Home Diocesan News 88-year-old Jesuit is not retiring but concerned about those religious who are
88-year-old Jesuit is not retiring but concerned about those religious who are Print E-mail
Written by Louise McNulty, Special to the Exponent   
Friday, 03 November 2017 14:32

MOGADORE – At an age when his fellow religious – and the majority of his lay peers – have long been retired, Jesuit Father Tom Acker is five years into his latest full-time assignment.

Father Acker, 88, is the administrator of St. Joseph Parish here, with the parish school taking up much of his attention.

The parish has grown by 20 percent during his tenure, and the school (PK-8) enrollment has increased from 96 to 140.  The parish has also restored the Lourdes Grotto, where outdoor Masses are held at 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays in summer, weather permitting.

Dedicated in 1927, carved out of stone (7/8 the size of the original Lourdes Grotto in France), the grotto soars into the air, nestled in a tall hill at the rear of the parish campus. The grotto is surrounded by trees, shrubs and flowers.

It seemed an appropriate setting for the priest, who once climbed mountains in Nepal while serving God there. He has long been a lover of nature, birds and, with a doctorate in biology, knows a bit more about the subject than the average person.

Father Acker, who grew up in St. Christopher Parish in Rocky River, Ohio, and graduated from St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, has lived and served in places a bit less colorful than Katmandu, Nepal.

His career includes teaching bi-ology at John Carroll University, near Cleveland, the University of Detroit, and the University of San Francisco. He also served as a Fulbright Professor at Tribhuvan University in Nepal. After a year and half as professor there, he served another year as a project director for the Peace Corps there.

Other academic experience includes serving as president of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, dean of St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, and chairman and CEO of The Higher Education Foundation in Beckley, West Va., which helped foster several colleges.

Father Acker also served as CEO of Forward Southern West Virginia, Inc., an organization which strives to foster  economic growth in the region.

Since 2011, he has been the assistant to Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., for special projects in the Youngstown Diocese and has served at parishes where he is needed, such as St. Joseph.

Having entered the Jesuits in 1947, his career has been long and varied. And he isn’t ready yet to lay back and relax into retirement.

“Because of the shortage of priests I feel I can’t leave the people,” Father Acker said. “They need priests – primarily for the sacraments.”

He added with a grin that he’s not quite sure what else he would do. Though always a hiking and climbing enthusiast, “once you get into your 60s and 70s, you can’t do that so much.”

His other love is birds, which he has had as pets. In addition, Father Acker recalled that, during his tenure at John Carroll, he took in a baby Blue Jay and baby crow that had been abandoned.

After each of them had matured, he allowed it to fly free, but each bird would  always return to him when he went outdoors. Father Acker has other stories to tell as well.

Interacting with feeding and watching birds is in most ways a sedentary hobby. However, Father Acker does not consider himself a sedentary man.  His brisk walk, quick smile and lively mind reflect his eagerness to engage in life and continue serving God and the Church.

About his life as a Jesuit, he said, “While the call to my vocation came from God, what watered and fertilized the seed were my parents and then-Holy Humility of Mary [now Humility of Mary] sisters in grade school,” whose names he still remembers. They suggested the possibility to him but without pressure

One of many explanations for the shortage of priests today, he believes, “is the lack of sisters in schools.” A need that is sometimes missing is strong, faithful Catholic parents – at least one – in the home, he added.

Having been a priest for so long, Father Acker has viewed the vocation’s highs and lows.  “It’s like marriage,” he said, “It takes effort.”

He compared it to climbing. “When you climb a mountain, you find steep slopes and hazards like rock slides and snow, but there are beautiful vistas.” In any vocation, he added, you must accept the challenge of the tall hills. “There is no honor in climbing a small hill,” he added with a smile, “unless you’re a child.”

Despite all his current responsibilities, Father Acker gladly agreed this year to accept being one of the honorary chairs for the Retirement Fund for Religious appeal, lending his name, story and support to the effort.

While he acknowledges that all men and women religious work for wages that are below (the lay) market value, he said, “nuns especially worked for a pittance – [virtually] nothing – without thought of retirement. It is time for those who benefited from their work to step up to the plate. [The religious] shared their talents and blessings, and it seems time to repay them.”

RFR collection dates

The Retirement Fund for Religious collection will take place Nov. 25 and 26 at all weekend Masses in parishes across the diocese.

An appeal will be made by individual religious during Masses the weekend of Nov. 18 and 19.

Jesuit Father Tom Acker is one of the co-chairs of the 2017 Retirement Fund. Sisters Leocadia and Bernarda Sevachko, of the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, the other two co-chairs, were profiled in the Oct. 20 issue of the Exponent.



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