Collaborative during its formative years.
In 2008, he moved to Campion Center, in Weston, Massachusetts, where he worked as a spiritual director in the Renewal Center. Four years later he moved to the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, for a sabbatical. In 2013-2014 he lived in the Jesuit community in Sacramento, and then at Los Gatos, where he continued his art and spiritual-direction ministries for two years.
Childhood diabetes bothered him all his life and brought with it a series of health problems. One of his brothers donated a kidney when he needed a transplant. When he had to make frequent visits to the Health Center at Campion he fretted about the low energy that he felt limited his work. Nonetheless, his characteristic cheerfulness and distinctive laugh seldom deserted him. He seemed to be improving in 2016, when he went to live at the Murray-Weigel-Kohlmann Community on the Fordham campus, where he worked as a campus minister and continued his art work with students. An infection led to his being hospitalized and he died there unexpectedly on Oct. 29, 2017.
The list of Fr. Gilroy’s ministries does no justice to the impact he had on so many, who responded to the creative connections he made between visual art, spirituality, and the influences he absorbed from the time he spent among the Lakota Sioux. He reached a wider audience through the website he developed (prayerwindows.com), where his own paintings can be seen as well as the texts of the online retreat he created, and where his characteristic spirituality is evident. In his own words, accompanying one of the paintings in the retreat:
Christ is everything.
Stay close to him.
There is nothing else to do.