Jesuit Father Howard J. Gray died on May 7, 2018, at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, Michigan, of complications from a car accident. He was 87 years old.
Fr. Gray was born on May 23, 1930 in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1948 and entered the Society of Jesus at Milford, Ohio, on July 24, 1948. He was ordained at Colombiere Center on June 15, 1961. After his fourth year of theology, he made tertianship at St. Beuno’s in North Wales under Fr. Paul Kennedy, S.J., one of the pioneers in the direct, one-on-one Ignatian retreat renewal. He pronounced final vows at Colombiere Center on Aug. 15, 1965.
In the Society, Fr. Gray earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin (1953) and a master’s degree in English (1959) from Loyola University Chicago. He also earned licentiates in philosophy (1955) and theology (1962) from West Baden College in West Baden Springs, Indiana. From 1965-1968, he did doctoral studies in English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, where he was a Knapp Fellow.
During regency, Fr. Gray taught sophomore and senior English, moderated the yearbook, school plays, and the student council at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago (1955-1958). After ordination he was a professor of English at the juniorate at Colombiere Center (1963-1965) and also spent his second year as dean. After doctoral studies, Fr. Gray was the director of formation for the Detroit Province (1968-1972). In 1971, he became the first superior of Loyola House, the joint Chicago-Detroit novitiate in Berkley, Michigan. After a year of sabbatical, Fr. Gray became the rector of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Weston, Massachusetts (1976-1982). He was dean of the theologate for one year before becoming the provincial of the Detroit Province (1983-1989). From 1985-1989, in addition to being provincial, he was the elected vice president of the Major Superiors (CMSM). After a year of sabbatical and consultation for the Philippine Jesuit Province, Fr. Gray became the Detroit Province tertian director and the director of the Detroit Province spirituality team (1990-1996), where he worked alongside the late Fr. Walter Farrell, S.J. Fr. Gray was a delegate at two General Congregations: 33rd (in 1983) while provincial and 34th (in 1995) while serving as tertian director.
At the age of 66, Fr. Gray left internal governance and formation work in the Society and became the first director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Boston College (1996-2001). He returned to the Detroit Province to become the rector of the Jesuit community and the assistant to the president for university mission and identity at John Carroll University (2001-2007). While at John Carroll, he was the tertian director for six Jesuits during a special 13-month (i.e. 2 summer) Detroit Province tertianship program (2005-2006). Fr. Gray moved to Georgetown University to become the assistant to the president for special projects (2007-2017) and, in his final year there, interim vice president for mission and ministry. In 2009-2010, Fr. Gray was tertian director (for the third time) for the Jesuit Conference. In late July 2017, Fr. Gray joined the staff of Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
Fr. Gray had a deep love of Christ and helped others encounter Jesus through both the Eucharist and the Spiritual Exercises. He was known nationally and internationally for his scholarship and teaching on Ignatian spirituality. Early in his Jesuit life, Fr. Gray was one of a group of Jesuits and lay people who helped bring back the one-on-one personally directed retreat. Throughout his Jesuit life, he gave retreats (both preached and directed) and spiritual direction, lectured, and wrote about Ignatian spirituality. His lectures, talks, and retreats took him all over the USA and throughout the world — East Africa, East Asia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Throughout his seven decades as a Jesuit, he received six honorary doctorates, lectured extensively, and authored over 60 articles and essays on Ignatian Spirituality, ministry, and the apostolic mission of Jesuit high schools and universities.
An avid reader, Fr. Gray was able to seamlessly incorporate themes, references, and quotes from great novels, poems, and spiritual books into his lectures, talks, and retreats. Fr. Gray’s love of the English language and his familiarity with English literature — his favorite books being Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky — helped him to be an amazing teacher, lecturer, and homilist.
Fr. Gray was a gracious gentleman who always had time for others and, without fail, would respond to a kindness from others with a hand-written thank you note.