Jesuit Father Theodore Kalamaja remembered as ‘shining beacon’

Jesuit Father Theodore M. Kalamaja left a lasting impression on his students at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha, so much, in fact, that in 2020 a former student donated a major gift to the high school to create a campus ministry center to be named after the priest.

The donor wrote to Father Kalamaja’s superior in Wisconsin at the time, saying “that rarely does a day go by that I don’t think about” Father Kalamaja. “It is virtually impossible to put into words what he did for me in my formation to manhood. He was one of my father’s dearest friends and he was a shining beacon for me. There is no way I would be where I am today without him,” the donor wrote.

“He focused on me and taught me some amazing things about God, the world, and myself. He taught me Greek, Latin, and started me writing poetry. The twinkle in his eyes and the wry smile on his face are forever etched in my memory. I could never do enough to repay him.”

Father Kalamaja – who graduated from Creighton Prep in 1953 – taught Latin, Greek and religion at the school from 1968 to 1982.

The beloved priest died May 8 at St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. He was 89.

A Memorial Mass was offered May 27 at St. Camillus. His cremated remains were buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Milwaukee.

Father Kalamaja was born in Sioux City, Iowa, to Theodore J. and  Cecelia (McCreary) Kalamaja.

He entered the Society of Jesus in 1953 in Florissant, Missouri, and was ordained a priest in Omaha in 1967. In 1976 he professed his final vows at Creighton Prep.

“Father Kalamaja was a dynamic Latin teacher and a theology teacher who asked thought provoking questions of students as a means to deepening their faith,” said Jesuit Father Bob Tillman, a counselor and former cross country coach at Creighton Prep.

“He also coached cross country throughout his time at Creighton Prep, including the state championship team in 1974 and the state runner-up team in 1975,” Father Tillman said. “He was the one who introduced me to the sport of cross country which was the beginning of my 27-year coaching career. I will always be grateful to him. He gave me his stopwatch when he moved on from coaching and I have been using to this day.”

After teaching at Prep, Father Kalamaja served as a parish priest in Milwaukee for two years. Then for 27 years he was a prison chaplain in Louisiana.

Father Kalamaja loved teaching the incarcerated men about Jesus and the Gospels, his religious community said. He taught many of them – even some who were illiterate – Latin and Greek, enabling them to read much of the New Testament in its original Greek.

“Ted was remarkable for his service to the poor in prison,” one of his brother priests, Jesuit Father Pat Burns, said, “and for his untiring efforts to make the riches of the Christian Bible available to them.”

Father Kalamaja was preceded in death by his parents, brothers Frederick and James, and sister Mary Potter.

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