On Tuesday, December 7, 2021, Arnie Shafer, the provincial assistant for health care for the Jesuits West Province, died suddenly after a brief illness. For more than 10 years, Arnie managed the health care needs of the West Coast Jesuits. Although he worked on-site at the province’s retirement/health care community, Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, in Los Gatos, California, Arnie’s reach extended throughout the 10-state province.
A trusted colleague and friend, Arnie was known for his unflappability, his great good humor and his fierce devotion to the Jesuits of the province and to his extraordinary team. Sometimes Arnie had the difficult task of helping smooth the way for Jesuits reluctant to move to Sacred Heart Jesuit Center when their health care needs required them to do so. Each and every time this happened, he managed transitions with care and grace. And for nearly two years, Arnie has helped the province navigate the coronavirus pandemic. While his decisions, including long months of quarantine and lockdown for the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center community, were not always popular, there was never any question that his actions were motivated by one thing only: his deep love for those he referred to as “my Jesuits.”
We asked some friends and colleagues who knew Arnie well to share some reflections:
John Privett, SJ, former superior, Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos, California
I worked with Arnie Shafer for 10 years and have never, in my 82 years, enjoyed working with anyone as much as with him. His care for all of us was honest, kind, respectful, professional. He clearly loved us all—“in sickness and in health.” I am extremely grateful for the time we worked together. He taught me a lot about “care” and “service,” two things we Jesuits like to trumpet in our posters and publications. I will miss him very much!
Sean Carroll, SJ, provincial, Jesuits West
While, sadly, I did not get to work with Arnie for long, even in the last few months I developed such deep admiration and trust for this wonderful person who cared so deeply about the Jesuits of our province. Truly, it was humbling to see him do his job, which was a vocation in every sense of the word. God blessed us when he sent Arnie Shafer to serve the province 10 years ago, and may God now bless Arnie in his eternal rest. He has the prayers and gratitude of us all.
John P. McGarry, SJ, president, Jesuit High School Sacramento
I am sad to learn of Arnie Shafer’s death. He was a wonderful person. One of the last things I did when I was finishing my term as provincial of the Jesuits of the then-California Province was to hire Arnie Shafer as Provincial Assistant for Health Care. Arnie impressed me in the interview process, and I was moved by his wholehearted dedication and commitment in his work over the last 10 years. He cared deeply for the Jesuits at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, whether a Jesuit was missioned there or visiting for a time of healing. Though I never had the opportunity to work with Arnie as provincial after I hired him and then completed my term of service, I certainly have benefitted from his care, concern and wise health care advice over these years in dealing with my own personal health issues. Well done, dear Arnie, good and faithful servant. Godspeed. Enjoy eternal life with God whom you loved and served so well. Thank you for all that you did for the province, for so many Jesuits and for me. I am forever grateful.
Rita Kebebe, director of nursing, Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos, California
I was shocked to learn of Arnie’s passing. Arnie was compassionate and a wonderful leader. It was a great privilege and opportunity to work with him. May his soul rest in peace!
Dick Case SJ, assistant superior, Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos, California
When I first arrived at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos some five years ago, I did not know the community or the surroundings. Arnie and John Privett, who served as superior for 14 years until very recently, had been working together for about five years at that time. They both knew all about the men at Sacred Heart, and they knew the local area. I was always impressed with how well Arnie knew what was happening with the medical needs of the men and how well he knew the men. He was very patient with me especially during those times when John Privett was away and I was left as acting superior. I loved working with Arnie in so many different ways. May he rest in peace.
