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October 16, 1916, to October 20, 2010
Fr. Joseph F. Downey, SJ, educator, editor, and writer, died on October 20, 2010, at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan. A native of Lima, Ohio, Fr. Downey was born to Thomas and Anna Downey on October 16, 1916.
Following his freshman year at Xavier University in Cincinnati, he entered the Jesuits in 1935 at the Milford Novitiate in Milford, Ohio. During his Jesuit formation, Fr. Downey studied Philosophy at the former West Baden College in Indiana (1939–1942) taught at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati (1942–1944), earned a master’s degree in English from Loyola University Chicago (1946), and completed his theology studies at West Baden College (1949). He was ordained on June 16, 1948, and went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Loyola University Chicago (1951), where he also taught part-time.
For more than a decade, Fr. Downey served in higher education as an administrator and professor. He got his start in 1951 at the University of Detroit (now University of Detroit Mercy) as assistant dean of arts and sciences and professor (1951–1953). In 1953 he joined the faculty of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, where he also served as registrar until 1958. That same year he was named Dean of Arts and Sciences at John Carroll University in Cleveland. “Many of Fr. Joe Downey’s co-workers have commented that, throughout their lives, Joe always modeled to them the kind of enthusiasm for working to establish God’s Kingdom that St. Ignatius talked of as the magis, the greater, as in ad majorem Dei gloriam,” says Fr. James Riley, SJ, a friend and colleague of Fr. Downey. “Whether as college students, retreatants, or readers, Joe always happily challenged people to do more and learn more.”
In 1962, Fr. Downey was assigned as Socius for the Detroit Province of the Jesuits (now joined with the Chicago Province). “When Fr. John McGrail, SJ, became the first provincial for the Province of Detroit, he named Joe Downey as his Socius, or right-hand man,” explains friend and colleague Walter Farrell, SJ. “When I became provincial in 1965, I found Joe to be a boon companion in the office. He was a talented man. I’d like to remember Joe best, however, as a welcoming and warm person, a diligent worker, and one who knew what it meant to be a Jesuit and was willing to tell the world about it.”
At the end of his tenure as Socius in 1969, Fr. Downey moved to New York City and used his gifts in a new way as editor of America Magazine, where he remained until 1973. An avid golfer, he was well known for hauling his clubs on public transportation from his office in midtown to courses in the outskirts of Manhattan and beyond.
Ever willing and available for new assignments, Fr. Downey left the hustle and bustle of New York for the peace and quiet of Clinton, Ohio, where he served as Superior and Director of Loyola of the Lakes Retreat House from 1974 to 1985.
For the next 20 years, Fr. Downey made his home in Chicago and put his considerable literary talents to use at Loyola Press, first as associate editor (1986–1989), then as editorial director of Trade Books (1989–1994), and finally as editorial consultant (1994–2004). “One of the first things that always comes to mind when I think about Joe was his chuckle,” says Fr. Daniel Flaherty, SJ, who worked with Fr. Downey both at America Magazine and at Loyola Press. “It’s hard for me to recall a conversation with him that wasn’t punctuated at regular intervals by that chuckle. I had the pleasure of his daily company—and his chuckle—for more than 20 years.”
”Fr. Downey was my first boss in book publishing and one of the most important mentors in my life,” recalls Jeremy Langford, Provincial Assistant for Communications for the Chicago-Detroit Province. “When I was hired as an editor at Loyola Press in 1993, I was fresh out of Notre Dame and Joe was a 76-year old veteran teacher and wordsmith. While nobody wrote a better letter or edited texts with more precision, Fr. Downey’s greatest gift was being a Jesuit priest. In our many conversations in the five years we worked together and the many years thereafter, he always brought the conversation back to the importance of faith and finding the person God dreams us to be. I’ll always be grateful to Fr. Downey for his example, wisdom, and guidance.”
When he moved to Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan, in 2004, Fr. Downey devoted his time to writing and to praying for the Church and Society. In the final years of his life he completed 10 books on spirituality, including Searching for the Christian End-Person: An Inside Story, When God Tells the Story Back to Us: Faith for the Senior Years, and The Spiritual Way: A Guide for Catholic Laypeople.
“I would say Joe’s living revealed God’s goodness on a daily basis,” says Fr. George Lane, SJ, president emeritus of Loyola Press and longtime coworker and friend of Fr. Downey.
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