Former U of D Jesuit president Fr. Kiser named new leader of Midwest Jesuits

Fr. Karl Kiser, SJ, who served as president of University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy in Detroit from 2002-16, was recently named to lead the Midwest Jesuits as its next provincial. In his new role, Fr. Kiser will be the spiritual leader of nearly 500 Jesuit priests and brothers serving in 12 states. (Courtesy photo)

Known for his care of students at University of Detroit Jesuit High School, Fr. Karl Kiser, SJ, ‘listens to people and he prays,’ friend says

CHICAGO — Fr. Karl Kiser, SJ, will be a thoughtful and prayerful leader when he takes on his new responsibility as provincial of the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) next year, those who know him best say.

Fr. Kiser, the longtime president of University of Detroit Jesuit High School, serving from 2002-16, was appointed Nov. 27 to succeed Fr. Brian G. Paulson, SJ, who has been provincial of the Chicago-based province since 2014. 

Fr. Kiser was appointed by Jesuits superior general Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, and will assume his role in 2021.

“I am deeply humbled to accept this appointment of Fr. General to lead and serve my brother Jesuits as provincial of the Midwest Province,” Fr. Kiser said in a statement. “The spirituality of St. Ignatius has called me to be a companion of Jesus and to help others to do the same; it has been a deep and profound joy for me in my ministry for the last 34 years. 

Fr. Kiser speaks during an event announcing a new $16 million STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) center at University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 2015. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

“I look forward to discovering how to be a companion of Jesus in a new way as I contemplate this ministry with my brother Jesuits and our sponsored works. Over the years, I have been richly blessed with so many friends, Jesuit and lay, and with tremendous opportunities to serve in ministry, all of which I treasure and carry in my heart. I look forward to continuing the good work of Fr. Paulson, and in identifying new frontiers where we can continue to be effective leaders in spreading the Gospel,” he said.

Fr. Kiser is a Michigan native, having grown up in Menominee in the Upper Peninsula. He attended Marinette Catholic Central High School in nearby Marinette, Wis., and earned a bachelor’s in political science from Michigan State University (1986). After graduation, he joined the Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus on Aug. 30, 1986, at Loyola House in Berkley.

He was ordained in 1997 and has spent time serving at various Jesuit communities and schools throughout the world. He began working in campus ministry at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy in 2001, and then became the school’s president from 2002-2016. Most recently, he worked as pastor of Gesu Parish in University Heights, Ohio. 

Bro. Jim Boynton, SJ, a lifelong friend of Fr. Kiser and U of D Jesuit’s current principal, said his predecessor’s aim is simply to be a good pastor. 

“I remember Karl once looked at me and said, ‘All I really want is to be a good priest,’” Bro. Boynton told Detroit Catholic. “I will never forget that. When he was here at U of D, he really saw his role not only as president of the school, but as pastor of the school community. It was so evident in everything he did: the care of students, faculty, and really seeing U of D Jesuit High School as a Christian community.” 

Bro. Boynton said he can’t imagine things being any different as Fr. Kiser assumes his new role as provincial, in which he’ll lead nearly 500 Jesuits serving in 12 states.

“He’s not only going to be a provincial, but really a pastor — not only for the Jesuits, but all the people who work alongside us in our various ministries. He’ll be our chief pastor. He knows people, he listens to people and he prays.”

Bro. Boynton described Fr. Kiser’s legacy over his 14 years at U of D Jesuit as twofold: his tangible accomplishments and his intangible ones. 

Fr. Kiser outgoing hoists the state championship trophy on the court after his Cubs won the Class A basketball title in 2016. (Courtesy photo)

Fr. Kiser raised funds and built the school’s four-story STEM center, completed in 2016, for instance, but Bro. Boynton said Fr. Kiser’s legacy extends far beyond his brick-and-mortar accomplishments. 

“The real legacy was his care of students,” Bro. Boynton said. “He went with them on mission trips. He was the moderator of our African-American student association. He was loved and respected by parents, faculty, staff and students. 

“He always was making himself present in the school,” Bro. Boynton continued. “He would come in and visit the classrooms and get to know the kids. He would be with families in times of grief and in times of joy. His real legacy was being a pastor here.”

Having known Fr. Kiser since seminary, Bro. Boynton has watched his good friend grow into every role he’s taken on. 

“Karl has done a tremendous job of seeking out mentors, of being open to growth,” Bro. Boynton said. “He knows he doesn’t know it all and does what he can to learn by asking for the advice of the right people and listening to the right people. As provincial, he will do the same thing. He will grow into it well.”