February 27, 2017 — Father Robert T. Costello, SJ, died Feb. 21, 2017, in St. Louis, after a brief illness. He was 87 years old, a Jesuit for 65 years and a priest for 53 years.
A man of sharp intelligence, deep sensitivity and empathy, he was born in St. Louis, on June 20, 1929, to William J. and Florence Murray Costello. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his brothers William and Lawrence and sisters Rosemary Dittmeier and Anne Dependahl.
Fr. Costello graduated from St. Louis University High School in 1947, then earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology with a minor in sociology from Saint Louis University before entering the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, Missouri, on Aug. 17, 1951.
He studied philosophy at Saint Louis University and theology at St. Mary’s College in St. Marys, Kansas. He was ordained a priest on June 11, 1963, at St. Mary’s College and pronounced final vows on April 22, 1972, at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1971 he received a Ph.D. in counseling from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
Fr. Costello spent nearly 20 years teaching psychology at Rockhurst University (1965-83). During his time there he spent a sabbatical year (1975-76) working as a staff psychologist in the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, and another year (1981-82) doing research in the Sam Houston State University Center for Corrections at Huntsville, Texas. While at Rockhurst, he began working with the federal prison system and developed a special interest in how the Christian Community could be part of the process of reconciling ex-offenders with society. From this sprang the “Seventy Times Seven” program focused on changing attitudes toward people who had been incarcerated.
In 1983, he returned to St. Louis where he oversaw a house of studies for two years before becoming provincial of the Missouri Province (1985 to 1991). From 1992 to 1997, he led St. Louis University High School as president. He worked for three years in Toronto as a staff member at Southdown Institute, which provides help for vowed religious and clergy related to addictions and mental health. He then served for three years at Loyola House-Guelph Centre of Spirituality, a retreat house and Ignatian Spirituality training center in Guelph, Ontario.
Since 2000 he worked with the Christian Life Community (CLC) in various capacities in Birmingham, England, and then in St. Louis as Regional Ecclesial Assistant (2005-2015); from 2009-2011 he was National Ecclesial Assistant. He also served as faculty chaplain at De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, a role he found especially satisfying.
Fr. Costello elicited respect and trust and committed himself completely to whatever the Society asked him to do. His strengths enabled him to be of support and consolation particularly to those in moments of suffering and personal crisis — students, parents, clients, prisoners and, of course, many Jesuits. [Source: Central and Southern Province Jesuits]