Giguere, Father Robert Joseph, S.S.

2003, February 10

Date of Birth: 1917, March 29

Robert Joseph Giguere (Bob) wrote to Father John F. Fenlon, S.S. in April of 1941, “It has been my intention for some time to study for the priesthood. Recent information has led me to believe that I could best serve God as a priest in the Sulpitian (sic) Order.” Bob Giguere would indeed serve as a Sulpician priest for 55 years and he would learn to spell the name correctly!

On March 29, 1917, Robert Joseph Giguere was born in Chicopee, Massachusetts, the only child of William and Sara McElhane Giguere. He attended Assumption Parochial School in Chicopee, and St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield graduating as valedictorian. On scholarship to the College of Holy Cross, Bob majored in philosophy and graduated with honors in 1939. Bob attended Boston University earning an M.A. in English Literature in 1940. Bob received a Ph.L. and Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America in 1942 and 1950, respectively.

While at Boston University, Bob heard of the Sulpicians from Raymond Connor, a seminarian from his Diocese of Springfield (Massachusetts). This encounter led to Bob’s letter to Fr. Fenlon for admission to the Sulpicians.

On August 6, 1945, in the Chapel of Theological College, Bob was ordained for the Diocese of Springfield. Subsequently, he was accepted as a Sulpician candidate and taught at St. Charles College in Catonsville for a year. The following year he made his Solitude at St. Mary’s Seminary, Paca Street (1946-1947). He was formally admitted to the Society of St. Sulpice in 1947.

Bob was assigned in 1948 to St. Joseph’s College in Mountain View, California, where he became a popular teacher of philosophy. In 1953 Bob transferred to St. Patrick’s Seminary to teach philosophy. Of his years at St. Patrick’s, former students remember him as an “electric presence.” The students dubbed him the “heart” of the seminary; balancing Fr. Frank Norris who was known as the “head.”

At St. Patrick’s, Bob transformed the discipline of philosophy. Bob noted, “It soon became evident to me ... that philosophy as it was being taught was simply not working. First of all, it was not true to the philosophical experience as recorded in the writings of Plato and Aristotle; further it was not true to the dynamic encounter of the Christian faith with Greek reason as recorded in the writings of Augustine and Aquinas. It was also not true to the contemporary philosophical experience as recorded in the writings of Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and even more, the exciting and challenging movements of existentialism…”

Under Bob’s gentle nurturing philosophy came alive at St. Patrick’s. He began to supplement the textbook with readings from primary texts and contemporary philosophers such as Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson and Josef Pieper. Movies, literature, art and drama enhanced his classes. The result was an enormous excitement in the student body for the once moribund topic of philosophy. As one of his former students put it, “he didn’t teach us what was in the philosophy books; he taught people how to think.”

A highly sought-after spiritual director, Bob was proud of the influence he exercised on the vocations of many of the seminarians in his charge. He was proud of well over one hundred “spiritual sons” during his thirteen years in Menlo Park.

Bob developed a friendship with Catholic pop artist, Sister Carita Kent, whom he brought to St. Patrick’s to conduct a workshop for the seminarians in 1966. Bob was a major influence on Sr. Carita’s art from 1965-1968. Sister Corita gave many copies of her serigraphs to him.

Between 1967 and 1971, Bob taught at several institutions of higher learning: Notre Dame College, Belmont; Santa Clara University and St. Patrick’s College.

In 1974, Bob was formally appointed Associate Chaplain at St. Anne’s Chapel, the Newman Center at Stanford University. He was greatly loved, even revered, for his heartfelt and poignant sermons.

After retiring in 1987, Bob began to travel widely: 1988 to Thailand, India, and Nepal; 1989 to Russia, 1990 to China, 1993 to Mexico, and 1994 to Greece. During the 1990s he was diagnosed with bone-cancer, which he fought valiantly in the last years of his life. In due course he required constant care.

On February 10, 2003, Bob died at his home in Mountain View, California. On February 15, 2003 a Memorial Mass was held at St. Patrick’s Seminary chapel with the Reverend Gerald Coleman, S.S., then President-Rector, as presider, Reverend George Crespin as homilist, and Reverend Thomas R. Ulshafer as eulogist, representing the provincial. Robert Joseph Giguere, S.S. was later cremated, and his remains interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Frank Portman III Mausoleum, in Palo Alto, California.