In the fight of his life, Theology teacher Jim Skerl finds strength in faith, community

by Sean Koehler ‘16

Ask any alum for a list of their favorite teachers, and Jim Skerl is sure to be one of them.

Through his leadership in Labre, C.A.T., and the many other Christian service initiatives he has become involved in during his years at Ignatius, Mr. Skerl has touched the hearts of thousands of people. Whether it was through teaching his theology classes at school, the bonds he has created with those in need on Sunday nights at Labre, or his leadership at the weekly C.A.T. meetings, Mr. Skerl has for years embodied what it means to be a Man for Others.

This past February, Mr. Skerl was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis came as a shock to Skerl, whose active and healthy lifestyle included riding his bicycle to school most days of the year. Adding to that shock was a grim reality: Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to cure.


“I’ve been so deeply touched by the number of people who have been praying for me,” said Skerl. “The power of prayer shrunk my tumor.”


Skerl and his doctors at the Cleveland Clinic opted for aggressive rounds of chemotherapy combined with radiation, intended to shrink his tumor prior to surgery. This approach would give the surgeons the best chance to remove the cancer in its entirety.

Over the summer, Mr. Skerl underwent surgery, where his doctors successfully removed the tumor.

Following surgery, he spent the rest of the summer recovering from this operation. He will continue chemotherapy and radiation for another six months.

“The worry now is if there are any other renegade lymph nodes running around,” he said. After surgery, 33 of his lymph nodes were tested, and all were clear of cancer.

When he talked about his illness and recovery, he stressed his deep gratitude and humility for the unbelievable support given to him by the Saint Ignatius community.

“I’ve been so deeply touched by the number of people who have been praying for me,” said Skerl. “The power of prayer shrunk my tumor.”

And Skerl believes his fight with cancer has made him a better teacher of Theology.

“I see things from a whole new perspective,” he said, especially when the topic in his classroom turns to sickness and dying. “This experience has not challenged my faith, but strengthened it,” said Mr. Skerl.

He relates his experience to the Biblical story found in Luke 5:17-39, where a sick man is lowered down through the roof of a house due to the crowds, and then healed by Jesus. “I feel like I am the sick man,” he said. He feels the continual support of the community and of those around him, both of which have carried him through this journey and have kept him here to continue his generous life.