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Creighton University's Beloved "Fr. Z" Former Law Chaplain, Dies

The Rev. John “Jack” Zuercher, S.J., former Creighton University Law School Chaplain and founder of the University’s Collaborative Ministry office, died Saturday, May 7, in Omaha. He was 86.

“Fr. Z,” as many knew him, came to Creighton in 1976. During his 35 years at the University he taught psychology courses, founded the Collaborative Ministry Office and served as Chaplain at the School of Law for several years. He most recently worked as a promoter of Christian Life Communities for the North Central Region.

“Our beloved Father Z was a wonderful chaplain for the Law School,” said Marianne Culhane, dean. “In the days before e-mail, he encouraged faculty, staff and students with lively, usually humorous messages on small slips of paper which he delivered to each person's individual mailbox several times each semester. Some were jokes – at least tangentially – about law and lawyers, and others were short prayers and meditations. I'll never forget the retreats he organized, his listening skills, his perfect choices for invocations and benedictions and his deep knowledge of psychology when asked for advice. But it’s those little surprise messages that still make me smile.”

His smile lit up a room almost as much as the colorful plaid jackets he wore over his priestly blacks. Zuercher was an avid Chicago Bears and White Sox fan and his favorite hobbies included watching sports and old movies.

“Jack was a dear man. He was always kind and gentle, with an easy smile and a quick wit. He liked being the life of the party, especially in his loud clothes. Personally, he was reflective and a thoughtful person,” said Joan Lanahan, Allied Health chaplain and co-founder of the Collaborative Ministry office.

When asked what his favorite book was, Zuercher would reply, “The Song of the Bird,” by Tony DeMello, S.J., a writer whose work and wisdom he greatly admired. The DeMello Group that Zuercher began on the Creighton campus almost 20 years ago is still going strong.

Zuercher was a loyal Jesuit who loved St. Ignatius, the Spiritual Exercises and his Jesuit brothers. His love for the Jesuits spilled over into his love for Christian Life Communities (CLC). While with the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton he helped start several CLC groups in the Wisconsin Province.

“He believed in collaboration with laity from his finger tips to his toes,” said Lanahan. “He was creative, insightful and wise, and he listened. He was strong when he thought he was right and he bended to others' wisdom when he understood and believed in their wisdom and insight.”

Born in Brodhead, Wis., Zuercher attended Marquette University where he received his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1945. He entered the St. Stanislaus Seminary in Missouri in 1947 and went on to attend St. Louis University where he earned a master’s degree in English and a doctorate in Philosophy. He was ordained a priest in 1959. In 1961 Zuercher earned a doctorate in Theology from St. Mary’s College in Kansas and in 1965, he earned a doctorate in Engineering Psychology from the University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill.

Before coming to Creighton he served as the chair of the Psychology Department at Marquette from 1965 until 1968.

He is survived by sister Suzanne Zuercher, O.S.B., of Chicago, Ill.

Zuercher donated his body to the Creighton University School of Medicine. A Wake service will be held at 9 a.m., Tuesday, May 17, followed by a Memorial Mass at 10 a.m. in St. John's Church.