Following a lengthy career in the Jesuit order, including extensive service to Georgetown, the Rev. Thomas R. Fitzgerald, S.J., died yesterday of myocardial infarction, related to heart problems, in the Wolfington Jesuit Residence. He was 82.
Although Fitzgerald’s death was unexpected, he had suffered from health problems for some time and lived on the Jesuit Residence’s assisted living floor, receiving regular medical care from nurses.
Fitzgerald’s association with Georgetown began as an undergraduate, when he studied here for one year before joining the Society of Jesus in 1939 and continuing his studies in Belgium. He later received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and was ordained a priest in 1952. During the 1950s, Fitzgerald held several top administrative posts at Georgetown, serving as dean of the College from 1954-55 and academic vice president from 1955-57.
Fitzgerald left Georgetown in the 1970s in order to serve as the president of two other Jesuit institutions – Fairfield University from 1973-1979 and the University of St. Louis from 1979-1987.
His time at the University of St. Louis marked the beginning of what has become a renassaince at the school, placing the institution on surer financial footing, including a sizeable increase in endowment. The university’s Fitzgerald Hall was named in his honor after he departed from the presidency.
Before retiring to Georgetown in 1999, Fitzgerald received six honorary degrees and served on the boards of trustees for nine different Jesuit institutions. His final teaching assignment came at Loyola College in Baltimore, where he was a member of the classics department and served as rector.
Since coming to the Hilltop, Fitzgerald, an associate professor emeritus in the classics and history departments, conducted research regarding the history and origins of the Jesuit educational philosophy. He read extensively from classical sources in their original languages, looking for the inspiration behind Ignatius of Loyola’s approach to education.
According to Br. Joseph M. Ritzman, S.J., treasurer of the Jesuit Community, Fitzgerald was kind and gentle, and his absence will be felt acutely.
“He was a man of prayer and great generosity. He will be missed by his family and the Jesuit Community,” Ritzman said.
He also recalled Fitzgerald as a “soft-spoken man” who took pleasure in chatting with current students, regaling them with stories of his early years on the Hilltop. Ritzman said Fitzgerald particularly enjoyed spending time with the students who helped with last summer’s move into the new Jesuit Residence and eating supper with them every night.
Devoted to his large, extended family, Fitzgerald enjoyed visiting with his many grandnieces and grandnephews, several of whom attend or have graduated from Georgetown. According to others inside the Jesuit Community, these frequent visits brought him great joy and touched those around him.
A Washington native, Fitzgerald began his Jesuit experience as a student at Gonzaga High School and found his eventual retirement to Georgetown quite fitting.
Fitzgerald’s wake will be held in Dahlgren Chapel on Wednesday at 4 p.m., followed by the Mass of Christian Burial at 8 p.m. Burial services will begin in the chapel at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, followed by interment in the Jesuit Cemetery.