Julie Johnson, director of recreation services, Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos, California
I am still processing the shock I felt when I first heard the news of Arnie’s sudden death. I knew he had been away from the office “out sick”, “working remotely”, but had no idea he would never return. I pass by Arnie’s office every single day, multiple times per day, and he was always so kind to hear me out if I needed to run some ideas or questions by him. He was a good boss, he taught me a lot. Arnie will indeed be hard to replace and yet lives on in our 10-seater vehicle known as “The Arnie” dedicated to the man who worked hard to get the right van for our Jesuits to travel in on their various outings. I am thankful to know that he didn’t have to suffer long through his illness. We will miss you very much and are eternally grateful to all you guided us through over the years. May you be at peace and in God’s presence. We will continue to work hard with “Your Jesuits”.
Lisa Bishop Smith, RN, regional health care coordinator, Jesuits West Province
I’m so saddened by Arnie’s unexpected death; the province has lost someone very special. Ten years ago, I can remember sitting on the interview board when we were looking for someone to serve as the provincial assistant for health care. We interviewed a couple of other candidates but once we spent time with Arnie we knew he was the perfect fit. Arnie was always available and supportive in situations that could prove to be very challenging. His courageous leadership through the pandemic will always be remembered. I will miss my trusted colleague and my partner for the occasional perfect martini!
Scott Santarosa, SJ, former provincial, Jesuits West Province
Arnie loved us Jesuits like his own brothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers. He treated all with great respect and compassion, and yet he was not afraid to make a recommendation or decision for the good of a man, even if the man might not like it. I know many Jesuits trusted him because he was so easy to confide in and he was discrete. I looked forward to visiting with him and laughing with him long into the future, but that was not to pass. I know many Jesuits are throwing a party for him in heaven. We love you, Arnie! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Tom O’Neill, SJ, superior, Sacramento Jesuit Community
In my role as superior, I have had to transition probably eight Jesuits to Sacred Heart Jesuit Center and deal with others who had serious health issues. Arnie was so helpful and so kind in those difficult moments. There was one very cantankerous Jesuit who was in chronic ill health who was very annoyed at the province for just about everything. When Arnie came up to meet him, the Jesuit’s attitude changed completely, and he was just so appreciative. Arnie had a true sensitivity and understanding for how hard it is for a Jesuit to leave ministry to move to Los Gatos, but he also had a clarity and a firmness that was truly the sweet spot. Working with Arnie was so helpful in getting the guys to realize this was something they needed to do, which made my job as superior much easier. Thank you, my friend, for the time, love and energy you invested in all of us.
Mike Gilson, SJ, socius, Jesuits West Province
Jesuits West is blessed with so many wonderful lay companions, women and men who wholeheartedly embrace our shared mission. Arnie was a devoted companion who embraced his mission with joy and heart. He lovingly cared for the Jesuits throughout the Province, and especially for the men at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center whom he often referred to as “my Jesuits.”
Well done, good and faithful servant. We already miss you terribly. Rest now in peace.
Natch Ohno, SJ, delegate for senior Jesuits, Jesuits West Province
As we mark the December anniversary of so many who died at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, the news of Arnie Shafer’s death leaves even more of a void in the vibrancy Arnie’s presence filled at Sacred Heart. Arnie—professional, competent, caring, colleague and friend—cared for all of us. I will miss Arnie in meetings and in trips; in his humor and in the goodness he shared as he went about the task of living he saw before him. May Arnie rest in peace from the labors of a life well lived.
Winie Tunggono, accounting and finance director, Jesuits West Province
I am terribly shocked by this news.
I have always thought of Arnie as a very friendly, kind and wonderful colleague and friend.
I remember a few years ago when my mother was struggling with cancer and experiencing hallucinations post-surgery. Arnie came to my office and talked to me about what to expect after surgery and the potential side effects caused by anesthesia and medication. He was so knowledgeable and calming, and he put me completely at ease. He assured me that my mom would be fine, and she is.
He was a wonderful colleague. He was very open, helpful, supportive and collegial. I will miss him dearly. Rest in peace, Arnie.
