JCLA: My Mentor Story
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
I once referred to my mentor in my high school newspaper as “our fearsome, black-clad, quadrophonic-voiced Headmaster, Fr. Arimond.” At Loyola Academy in Wilmette, IL, the Principal, Father James Carroll Leo Arimond, SJ, ruled with an iron fist.
But I came to learn that in addition to his iron fist, Father Jim also possessed a tender heart. What I didn’t know was that he also kept a huge collection of metal keys in the pocket of his priestly cassock. My encounter with that key chain became the unlikely first step in what became an important relationship—first with Fr. Jim as my teacher, then my boss, and ultimately, as the most formative mentor in my life.
Early in my freshman year, I was sitting in Fr. Jim’s Ancient Greek class, struggling to parse Book 1 of the Odyssey (remember, this was a Jesuit school!). As my mind wandered, Fr. Jim strolled up the aisle and stood next to my desk, declaiming on some esoteric Homeric principle. Recalling a joke that my friends and I found hilarious, I looked up at Fr. Arimond, and impulsively asked, “Hey, Father, who won the race?” He stopped his teaching, and of course responded, “What race?”
Whereupon I cried, “Charlie Horse!”, and gleefully punched the Headmaster of my school in the thigh. We were both hugely surprised, he by the jolt to his leg, me by the flashing pain in my knuckles caused by Fr. Jim’s huge set of keys, which I had inadvertently punched.
Instead of being given JUG (detention), this moment gave rise to a lifelong friendship. After class, Fr. Jim called me into his office to ask what the heck I was thinking, then moved on to ask about me. When he discovered that I was the youngest of eight kids, Fr. Jim realized that he had met my parents and knew my brother Bill, 13 years older and a Loyola alum.
At some point that fall, Jim became aware that my beloved mother Clare was battling cancer, which had spread through her lymph nodes and into her adrenal glands. I was struggling, spiritually, academically, and otherwise. He reached out to my parents, who asked Jim to watch over me at Loyola. I was one of 20 students in Fr. Jim’s only class, so he agreed to keep an eye on me (I learned all this only years later, of course).
LA students with Fr. Pedro Arrupe in Rome, 1981. Paul & Fr. Jim directly above.
Jim taught me Greek for the next three years, and took me under his wing. While translating Homer, we learned that the word “mentor” comes from the eponymous character in the Odyssey. As Odysseus was away from home fighting in Troy, his old friend Mentor was watching after Odysseus’ son Telemachus.
Father Jim was a tough teacher and an even tougher Headmaster, which he thought necessary to keep Loyola’s all-male student body in line. But Jim was also kind, funny, and compassionate to me and my classmates. He frequently checked to see how I was doing as Mom’s illness progressed.
I couldn't imagine life without my mom; she was the center of my existence. Her death in the spring of my sophomore year knocked my world off its axis. Fr. Jim was on the altar at my mom’s funeral in March of 1980, which somehow helped. At school, Jim continued to mentor me, teaching me how to grieve even as I struggled mightily with doubt and faith.
Over the next two years, Jim took our class on a “field trip” to Wisconsin for fishing and barbecue, and led a trip to Greece and Italy for Loyola’s classics students. I had not considered applying for what seemed to me an exotic and extravagant trip, but Jim made a call to my dad and convinced him that I should go. That journey solidified my love of classical culture and deepened my sense of adventure.
We stayed at (and sneaked out of) the Jesuit residence while visiting St. Peter's and the Colosseum. We had a private meeting with Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the famed Father-General of the Jesuits who coined the term “men and women for others.”
When my class graduated in 1982, Jim moved to the “eternal city” to run Loyola University’s Rome Center, and we stayed in touch via occasional letters. Jim visited me at Williams College, and encouraged my burgeoning interest in becoming a teacher.
When Jennifer and I decided to get married in Seattle in 1989, we knew that Jim had to do preside at the ceremony. Fr. Jim did a terrific job, then immediately flew to the east coast to begin his tenure as Headmaster of Fairfield Prep, a Jesuit school in Connecticut.
After our honeymoon, Jennifer and I also headed for CT, where I taught English and Journalism at Fairfield Prep for five years under Fr. Jim. Once again, Jim was a no-nonsense administrator with a heart for students who struggled. Our friendship, and his role as my mentor, deepened considerably as I learned to teach in a Jesuit school.
By the time we moved to Portland and to Jesuit High in 1994, I had learned to watch for students who were struggling, whether because they learned differently, felt isolated, or had difficult family circumstances. During my 25 years as vice principal and principal at Jesuit, I tried to embody Father Jim’s blend of high standards, deep faith, and real love for our students.
When I called Jim recently, we laughed over the Charlie Horse incident, reminisced about our trip to Rome and our wedding, remembered friends living and lost from Loyola and Fairfield Prep, and shared our most recent adventures. Jim asked me about Jenn and our kids, and I asked him about the recipients of the Fr. James CL Arimond scholarship at Loyola Academy.
Even at 83, Jim still reads carefully through each scholarship applicant’s file, looking for young people whose families cannot afford Loyola’s tuition and who have stories of hardship that touch his heart.
In November, as we remember and give thanks, I am deeply grateful for this tough, tender soul, now living in a home for retired priests in Clarkston, Michigan. Thanks, Fr. Jim, for offering me a model of a life well-lived. AMDG, my man, and thanks for the memories.
To support SetPath, which provides trained Mentors who guide young adults (16-28) to discover purpose, hope and direction through free life-planning services, click here.