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Holy Cross Alumni Jesuits Reflect on Their Paths on Their Paths to, Away From and Back to the College

Class of 1972 and Holy Cross Jesuit Community members Rev. Jim Hayes, S.J., and Rev. Ed Vodoklys, S.J., celebrate their 50th Class Reunion
July 27th, 2022 by 

Rev. James "Jim" Hayes, S.J., '72, associate chaplain for faith formation, left, and Rev. Edward "Ed" Vodoklys, S.J., '72, senior lecturer in classics, pictured at the Jesuit residence. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Holy Cross)

The Holy Cross class of 1972 at their 50th reunion.

Fr. Hayes serves communion to Fr. Vodoklys at the class of 1972 50th Reunion Mass at St. Joseph Memorial Chapel.

When the class of 1972 returned to campus in June to celebrate its 50th reunion, two classmates didn’t have far to travel. In fact, as part of the College of the Holy Cross’ Jesuit community, they are the only members of the class who still live on campus: Rev. James “Jim” Hayes, S.J., ’72, associate chaplain for faith formation, and Rev. Edward “Ed” Vodoklys, S.J., ’72, senior lecturer in classics.

Combined, they have spent more than half a century on Mount St. James, providing pastoral care to the College community and, in Fr. Vodoklys’ case, also teaching. They have witnessed marriage vows for hundreds of alumni and baptized dozens of Crusader children. And they have been a comforting, familiar presence during the darkest hours for countless families, presiding over many alumni funerals, including those of their own classmates.

As they prepared to welcome friends and classmates back to campus, Frs. Hayes and Vodoklys reflected on their own journeys to, away from — and, ultimately, back to the College — and how their home on The Hill shaped their paths.

Rev. James “Jim” Hayes, S.J., ’72
Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan → Holy Cross

Fr. Hayes grew up in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, the second of five sons. “As a little boy, I wanted to be a priest. That kind of consumed me until I was maybe 12, and then girls were in the picture and I kind of forgot about that,” he chuckles. He turned his ambitions to becoming an architect or, perhaps, a lawyer, inspired by his dad. His father, the late Neil B. Hayes ’32, was a Holy Cross alumnus and an attorney for the Archdiocese of Detroit and various charitable organizations. “He was a real man of integrity,” Fr. Hayes says. “He was well respected and trusted, and I really admired that about him.”

When it came time to think about college, it was Fr. Hayes’ mother, the late Mary Elizabeth Hayes, who encouraged him to apply to Holy Cross: “My mother would go to the reunions with [my father], and she just really respected the Holy Cross men.” Fr. Hayes applied and was accepted early decision.

At Holy Cross, Fr. Hayes was a busy English major and Naval ROTC member. He worked on the yearbook, served as a Big Brother and joined a scholarship committee to support the College’s efforts to increase diversity. “What was most formative was what was going on in the world around us,” Fr. Hayes says. This included a country and College grappling with racism, as well as protests amid the ongoing Vietnam War. A quick look at “Thy Honored Name,” a history of the College written by the late Rev. Anthony J. Kuzniewski, S.J., reveals just how charged these years on campus were, Fr. Hayes says: “Almost every chapter covers about 10 years, except for one chapter, which covers the exact four years that Ed and I were students, because there was so much going on.”

Holy Cross → The United States Navy

It was the end of sophomore year when Fr. Hayes’ brother Neil — a 24-year-old newlywed expecting his first child — got orders for the Vietnam War and was sent overseas. A month later, Fr. Hayes was driving home with a friend for the summer. “I remember vividly: It was probably about two o’clock in the morning. I was driving, and I was thinking about my brother Neil, and I felt this burning sensation through my body and something told me to pray for him. So I pulled out my rosary and prayed the rosary,” Fr. Hayes recalls.

Days later, while at his summer job at a local bank, Fr. Hayes received a call: Come home immediately. “I went right home and came into the house, and my mother said, ‘We’ve lost Neil.'” He had been killed in action — the same day Fr. Hayes had been driving home. “He was in a small helicopter, going ahead to check out the terrain because his platoon was going to be moving forward, and they shot it down,” Fr. Hayes says. “This burning sensation [I’d experienced] was very significant.”

Friends, family and the Holy Cross community rallied around him. “Two Jesuits and a lay professor came all the way to Detroit for the funeral,” Fr. Hayes says. “I was very touched by that and I saw how important it is to be involved in the ministry of consolation — helping people at a time of loss.”

After graduation, Fr. Hayes began fulfilling his three-year commitment to the U.S. Navy. One evening, walking home from a movie on the Norfolk naval base, “this incredible feeling of peace” came over him. “A voice said, ‘You’re going to be a Jesuit priest,'” Fr. Hayes recalls. “It was so clear, so peaceful. And I’m convinced, now, that it was my brother speaking to me.” His naval service ended in 1975 and he entered the Society of Jesus three months later.

