Published December 19, 2013
ATLANTA—Father J. Niel Jarreau, SJ, a longtime retreat director at Ignatius House Retreat Center, died on Dec. 10 in Opelousas, La. He was 87.
Father Jarreau, who was known as Father Niel, had been a member of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) for 70 years and a priest for 57 years. He served his ministry as a high school teacher and counselor and then in leading retreats and offering spiritual direction for over 20 years.
A native of New Orleans, he was born on Sept. 10, 1926. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, La., on July 30, 1943, when he was not yet 17 years old. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., then continued his education at St. Mary’s College, St. Marys, Kan., where he earned an S.T.B in theology in 1957. Father Jarreau was ordained a priest on June 13, 1956, at Spring Hill College. He pronounced final vows as a Jesuit on Aug. 15, 1976, at St. Charles College.
From 1958 to 1982, Father Jarreau worked in Jesuit institutions and high schools in Texas and Florida, becoming a counselor after more academic formation.
He spent a total of 20 years serving at Ignatius House in Atlanta, first as the assistant director from 1983 to 1990 and then from 2000 until 2013 as a retreat director. He had just moved recently to a new assignment at St. Charles College.
In an interview in The Georgia Bulletin this September, on the occasion of his 70-year jubilee as a Jesuit, Father Jarreau said that after his regular studies of philosophy and theology, what he cherished most about the Jesuit training was the study of modern psychology.
“Most of my time as a priest was—and still is—spent in my office listening to hurting people who are searching for the will of God in their lives and striving to become the person they truly want to be. Unfortunately, there is too much unnecessary suffering of this kind in the world,” he said. “Here, after the grace of God and the Jesuit training, psychology has been my greatest companion.”
The attractions of this world, such as desire for power or money, are strong and lead to struggles and unhappiness for many, he said.
“Christianity is a tremendous challenge,” said Father Jarreau about the need to be rid of these ambitions. “Only God himself can fill our emptiness.”
He is survived by his sister-in-law, Audrey Jarreau, and nieces, nephews and cousins.
He is preceded in death by his parents, Lucien and Alice (Voorhies) Jarreau; two brothers, Charles and Father Martin Jarreau, SJ; and his sister, Marcelle Bendernagel.
A funeral Mass was celebrated in Grand Coteau, La., on Saturday, Dec. 14, followed by burial in the Jesuit cemetery.
A memorial service is being planned by Ignatius House to be held in January. A retreat scholarship fund was established there in his name earlier in the fall.
Donations in memory of Father Jarreau may be made to the Senior Jesuits Fund of “The Jesuits,” 710 Baronne St., Ste. B., New Orleans, LA 70113.