What You Do Matters: An alumnus reflects on Jim Skerl ’74

Brett Gigliotti ’06 sent this letter to the Saint Ignatius faculty on the day of Jim Skerl’s passing. With his permission, we repost it in The Eye.

With the passing of our friend, Jim Skerl, I wanted to reflect on my time spent and lessons learned over the 10 year friendship I had with him. It was a cold fall day in Cleveland, as I walked down the stairs of Loyola Hall on Sunday night for my first Labre experience. I was a nervous, standoffish, gangly sophomore and my entire understanding and outlook on life was about to change. “Hi friend, would you mind grabbing that cooler and following me?” Jim said. So I grabbed the cooler and followed him into the kitchen. We stood there with other students, parents, and teachers making food for our friends on the streets of Cleveland. That night as we loaded up into vans, and talked with our homeless friends, I watched Jim truly be the hands, feet, and eyes of Christ – he changed my life. From that Sunday on, I was a Disciple of Jim Skerl’s. I never missed another Labre until I left for college. I would like to think that it had a lot to do with being a man for others, but the more I reflect – I was simply following a true man for others.

Our relationship continued to grow. I was now an upperclassman and able to elect the classes I would take in Theology. Death and Resurrection, taught by Jim Skerl – it is a no brainer for me. He walked into the classroom and introduced himself personally to every student in the class. He simply introduced himself as Jim and made small talk with each and every student; that was the first class – all forty minutes of it. Of everything he thought me during that class, nothing stood out more than that simple act. When you are a leader, you take the time to get to know your people on a personal level and show them that you care. Having a teacher in high school introduce himself as “Jim” always made him Mr. Skerl to us. He taught us to get respect you have to give respect.

Fast forward to the end of my senior year; we are attached at the hip. Many of my free periods were spent spending time with him, sitting in the theology office working on this and that. He would challenge me to think differently about life and the way that I would live it. As I walked off the stage at graduation the first person that congratulated me was my friend Jim. He told me that he was proud of me and would miss me in the coming year. And I knew that I would miss him. He always made it a point for me to understand the “what and why” behind our actions. Watching him over the last 10 years he has made the what and why clear as ever for me. What he does: lead by example. The reason he does it: because he cares. What a lesson to learn at such a young age for me.

The last time that I spent time with Jim was about 5 or 6 months ago. Like we always did, we sat in the Theology office and enjoyed each other’s company. He would ask me about my family, life, and career. And he shared about Kym, his family, and all the changes around St. Ignatius. When I told him I was getting married next May, the reaction was similar to that of my own father. A big smile, accompanied with a hug. He also shared some insight into married life, being the long time bachelor that he used to be. He always made our interactions about me, never about him.

Jim taught me more about being a man for others than just about anyone. Jim wrote on my college recommendation letter, “If you want to truly get to know someone, see how he spends his free time.” Jim couldn’t have been more right. This is how Jim spent his time: with his family and friends, with the students of St. Ignatius, with his colleagues, with the homeless men and women of Cleveland, and with the L’Arche community. He spent his time giving, giving, and more giving. Now it is time for us to give back to him and continue all of the great work that he has done.

On 3/28/05 at 11:05AM, Fr. Robert Dietrich sent an email to the entire St. Ignatius High School community. The reason I know this is because I still have the email that Jim printed off for me 9 years ago. It simply reads: “I’m off to God. Pray for me. I’ll pray for you. Peace, Bob.” Fr. Dietrich passed away shortly after. Jim shared this email as an example of how to deal with death. Today, he redefined what it means to have unrelenting faith and spirit in the promise of eternal life.

The reason I share these thoughts and memories isn’t to show you the man that Jim Skerl was – we all know that. The purpose was to show the impact that all of you can have on our students. My life would be very different if it weren’t for Jim Skerl. He taught me what it meant to grow in my faith, understand the bigger picture, and love one another. What you do in the classroom, how you challenge our students, and the way that you make them feel – is the difference between St. Ignatius High School and everywhere else.

“People won’t necessarily remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel while you did it.”



Brett A. Gigliotti ’06
Disciple of Jim