Jesuit Father Robert C. Thul died on Aug. 25, 2019, at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan. He was 89 years old.
Fr. Thul was born on April 3, 1930 in Cincinnati. He entered the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus on Aug. 19, 1948 at Milford, Ohio. He was ordained on June 11, 1961 at West Baden College in West Baden Springs, Indiana, and took final vows on Feb. 2, 1978 in Cincinnati.
Before entering the Society, Fr. Thul graduated from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati (1948). As a Jesuit, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Loyola University Chicago (1953), a Licentiate Degree in philosophy from West Baden College (1955), and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology (S.T.B.) from West Baden College (1962). After taking summer courses, Fr. Thul earned a master’s degree in mathematics from Loyola University Chicago (1964).
During regency, Fr. Thul taught mathematics at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (1955-1958). After ordination, Fr. Thul taught mathematics for more than four decades. He taught at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati (1963-1970), at Colegio San José in Arequipa, Peru (1971-1978), and, after a brief sabbatical, at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago (1979-2006). In 2006, Fr. Thul left the classroom and began full-time pastoral ministry in Lexington, Kentucky (2006-2012) and then in his hometown at St. Xavier Church (2012-2016). In 2016 Fr. Thul was missioned to Colombiere Center.
Fr. Thul’s life as a Jesuit was a wonderful example of how to live as a Jesuit. His profound love of Jesus and his deep prayer life were apparent to everyone he encountered. He was a good community man. Not only was Fr. Thul available to serve wherever the need was greatest — from Cincinnati to Arequipa to Chicago to Lexington — he invested himself completely wherever he was missioned. He even learned Spanish when he was almost 40 years old so that he could carry out his mission in Peru.
Fr. Thul taught mathematics for over 40 years. He was respected and liked by his students and his colleagues because of his cura personalis and his ability to bring the “faith that does justice” into the mathematics curriculum. In the 1990s, Fr. Thul co-authored “Math for Change”, a teaching curriculum which incorporated social justice themes into math problems, and which has gone through multiple reprints even to now. The curriculum had lessons with titles such as: “Inhumane Working Conditions”, “Hunger on a Massive Scale”, “Overcrowded Living Conditions”, etc.
Fr. Thul’s connection to Peru never waned. He kept friendships alive and spent many summers in Peru directing retreats for women religious. At the age of 76 years old, Fr. Thul realized that the Spirit was leading him to leave behind the classroom and spend more time companioning people on their spiritual journeys. Fr. Thul was a most effective retreat master and director and also a very compassionate listener to those with whom he celebrated the sacrament of Reconciliation. Fr. Thul will be remembered fondly by his many former students and directees.
Many will remember that Fr. Thul was forward thinking, direct, and determined in his ways after a decision was reached. Fr. Thul did not like to waste time, especially when it related to his mission. He would always eat breakfast standing up because sitting down would be throwing time “down the drain.” Many people will remember Fr. Thul’s devotion to his mission and to those to whom he ministered. A final example of his care for others, and for detail: When he was chair of the mathematics department in the mid-1980s, he asked a regent in July what type of sandwich he would like to eat when the department graded finals together in December.