“Brebeuf has the reputation of being a very open school—open to other faith traditions, and in fact, embracing them. It’s not tolerance, it’s not acceptance, it’s an embrace.”
~ Fr. Jack Dennis, S.J.
President, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, 2012-2018
Fr. Jack Dennis is still moved by that all-school mass: Students rising to their feet, cheering and applauding for their classmate, Umayr Shaikh, the senior who so thoughtfully described his experience as a Muslim at Brebeuf. Seeing the significance in that moment, Fr. Jack nodded to Umayr to approach Archbishop Joseph Tobin, who was saying the mass that day, and then watched as the Archbishop took Umayr’s hands in his and said, “As-salamu alaykum” (Peace be upon you).
“I’m still in the glow of it because I feel this is the way it should be,” Fr. Jack said. “For every Jesuit high school to be like ours…to be welcoming like this.”
As president of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School for the past six years, Fr. Jack Dennis, S.J., has focused on helping Brebeuf embrace its unique identity as “a different kind of Catholic school.” Leading a student body that’s 50 percent non-Catholic (10 percent non-Christian), Fr. Jack has supported and strengthened Brebeuf’s commitment to openness and diversity, while at the same time re-introducing many of the sacred aspects central to the school’s Jesuit tradition. In addition to participating in more all-school masses, students start each day in prayer and end with a Daily Examen, a time of peaceful reflection and invitation to review the day’s events and offer thanks. Fr. Jack’s belief that faith diversity and Jesuit values can not only co-exist, but thrive in an educational setting, is part of what distinguishes Brebeuf Jesuit today.
“One of the greatest compliments I’ve received here is when a young lady, a senior, said to me, ‘Father Jack, you’ve made our school more religious without forcing it,’” he said. “Ours is an accepting Catholic education, and I believe that’s one of the things that makes Brebeuf so special.”
During his tenure at Brebeuf, Fr. Jack has been the driving force behind a myriad of accomplishments: the Leading the Way capital campaign that raised more than $8 million for much-needed academic and facility renovations; Brebeuf’s successful ISACS accreditation in 2016; and effective recruitment and retention efforts that have resulted in the school’s largest graduating class this year.
For Fr. Jack, however, the focus has always been on ensuring Brebeuf students have a voice. When students asked if school convocations could focus more on current events, Fr. Jack responded, assembling panels of students to talk about issues, such as diversity and civil rights. He has worked closely with school leadership and faculty to support students wishing to engage in meaningful, peaceful discourse and demonstration on issues dominating the national dialogue, including athletes kneeling for the National Anthem, DACA and, most recently, gun violence in schools.
“Student voice is incredibly important here, and it’s really powerful,” said Fr. Jack. “It means a lot to the whole Brebeuf community—faculty, staff, everyone—that our kids have a voice.”
With just weeks remaining in his final school year as Brebeuf president, Fr. Jack is reluctant to talk too much about himself or past accomplishments, preferring instead to look toward the future. Leaving the school in the capable hands of his successor, Fr. Bill Verbryke, Fr. Jack foresees a smooth transition for the man he said “is the perfect person for the job.”
As for Fr. Jack, he’s returning to Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, where he previously served as director of campus ministry before joining Brebeuf as president. Admitting he may have some personal adjustments to make in working with college students again—“they typically don’t like meeting until 9:30 at night”—Fr. Jack is looking forward to returning to the East Coast where he’ll be able to spend more time with his 92-year-old mother.
Even with all that’s ahead, Fr. Jack said he’ll miss Indianapolis and the Brebeuf community and families he’s come to know and admire.
“I’m going to miss this unusual culture that is the spirit and spark of Brebeuf,” Fr. Jack said. “And I’m going to miss this brand of Catholicism—what Brebeuf is and how we are Catholic, but differently.”
And to Fr. Jack from a grateful and admiring Brebeuf Jesuit community:
As-salamu alaykum, Shalom and Peace be with you.
Fr. Jack Dennis, S.J. Endowed Scholarship
An endowed scholarship has been established to honor Father Jack for his service and dedication to Brebeuf Jesuit as President from 2012-2018. The scholarship will exist in perpetuity and shall be awarded to a student with demonstrated financial need. Demonstrated need is defined as having applied and been approved for tuition assistance through Brebeuf Jesuit’s financial aid application process. Need-based scholarships provide critical funding for deserving students and puts our mission into action.
A gift to the Father Jack Dennis, S.J. Endowed Scholarship is a meaningful tribute to a distinguished leader who had a powerful impact on the Brebeuf Jesuit community.