Local News Archive
Print Issue: June 20, 2002
Father Jim Babb, SJ, Ignatius House Mentor Dies At 88
ATLANTA - Father Jim Babb, SJ, former director of Ignatius House, died June 12 at the Jesuit retreat house in New Orleans, La. He was 88. Father Babb had worked as a spiritual director and mentor at Ignatius House up until weeks before his death. A memorial Mass will be held Wednesday, June 26, at 7 p.m. at the Ignatius House, 6700 Riverside Drive, Atlanta.
During his tenure as director of Ignatius House in the 1990s, Father Babb renewed the Ignatian spirituality retreats that now have become a standard for individuals seeking weekends for silent reflection.
"Father Babb was one of the most special people in my life," said Frank McCarty, a member of Prince of Peace Church, Buford, who began going to Ignatius House almost 12 years ago. "His sense of humor, his keen wit were amazing ... his mind was as sharp as that of a young man. He had a deep sense of spirituality. He was a tremendous influence on my life and he helped me to realize how much God really loves us," McCarty said. "He was my hero and mentor, a wonderful man and a beautiful servant of God."
Father Babb was born in Brockton, Mass., on Dec. 24, 1914. One of 11 children, he followed his oldest brother into the Jesuit order upon graduation from Boston College High School. According to a 1996 Georgia Bulletin article on his jubilee year, Father Babb's reason for joining the Jesuits was simple. "I went to a Jesuit high school, I admired the teachers. I liked the work they did and their spirit. My brother was a Jesuit, why not be a Jesuit? I never changed my mind," he said.
He came south to Louisiana for seminary and has spent the rest of his life in the southern province as a superior, rector or director. Father Babb moved to Atlanta in 1991 and served as associate director of Ignatius House Retreat Center until 1993 and as director until 1996.
His two main functions as director have been "to preach the retreat movement and raise funds to keep it going," he explained in the article. The weekend retreats are scheduled regularly throughout the year and according to Father Babb are "open to people of all religions or no religion."
"It's amazing what happens here on weekends. . . miracles. . . as a result of the graces of the retreat," Father Babb said.
He spoke of prayer and Scripture and the place they have in all people's lives. "During retreat, we teach you how to use Scripture. We teach through lecture and lectio divina, the oldest form in the church going back to the 4th century and the Benedictine monks. You take something and read it, and stop, read it and stop, mull over it. Secondly, we're trying to get out of our heads and into our feelings. Feelings, imagine Catholics talking about feelings, that's Protestant, right? Oh, no, it isn't Protestant at all, it's very good because we're human."
Father Babb refered to Father Anthony deMello, the late Jesuit writer, who says, "Until we get back to our senses we aren't praying." According to Father Babb there are two obstacles to prayer, intellectualizing and nervous tension. He explains that deMello provides exercises in his writings to prepare one to pray through quiet and meditation.
When asked if there was one particular person who has inspired him in his life, he named an American Jesuit, Father Lawrence Gillick, a young blind priest who led him in a 30-day retreat about 10 years ago. "He changed my spirituality. I had an experience in that retreat that showed me my utter helplessness. You cannot do it. You are helpless, which I knew but had never experienced before." The gist is that we are helpless without God, he explained. "We are achievers, we are controllers. We bring that to prayer and we flop."
That philosophy continued almost to the day he died. "The man never retired," said Ignatius House director Bob Fitzgerald. "He stayed on to help direct retreats, to provide the sacramental aspects of the retreats and the individual spiritual direction. He focused so emphatically on the real mission of providing retreats based on the Ignatius charism and spiritual exercises. Someone hopefully will follow him, but nobody will fill his space. He was an incredibly discerning man, a very wise man and a gently demanding man," said Fitzgerald, who said Father Babb was his spiritual director for the last two years. "He was constantly being a companion and directing, was pointing out things you are struggling with that you may not realize you are not fully aware of." His manner, which redirected questions back to the questioner, helped people become aware of what the true issue was, Fitzgerald said.
Father Babb had been seriously ill for a short period of time, and had been struggling with respiratory problems and a need for dialysis. "He died with great peace, courage and gratitude," Fitzgerald said.