Jesuit Formation → Holy Cross

In 1985, Fr. Hayes was ordained on campus at St. Joseph Memorial Chapel, two and a half weeks after his father died. “That was hard, but I felt his spirit with me because he had gone to Holy Cross.” During his Jesuit formation, he met Mother Teresa on a “powerful” trip to India, ministered in Jamaica during a time of intense violence and anointed dying patients at an AIDS clinic in Kampala, Uganda. He served in campus ministry at Fairfield University and Holy Cross before becoming vocation director for the then New England Province of the Society of Jesus. In 2004, he returned to Holy Cross, where he’s served ever since. “It’s a real privilege,” he reflects. “I can’t give much treasure [to the College], but I can give my time and talent back.”

At Holy Cross, Fr. Hayes started the “Good Grief” support group, offering students a place to share stories and find healing after loss — having never forgotten how the College community embraced him following his brother’s death: “My motto is, ‘Treat the dead as if they’re alive and treat the living as if they’re dying.’ That mindset … it’s been liberating.”

“Jim has brought many gifts to his work in the Chaplains’ Office; three stand out for me. First, Jim always takes an interest in everyone he meets,” says Marybeth Kearns-Barrett ’84, director of the Office of the College Chaplains. “Whether student, custodian, faculty member or parent, he loves to get to know people, find out what brought them to Holy Cross and learn how things are going for them on campus. His ministry to members of the community who have lost a loved one is also notable. Not only does he write to each person who is grieving, but he also invites them to his famous Good Grief dinners, where each month he gathers those who are mourning a loss to be in community with one another and share stories of their loved ones. Finally, Jim is a great bridge builder and friend who seeks to be a sign of reconciliation in everything he does.”

“Fr. Hayes has played a significant role in my life as a student and a colleague since 1995,” says Megan Fox-Kelly ’99, associate chaplain and director of retreats. “Fr. Hayes was a chaplain at Holy Cross during my years here as an undergraduate student. I traveled to Mexico with Fr. Hayes on an immersion trip in May of 1999. During this experience, he helped me to experience God in the lives of the poor and the marginalized whom we met in Mexico. He helped me to ask hard yet important questions about justice and he gently challenged me to think about my role in working for a more just world.”

The Holy Cross class of 1972 at their 50th reunion.

Approaching his 50th reunion, Fr. Hayes was feeling eager to welcome classmates back to campus, alongside his friend and fellow Jesuit. “Ed and I have been friends since freshman year,” he shares. “We would go to daily Mass together … I was thrilled when he became a Jesuit, too.” Fr. Hayes noted he was most looking forward to forming new bonds with alumni. “I like to get to know people I didn’t know well, especially at the reunions,” he says. “I just enjoy people. I’m fascinated by their journeys and their stories.”

“Ever since Jim Hayes and I entered the New England Novitiate together in 1975, I have been deeply impressed by his pastoral ability, based on a deep and passionate spirituality and a remarkable ability to connect with everyone he meets,” says Rev. Michael McFarland, S.J., president emeritus of Holy Cross. “He can enter a room of 30 strangers and leave an hour later with 30 lifetime friends. Years later, he will not only remember a person’s name, but the name of his or her mother and her medical history, the names of all the siblings, where they went to school and so on. No wonder he has such a large and devoted following.”

Rev. Edward “Ed” Vodoklys, S.J., ’72

Winthrop, Massachusetts → Holy Cross

Fr. Vodoklys grew up in Winthrop, Massachusetts, with his parents and older sister. “I was into academics at a really young age,” he recalls. One day, he opened up his grandfather’s Greek and Latin textbooks from college. The discovery kicked off a lifelong love of classics and language.

“Education was key for my family,” he says. “I was born in 1950 with cerebral palsy, and I was very lucky that the doctor who delivered me — his nurse was also a physical therapist. She then trained my folks to help me, so every day I was doing physical therapy. The irony is, upon reflection, we never called it a handicap. I never really thought of it as ‘cerebral palsy’ until I got to high school or college, so I was always mainstreamed.”

He attended Boston College High School — one of his first encounters with the Jesuits, he says. “I had several people at BC High say to me, ‘You’re going to Holy Cross,’ specifically because classics is such a strong department,” he recalls. They were right. He was accepted, earning a full scholarship thanks to his academics. (“I also applied to Boston College, but I knew that I was going to go to Holy Cross,” he smiles.)

Holy Cross → Harvard University

At Holy Cross, Fr. Vodoklys excelled in academics, majoring in classics and minoring in German. “My roommate and I were the first ones to start Classics Day,” he recalls. The beloved annual tradition, which invites regional high school students to campus to learn about Roman culture, continues today.

