February 16, 2016 — Father John H. Edwards, SJ, former provincial of the New Orleans Province Jesuits, died Feb. 1 in Dallas. He was 91 years old, a Jesuit for 74 years and a priest for 61 years.
Fr. Edwards was born in Dallas on September 26, 1924, and he entered the Society of Jesus on August 14, 1941, at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. Following first vows, he earned a bachelor's degree in classics from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. He returned to Dallas to teach at what was then known as Jesuit High School (1948-51). He received a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from St. Mary’s College in St. Marys, Kansas, in 1955. During theology studies, he was one of the translators and editors of "The Church Teaches," a collection of key church doctrinal documents.
He was ordained to the priesthood on June 16, 1954, at St. Joseph’s Chapel at Spring Hill College. He pronounced his final vows in the Society in 1958 at Jesuit High School in Dallas.
Upon completion of his Doctor of Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1958, he taught ecclesiology for two years at St. Mary’s. He then served at the New Orleans Province novitiate in Grand Coteau (1960-65). The year 1961 also saw him appointed as a province consultor.
Fr. Edwards was named provincial of the New Orleans Province (now part of the USA Central and Southern Province) in the first wave of appointments made by the Society's new Superior General, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ. Fr. Edwards took office on July 31, 1965, at the age of 41, and his tenure, from 1965 to 1971, was a time of great change in the church and society in general. He saw the need for bold action and this, coupled with his interest in organizational dynamics, led him to institute a province planning process that included the first province assemblies. This gave the members of the province an opportunity to participate in governance in ways that had not been seen before. He listened carefully and was among the first provincials to institute a system of vice provincials to assist him in the work of governing the province and caring for the men. Today almost every provincial has assistants, but this was very much a new idea in 1970.
When his term as provincial ended in 1971, he moved to being rector and president of Jesuit High School in Tampa, where he served for two years. For the next 16 years, he served in parishes, first as associate pastor at St. Rita’s Parish in Dallas, then as pastor at Gesù Parish in Miami (1975-83) and at Sacred Heart Parish in El Paso (1984-89).
After characteristically careful preparation and research, he was welcomed by the Bishop of Palm Beach as the founding director of Emmaus Residence (1990-2000), a hospice run by the Diocese of Palm Beach for people with AIDS.
His last posting as superior was at Ignatius Residence in New Orleans (2000-2004), where his sensitivity, knowledge and compassion were much appreciated. He then was associate pastor at Immaculate Conception in New Orleans (2004-2008) before moving to the Dallas Jesuit Community.
He aimed to encourage all he worked with to be at their best without seeming to push or intimidate them. With his high intelligence and gifts of leadership, he maintained a deep and solid humility and a sincere appreciation for anything done for him. Never did he forget that he was a man on mission. As novice director, and throughout his life, he emphasized the necessity of a personal relationship with Christ; that he gave himself to such a relationship was very clear.
We remember with gratitude all that God has done through Fr. Edwards' life of service to God and God's people.