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Jesuit Father Hilbert devoted ministry to Native Americans

Jesuit Father J. Robert Hilbert, an Omaha native who spent many years ministering to Native Americans, died May 19 at the St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wis. He was 88.

A priest for nearly 58 years, Father Hilbert attended Holy Name Grade School and Creighton Preparatory School, both in Omaha, before entering the Society in 1943 at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, Mo.

For nearly 30 years, Father Hilbert served at the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota (1973 to 1982) and the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming (1987 to 1995 and 1998 to 2010).

In Wisconsin, Father Hilbert taught math and served as a rector for two high schools, assisted in retreat ministry and was a member of the province’s tertianship team. He also served as director of a retreat center in Iowa.

Father Hilbert’s listening skills, gentle nature and respect for others earned him the love and trust of the people he ministered to, including Native Americans and Hispanics, said Jesuit Father Daniel J. Gannon, who served with Father Hilbert at Wind River and at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee.

"He was a spiritual father to many," Father Gannon said.

In 2010, Father Hilbert moved to St. Camillus because of declining health and remained there until his death.

A funeral Mass was held May 20 in the chapel at St. Camillus. Graveside services were held May 21 at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Milwaukee.

Father Hilbert’s survivors include a sister, Geraldine Dibelka of Omaha, and a brother, Donald L. Hilbert of Aptos, Calif.