Jack Butler was not going to attend college.
His one clear goal as a teenager – to play college football – was blown up by an injury.
There was no backup plan.
“Life wasn’t working out the way I wanted,” Butler said.
His parents had moved the family from Atlanta to Miami when Butler revealed his “no college” idea. Butler’s mother responded by telling him that without college he had two weeks to move out of the house and fend for himself.
Just then, an epiphany … or divine intervention.
“We were driving on the Palmetto Expressway,” said Butler, referencing where he and his parents were when they told him they would not support him if he decided to skip college. “I looked to my left, and there was a sign that read Biscayne College.”
Butler soon drove over to Biscayne College – now St. Thomas University – and begged to be admitted.
“They took me on a probationary basis,” Butler said. “They said, ‘You will probably transfer out’.”
Determined to prove them wrong, Butler stayed at Biscayne College. This once non-serious student became a scholar, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies in 1985.
He is now officially known as John T. Butler, SJ, and he is a senior leader at Boston College, serving as the Haub Vice President for the Division of Mission and Ministry.
Most people, however, know him simply as “Father Jack.”
He has served in his current role since 2010. Prior to that, he worked at Boston College as a residential minister from 2002 to 2010.
Ordained as a priest in 2000, Butler has served as an educational administrator, a trainedcounselor, and a spiritual director. In addition, he has done prison ministry for 30 years.
Butler has also been the team chaplain for Boston College’s football team for the past 23 years, which may explain how the Eagles beat the Miami Hurricanes in 2018.
There are a number of other degrees/certificates Butler has earned along the way. But none of it – according to Butler – would have happened if not for seeing that Biscayne College sign on the Palmetto Expressway.
Back then, Butler did not know he had dyslexia, a learning disability.
“It wasn’t until I got to Biscayne College – which at the time was run by the Augustinians – that I was told that I was more than what I could do physically,” said Butler, who played linebacker at Atlanta’s Marist High School.
“The Augustinians and the professors at Biscayne College showed me that it was time to think and engage the world intellectually.”
Butler chose Religious Studies as a major because he figured it would be an easy way to get a degree.
But, again, there may have been other forces driving him to his choice.
“I was always a person of faith,” Butler said. “But I hid that from people because it was not the image I wanted to portray.”
Butler said the Augustinians took great interest in his success, and they are the reason he is now a Jesuit priest.
But it was not until Butler was earning his Ph.D. in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola College in 1995 that he was diagnosed with dyslexia.
“I don’t see (dyslexia) as a disability,” Butler said. “I see it as the greatest gift I have. Butthat’s in hindsight. You are talking to a 59-year-old man who has some experience.
“Back then, (dyslexia) made me feel insufficient. It made me doubt who I was – I felt inferior.”
Butler said his dyslexia has helped him teach students that the way we learn is not a one-size-fits-all equation.
His dyslexia has formed him as an educator as he has turned a perceived weakness into a strength.
Butler, for example, is an accomplished public speaker, which he attributes to dyslexia.
“Dyslexia has given me a pretty good memory,” he said. “You have to learn that notes won’t help you because you can’t read them. So, you better concentrate, pay attention and remember.”
Butler said his most cherished title is “companion of Jesus,” and he also takes pride in being a mentor and a friend – in good times and bad.
“I’ve traveled, given speeches and been on important boards, but that doesn’t compare to the person who lets you into his life – whether they are getting married or there is an illness or a death,” said Butler, who starts his days at 5 a.m. and often works until 10 p.m. “Those are the things that humble you and make life worth living and special.”
Butler credits his parents for his foundation, but he also keeps coming back to his time at STU, saying: “When people invest their time in you, the dividends are amazing.”
One of Butler’s proudest moments came in 2016, when he gave the commencement speech at STU, which also gave him an honorary doctorate in humane letters.
“That was a special day for someone who never saw himself in this kind of environment,” Butler said. “I have five degrees, and that’s all because of St. Thomas.
“St. Thomas University changed my life.”