Remembering Jesuit Fr. Robert Araujo

Oct. 22, 2015 – Please join us in prayer for the soul of Fr. Robert Araujo, SJ, who passed away on October 21, at Campion Center. Click here to view Fr. Araujo’s obituary. 

Last year, JESUITS magazine featured a profile on Fr. Araujo’s vocation. The article has been reproduced below.

Using the Law to Help Humanity 

By Alyson Krueger

At the age of five, when family and friends started asking Fr. Robert John Araujo, SJ, now a 65-year-old Jesuit with jet black hair, a stern face, and dark-rimmed glasses, what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered without hesitation “I’m going to be a priest.” His mother’s response: “No, you are not.” 

Fr. Araujo’s family, whose ancestry is Portuguese, lived in Dighton, a small town in southeastern Massachusetts, where they struggled to make a living as farmers. His mother dreamed that her eldest son would choose a career in law or medicine, one that would supply wealth in addition to prestige. 

For years Fr. Araujo listened to his mother, securing a law degree from Georgetown University and working in high-end law firms. He had “nice homes, a nice car, and nice vacations.” 

But his dream of becoming a Catholic priest, particularly a Jesuit, never disappeared, and when he was 35 he took the leap.   

What his mother never foresaw was that it was the life of a Jesuit, not a lawyer, that afforded her son the opportunities he lacked growing up.

Fr. Araujo met with Pope Francis when he was in Rome for the International Catholic Legislative Network and the International Jurists Network meetings.
The priesthood allowed for postgraduate studies in law at both Columbia and Oxford. It led him to an endowed chair position at Loyola University Chicago. It brought him into the Vatican’s diplomatic service where he represented the Holy See at the United Nations, working on issues as vital as child trafficking and other matters of international criminal courts. It was as a Jesuit that he published three books as well as articles in prestigious law publications including the Loyola Law Journal and the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. And perhaps most importantly, his life as a Jesuit has enabled him to approach law with a humane and compassionate mindset, something he could not always do in the corporate or government world. 

Fr. Araujo said, “When my mother would ask, ‘Why are you doing this, you aren’t going to be a lawyer anymore?’ I would say, ‘Mom, I’m still going to be a lawyer, and I’m going to be something in addition. I’m going to be more rather than less.’” 

Fr. Araujo  grew up as a Catholic in a religious household and attended Mass every Sunday and on holy days. But it wasn’t until he reached Georgetown University as an undergraduate that he started to get to know the Jesuits. “At the time there were a number of Jesuits who were teaching in the classroom, and I could see myself being one of them one day,” he explained. “I was impressed by their love for the classroom, their ideas and values and for their strength as great pastors.” 

Following his mother’s advice and faced with peer pressure (at his first college reunion over 90 percent of the class was either a lawyer or a doctor) Fr. Araujo attended Georgetown Law School and then served as a commissioned officer stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia during the Vietnam War, an experience that taught him what it meant to “serve others in a meaningful way.” After the war, he worked as a lawyer for the United States Department of the Interior before moving on to the litigation department of the original Standard Oil Company. 

After meeting with several Jesuits including his former dean at Georgetown he was ready to take the step he always wanted: to join the Society of Jesus. 

When he was at the post office about to slip his final paperwork in the mail he asked himself and God, “Am I doing the right thing?” Fr. Araujo said he heard a very audible voice declare, “Of course you are.” 

During his nine years of Jesuit formation, Fr. Araujo received an education he never could have imagined. 

Fr. Araujo with his mother at his ordination in 1993
He journeyed to a village outside of Amman, Jordan to teach in a grade school where he endured extreme heat and a volatile political situation. He received a research fellowship at Columbia University where he wrote his dissertation on the then controversial topic of using legislative history to interpret statutes. He went to Oxford where he studied under Sir Ian Brownlie, a world-renowned international law scholar.   

The fascinating part of his studies was learning how to use each law to help humanity. He started asking tough questions such as, “Why do we have this law? What is its purpose? What is its objective? Who is it going to help? Who is it going to harm?” As a Jesuit lawyer, he experienced the need to promote the moral good, the common good. 

After he was ordained to the priesthood in 1993, he became a professor of law at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., where he encouraged his students to bring values formed by an objective moral order rather than subjectivity into their study of law.  “Because of him, I think I always try to look at things from a perspective that I wouldn’t necessarily have done before,” said Ronald Rychlak, a current law professor at the University of Mississippi who learned and worked under Fr. Araujo. Fr. Araujo then taught at Loyola University in Chicago as a professor of law, where he was the inaugural holder of the John Courtney Murray, SJ, University Professorship. 

As a legal advisor to the Vatican Secretary of State in the United Nations – a position he has held since 1997 – he has demanded that the international community advocate for humanity as well. 

While sitting on the committee responsible for human rights, Fr. Araujo made sure that handicapped populations were able to get access to good health care. He fought against child trafficking. He sought out opportunities to bring about peaceful resolutions to internal civil war situations and worked on the committee charged with creating an international criminal court (while it currently exists in The Hague, the court has not yet been accepted by the United States or the Holy See.) 

Everything Fr. Araujo does, from teaching law to working in the United Nations, he does in the service of this Church that he has loved and believed in since he was five years old.

And it is this passion and devotion that his mother finally saw in her son. 

Fr. Araujo said, “Finally, I could see that she was proud.” 

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