Claribell Revelez, associate for formation and international ministries, Jesuits West Province
What a tribute to the human soul. We were blessed with Arnie’s kindness, strength and perseverance, leading and guiding the province Jesuits and staff throughout these years and especially through the pandemic. In the train ride of this challenging life, Arnie reached his destination a little earlier, but his spirit will always be present.
Joe O’Keefe, SJ, administrator, Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos, California
Arnie and I met many times over the years, but we only became colleagues and friends since I started working at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in the summer of 2021. In these past months, we had reason to be in contact many times a day. I knew of his legendary care for the Jesuits of the West, and it was a privilege to work alongside him if only for a far too short period of time. May he be cared for now with the same gentleness that he cared for so many; may he be greeted in paradise by the many Jesuits he guided there during their own final years, months and days. Thank you, Arnie Shafer, for your humility, humor and compassion.
Sonny Manuel, SJ, province safety delegate, Jesuits West Province
I am grateful to Arnie for speaking the truth, often the truth we did not want to hear—about diminishment, health guidelines, safe travel, etc. In my various roles in the province, I was also grateful that Arnie listened well and let the truth others spoke challenge him and help him find the wisest path forward for all parties.
When I wanted to join front line workers during the pandemic, Arnie let me plead my case and supported my deployment as long as I took appropriate precautions when I returned. He understood and cared for our deepest desires in ministry and in our personal lives.
I remember him as a genuinely humble man who put others first and walked our talk and somehow found God in all of us.
Thank you, Arnie!
Tom Smolich, SJ, international director, Jesuit Refugee Service
Arnie was always terrific. I knew him in two guises. One was as a member of the province living overseas. He was always helpful, connecting me with who I needed to see when I was home, etc.
This summer I was a resident of SHJC for almost three months recovering from spinal surgery. He was even better in that role—listening, pushing gently, reminding me that it would get better…as it did!
Arnie’s dedication to all of us made a huge difference for the province. RIP.
Tracey Primrose, provincial assistant for communications, Jesuits West Province
Over the course of the last few years, I have had the great privilege of working closely with Arnie. The one thing I can say is that if you’re in the trenches, navigating a global pandemic, there is really only one person you want by your side and that is Arnie Shafer. Arnie fought so hard to keep the Jesuits safe—both at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center and in every community in our vast province. Tragically, though, we learned that even the unstoppable force known as Arnie was not enough to quell an insidious virus. During the height of the terribleness when there were more than 40 infected at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center and ambulances were stacked up in the circular drive with guys, fearful and gravely ill, being taken away not knowing if they would ever return home, Arnie was the calm in the storm. What an exceptional leader, the very epitome of grace under pressure. I will miss everything about you, Arnie, your smile, your laugh, your friendship, the way you always did the right thing. God bless you and thank you. We love you.
Siobhán Lawlor, vice president for Advancement & provincial assistant, Jesuits West Province
Arnie’s sudden passing was such a shock. Caring for the senior Jesuits was not just a job for Arnie, it was a calling and he was really wonderful at what he did. It was obvious he truly cared about the men and that was reciprocal. I repeatedly witnessed Arnie going above and beyond for “his guys” to make sure they had the best care. When COVID hit Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Arnie was there 24/7 doing all he could during a terrible time. He loved these men and had a gentleness about him that will be hard to replace. I will miss him—he was a friend! May he rest in peace.
John Mossi, SJ, director of benefactor relations, Jesuits West Province
Arnie was remarkable in his dedicated and professional quality care of Jesuits entering their senior years at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos, as well as throughout the entire Jesuits West Province. Arnie set the health care bar at the highest level.
Lorina Herbst, webmaster/graphic designer, Jesuits West Province
I’m still processing the shocking news of Arnie Shafer. I always knew him as a humble and gentle man to care for our senior Jesuits. He had a BIG heart on what he does, and he did it well. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:23. You will always be remembered as a dear friend and colleague. May you rest in peace, Arnie.
If you have a reflection you’d like to share, please contact Tracey Primrose at firstname.lastname@example.org.