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June 26, 1923, to
December 7, 2011
Fr. Robert E. Beckman, SJ, who served as a Jesuit missionary to the people of Peru for 39 years, died on December 7, 2011, in Clarkston, Michigan. Fr. Beckman was born to Vincent and Irene (Hummel) Beckman in Cincinnati on June 26, 1923. “He was one of the most optimistic people I have ever known,” said longtime friend Fr. John Foley, SJ. “His gift, his style of leading, was to encourage everyone on the team to do their thing and he’d get out of the way.”
Following his graduation from St. Xavier High School in 1941, Fr. Beckman began studying at Xavier University before joining the Society of Jesus in Milford, Ohio. During his Jesuit formation Fr. Beckman received various degrees from Xavier University, West Baden College, Loyola University Chicago, the University of Michigan, and Georgetown University. His broad interest earned him degrees in Latin, philosophy, theology, history, education, linguistics, Spanish, and pastoral studies.
Fr. Beckman spent the majority of his years of ministry in the Society in Peru. As one of the very first Jesuits to go to Peru from the former Chicago Province, he taught, was involved in spirituality programs, and was asked to serve in administration. Among his administration jobs, Fr. Beckman was principal and later director of Colegio San Jose (Arequipa), director of juniors at the Jesuit Center of Spirituality (Lima, Peru), rector of Xavier University (Cincinnati), and even acting regional superior in Peru. Fr. Patrick Casey, SJ, spent many years with Fr. Beckman in Peru. When describing his impact on the people of Peru Fr. Casey explained, “He was very much involved in the spirit of change of the Society in those days. He insisted that we American Jesuits make an effort at enculturation into the Peruvian world and he was a leader in social reform. He encouraged Jesuit members of the community to live among the poor, and then eventually went to live there as well.”
Because he was a truly gifted spiritual director, the Peruvian Provincial asked him to live in the novitiate to serve as an inspiration to the young Jesuits. “In spiritual direction, when someone shared with him what had excited them most in prayer, he would get as excited as the person he was directing,” explained Fr. Foley. “Spiritual direction was more like a pep rally, and people flocked to him.”
Fr. Beckman returned to the US many times during his career. In October of 2007, he returned to Clarkston, Michigan, where he remained until his death.
Those in Peru have described him as “a messenger from God,” “one who reflects the great stamp that the Jesuits have inherited from St. Ignatius of Loyola and lived it to the fullest,” “friend, guide, and man of God,” and “a spiritual father.” His light-hearted, enthusiastic and warm spirit was infectious. He was greatly loved wherever he was missioned.
Memorial gifts may be made to The Jesuits, 2050 N. Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 60614.
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