Divine Word Father Robert Jones, a missionary priest who parlayed his care for people into a career as a first responder, died on Monday, May 13, at Techny, Ill., at the age of 80.
“As a vocation director, Bob Jones put his heart and soul into finding good men who felt God’s call,” said Divine Word Brother Donald Champagne, longtime director of the Miramar Retreat Center in Duxbury, Massachusetts. “Through his vocation ministry, chaplaincies and marriage enrichment, he nurtured relationships between people. As a priest, paramedic and counselor, he healed those broken in mind, body and spirit.”
The third of John and Grace (nee Myers) Jones’ five children, Robert Jones was born in Boston in 1939. He professed religious vows as a Divine Word Missionary at Conesus, N.Y., in 1959. Ordained to the priesthood in 1968, he hoped his first assignment would be to Papua New Guinea. Instead, he was assigned to serve as a vocation director, based at Divine Word Seminary in Perrysburg, Ohio.
After ten years as a vocation director, he was assigned to Rome for one year and then served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea for two years. In 1980, he was named director of development and vice president of Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa.
While at Epworth, he agreed to serve as chaplain to the Epworth Fire Department—attending meetings, fire drills and emergency calls. The department prepared him for this role by providing training as a firefighter and paramedic.
He was one of a small group of paramedics who were flown to the crash site of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa in July 1989. A total of 195 of the 296 on board the plane survived.
He later used those firsthand experiences of trauma and tragedy to help couples in difficult marriages through programs such as Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille. He served a four-year term as national formation director for Marriage Encounter.
From 1992 to 2014 he was assigned to the Miramar Retreat Center located on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, south of Boston. He directed retreats, preached and offered spiritual direction while serving for several years as rector of the Divine Word community and director of the retreat center.
During his time at Miramar he also visited inmates at the nearby state prison and taught first aid through the American Red Cross in Boston. On weekends, he assisted two area parishes: St. Jerome in Weymouth and St. Margaret in Saugus.
He was transferred to the Divine Word Residence in Techny, Ill., in 2014 for medical reasons. He remained through and through a gregarious Bostonian who never lost his accent or his love for the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics.
Father Jones is survived by his brothers John and Richard and sister Carole Kelly. He was predeceased by his brother Paul. Funeral services and burial took place on May 21 at Techny, Il. There will be a memorial service at Holy Family Church in Duxbury, Mass., on June 29 beginning at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of elderly and infirm missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.