TAMPA — Father Francis Brou, a favorite of generations of Jesuit High School students, is gearing up for another year as chaplain of the Catholic school on Himes Avenue.
He's 88 years old and said he has no plans to stop working.
"Well, you have to be doing something, you know,'' he said with a grin, "and this is a place where I feel comfortable doing something.''
Monday marks the 70th anniversary of the day he entered the Society of Jesus to become a priest, and the student body is set to honor him during a convocation at the beginning of the school day. Ordained in 1961, he started at Jesuit High School in 1964, where he taught algebra, trigonometry, three religion classes and French.
Students from his early days at Jesuit and from the recent past are expected to talk during the convocation about life lessons learned from Father Brou. And today he is being feted at a small private luncheon at the Columbia Restaurant with restaurateur Richard Gonzmart, class of 1971, and a few other alums of the era.
Brou, who describes himself as a "country boy'' from Edgard, La., has taught in such far-flung places as India and Sri Lanka, South Africa and Japan. He served two stints at Jesuit, leaving in 1971 and returning in 2006. He left for a year in 2015 and returned in 2016.
Changes in especially science and technology over the decades meant that the later students at Jesuit, a college preparatory school, had tougher courses, Brou said. "If you look through textbooks from the '60s and today, then you'll immediately notice the difference.'' He took a biology class along with the ninth grade students in recent years and was surprised at how much more complex the subject had become.
Brou had planned to be a dentist when he first entered Loyola University in New Orleans. Two years later, he decided he wanted to be a Jesuit priest.
He appreciates the Jesuit order, founded in 1540 by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, because "the society has always adapted its ministry to the needs of the time,'' he said. "That is the main thing.'' Among other pursuits, the Jesuits are known for their work in education.
Despite all his years of teaching, Father Brou said he was never as comfortable in front of a class as he has been counseling students. Though he talks to students about their futures, it's their spiritual future he's most concerned with.
"They come to me for consulting about their faith, religion, confessions and so on,'' he said. The work is gratifying, and he said he will continue to do for as long as he can get around and talk. He has trouble with his voice, which is low and hoarse these days. Otherwise, he feels pretty good, "all things considered.''
The venerable priest has a strong influence on students, said Father Richard C. Hermes, president of Jesuit. They hang out in his office, stop by to see him when they come home from college.
"Father's got a great grasp of the spiritual vision of the church, spirituality of the Jesuit order and a lot of life experience that he brings to bear when he gives them advice,'' said Hermes.
He also has had an influence on the school's prinicipal, Barry J. Neuburger.
"The spirit of God animates his life,'' Neuburger said. "He just sees God in everything. He sees beauty in creation and people. Never judges.''
Neuburger said he may be lecturing a student, exhibiting "that principal heavy brow, and I'll catch (Father Brou) just giving me that little smile, and he just brings a moment of perspective, just grounds me,'' as if saying, " 'They're just young men — take it easy.' ''
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.