Uncommon Interview – Reverend Willard Jabusch

By Jen Glickel

As recent events have caused changes in the Calvert House infrastructure, Reverend Willard Jabusch has become the interim chaplain and director of Calvert House, a position he held for several years until 2001. Upon his return to the University, the Maroon had the opportunity to chat with Father Jabusch.

Chicago Maroon: Was there any specific turning point in your life that led you to want to work for the church?

Willard Jabusch: Yes, I think so. When my grandmother was dying—it was hot, I remember…it was summertime, it was June—and she was definitely going downhill. So, we called a Benedictine priest from St. Procopius Abbey. I was in seventh grade. The priest brought Holy Communion and administered the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. He did this with great devotion and reverence and I was very impressed. I thought to myself, “This is something very important, and I want to do this, too.”

CM: What steps in your career led you to the University of Chicago and, more specifically, the Calvert House?

WJ: I was ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago as a priest in 1956. My first assignment was at Old St. James parish on Wabash Avenue. The congregation was almost all African-American—not 100 percent, but close. This was a wonderful experience for me because the people were very warm and supportive, and I also worked under two very good pastors.

Then I went to teach at Quigley Preparatory School, right in the heart of Chicago, for two years. I taught English to high school students. Then I was asked to teach at Niles College, which is a college of Loyola University. I was there for three years teaching English. I had been taking courses at Northwestern during the afternoons while I was still working at Niles College, so I basically had the coursework done and was able to finish my dissertation full-time at Northwestern. I got my doctorate in 1968. Then I began teaching at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary where, unbelievably, I taught for 22 years. How I did that for that long, I don’t know, but it was fun. I certainly enjoyed it.

Then Cardinal Joseph Bernardine suggested that I take this position as Chaplain and Director of Calvert House. That was in 1990 and I had the job until 2001.

CM: What have you been doing since the last time that you held the position of Chaplain and Director of Calvert House in 2001?

WJ: I’ve been doing a lot of music. I got involved in music a long time ago and we’ve been making CDs of different songs that I’ve written. It’s church music, but in a very modern and contemporary style. I’ve always written the lyrics, but sometimes I’ve written the music and used folk melodies from other countries—from Haiti to Slovakia to the Ukraine. One of the most popular songs I’ve written, “The King of Glory,” was based on an Israeli folk tune that I’d learned when I was studying in Israel. They’re all available from Oregon Catholic Press in Portland, Oregon.

CM: What is your favorite part about working at the University? Least favorite part?

WJ: I love meeting wonderful students from all over the world. My least favorite part is raising money, which I was never terribly adept at.

CM: What do you think of religious life at the U of C? Is there anything about it that you’d want to change?

WJ: I think it’s surprisingly active. There’s always talk about secularizing and that the University is a very secular place and, of course, that’s true to a certain extent. But there’s a large group of students who are deeply interested in religion, whether it’s Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, or Islam. It is a challenge to campus ministers to deal with questioning, searching young people.

I think it’s good that everything be kept distinct. The University has its job to do and religious leaders have their job to do. I’ve never felt there was some great wall of separation between the two, but, on the other hand, each has their own goal and their own method.

CM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

WJ: I’m glad to be back at the University of Chicago, even if it’s only for a few weeks. I like this place and I like the people here, both students and faculty.