The Holy Cross of Fr. Vodoklys’ era was moving toward coeducation, but was not quite there yet. (Except, he says, for that one week in 1969 when a blizzard stranded a group of women visiting from New York colleges. “I found a letter I’d written to my mother that said something to the effect of: ‘They don’t know what to do with us. We’re having mixers in the middle of the week,'” he chuckles.)

Campus life was often overshadowed by the Vietnam War, he notes, recalling how the stress of the draft lottery hung over campus and his classmates.

While mostly focused on academics as a student, Fr. Vodoklys also read the nightly news on the College’s radio station. In 1969, the College’s Black Student Union (BSU) staged a walkout following the suspension of a disproportionate number of Black students after an on-campus protest. That night, he broadcast the BSU’s demands over the WCHC airwaves. Looking back, he says it’s one of his most poignant moments at the College.

As a senior, Fr. Vodoklys was named a Fenwick Scholar, the highest academic honor a student can receive at the College. He studied “the German literati’s interpretation of Sophoclean tragedy,” a combination of his two passions, German and classics. After graduation, he turned his sights to Harvard University.

Fr. Hayes serves Communion to Fr. Vodoklys at the class of 1972 50th Reunion Mass at St. Joseph Memorial Chapel.

Jesuit Formation → Holy Cross

At Harvard, Fr. Vodoklys earned a master’s and Ph.D. in classical philology, the study of ancient Greek and Latin texts. While there, a devastating accident led to a vocational awakening. “During a blizzard, I broke my tibia and fibula in my right leg and was laid up for 18 weeks. It was quite the experience — that was part of my discernment,” Fr. Vodoklys says. He had considered becoming a Jesuit before, but this experience only deepened his desire. He taught classics at The Ohio State University before ultimately following his calling to the Society of Jesus. In 1991, he was ordained at St. Joseph Memorial Chapel at Holy Cross.

As part of his Jesuit formation, Fr. Vodoklys studied philosophy and worked as a chaplain at Loyola University Chicago, ministered in Jamaica and lectured off and on at Holy Cross. In 1995, he was named senior lecturer in classics at the College, a title he’s held ever since.

“I was really fortunate to take a course with Ed my senior year,” says Tim Joseph ’98, professor of classics at Holy Cross. “This was a Latin prose composition class — a really hard topic — and ‘Fr. V,’ as we called him, was demanding but brought a humorous approach that kept it light.

“And now I’ve had years as Ed’s colleague on the fourth floor of Fenwick,” he continues. “A familiar sight when I walk by his office is Ed engaged in patient listening with a student or two. He is extraordinarily generous with his time and in sharing the tools of decision-making through discernment. And he continues to teach me, for instance in the conversations we had when teaching together in the Divine Cluster in Montserrat. He shared brilliant insights about connections in myth and storytelling across cultures, and I’ve brought a lot of these insights into my own classes.”

Fr. Vodoklys’ favorite course to teach introduces students to the principles of discernment via the Spiritual Exercises, classical texts and the Bible. For their final projects, students wrestle with a decision of their own, applying practical skills of discernment. “It’s been interesting to see how discernment has helped people,” Fr. Vodoklys says. He’s received notes from former students, even years later, thanking him for the course and detailing how discernment helped them make important choices in their lives — from career decisions to religious callings.

In 1998, Fr. Vodoklys and Rev. Gerry McKeon, S.J., ’76 started a vocation discernment group at the College, an effort that has produced five alumni Jesuits, who are now members of the Society of Jesus’ East, Midwest and West provinces: “A real grace to celebrate as we begin to mark the group’s 25th year,” he says.

Throughout the years, Fr. Vodoklys has lived in Carlin Hall, Wheeler Hall, Brooks Hall (first as a student, then as a Jesuit), Campion House and now Ciampi Hall. “I’ve spent half my life here,” he laughs. Approaching reunion, he’s excited. “I’m looking forward to seeing people I haven’t seen for a while,” says Fr. Vodoklys, ready to welcome classmates back to his home — and theirs — on Mount St. James.

“Ed Vodoklys represents the very best of the Jesuit mission and presence at Holy Cross,” Fr. McFarland says. “He brings enormous intellectual gifts as a former Fenwick Scholar and Harvard Ph.D., which he has selflessly shared with generations of students and colleagues in the classics department, along with his scholarly contributions to his field and to the Church. Just as significant is the patient, humble, loving care he has shown to many hundreds of students and alumni, friends and associates. He spends hours each day at his computer maintaining contact with a vast array of correspondents, while also being omni-present at liturgies, athletics contests, lectures and other events where the community gathers. He has also played a key role in the impressive number of Jesuit vocations that have come out of Holy Cross. All of this has come in spite of severe physical limitations that would discourage a lesser spirit, but not Ed. He has been a rock and an inspiration to all of us.”

Written by Meredith Fidrocki for the Summer 2022 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Holy Cross Magazine
Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

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