Ignatian Heritage Living our faith
The Jesuit next door
Over his 40 years at Loyola, Jerry Overbeck, S.J., has formed lasting relationships with generations of alumni
He’s known as Fr. Jerry, Fr. J, even Dr. J. Others call him Padre, or Padrecito. At the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, Hawaii, he is Pono. Some teasingly refer to him as FJSJ, with the last two letters standing not for Society of Jesus but “surfing Jesuit.”
No matter which name you know him by, he’s Rev. T. Jerome Overbeck, S.J., a beloved chaplain and professor who has been a part of Loyola University Chicago since August 1976. He’s comfortable with whichever name people use; he’s just happy to be talking to them.
“My name is Thomas Jerome. I’m a junior, and they called me Jerry from when I was little,” he explains. “As I became an adult, I learned more about St. Jerome and, honestly, I think it names who I am.”
St. Jerome is known for translating the Bible into Latin, then the common language of the people, to make it more accessible. In many ways, that’s the work Overbeck has been doing at Loyola for four decades. “My method of working is: Go where the people are,” he says. “Whether it’s food courts, Starbucks, Pippin’s, wherever. The place isn’t important.”
For Overbeck, any conversation is his classroom, and he never stops teaching and learning. “I’ve loved teaching for all of my Jesuit life, but I think there are different ways to teach,” he says. “It’s the variety of venues that I find so interesting, where people learn how to put life learning together with classroom learning.”
Many of these conversations occur in Baumhart Hall, where Overbeck lives. He’s spent 30 of his 40 years at Loyola in residence halls. He lived in Mertz Hall at the Lake Shore Campus with 700 freshmen, then helped the University open Simpson Hall and later Regis Hall before moving downtown.
Brian McFadden (BBA ’99) lived a few doors down from Overbeck on the 10th floor of Mertz, and it was the beginning of an enduring friendship. “I find our conversations as meaningful now as they were 22 years ago, just in a completely different context,” McFadden says. “Then, I was a freshman from Omaha, Nebraska, with no ties or friends in Chicago. Now, I’m a parent with four kids.”
Overbeck presided at McFadden’s wedding, baptized his children, and blessed the family’s first home. McFadden’s wife, Jackie, says Overbeck cultivates a relaxed, comfortable environment with their kids. That’s something McFadden also witnessed at Loyola. “He’s visible and approachable, whether it’s with freshmen or graduate students or graduates, of faith or not of faith,” he says.
Every Tuesday night, Overbeck makes a home-cooked meal at his apartment and brings it around the residence hall to offer to his neighbors, going door-to-door until the pot is empty. Chicken stew is on the menu in the winter, and he often defaults to his specialty, Italian cooking. He’s also been known to make Moroccan dishes, a skill he picked up while living and studying in Casablanca.
“I knock on every door, ask if anyone is hungry, and offer whatever I made that night,” Overbeck says. “Believe me, this connection feeds more than the body.”
Beyond their shared address, Overbeck has something else in common with students: He is a graduate himself, earning his degree from what was then Loyola’s Bellarmine School of Theology in 1970. He decided to become a Jesuit around the time he started college, and feels he’s perfectly suited to the order.