Jean, who was born in Excelsior, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul, joined the FBI in 1955 after earning a bachelor’s degree in political science at the College of St. Thomas (now the University of St. Thomas) in St. Paul and doing a stint in the U.S. Air Force.
His early stateside assignments with the FBI included working in the Washington, D.C., field office during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.
After being sent to the Defense Language Institute, Monterey, Calif., to study Spanish, the young agent was assigned to Mexico in 1965. He lived and worked there for the next six years. “My territory included the whole Yucatán Peninsula,” he says. During one of his “road trips” on the peninsula, he met the late Maryknoll Father Denis O’Brien, pastor of a parish in the Yucatán capital of Mérida, and the seeds of Jean’s mission to children were planted.
“Father Denis was very concerned about the children who had Down syndrome,” says Jean, explaining that mentally challenged children in Mexico were hidden because their parents were ashamed of them. “Father Denis was able to get the use of the local public school every Saturday for these children and their parents. Volunteers would play with the children while psychologists talked to their parents about how to care for them.” Father O’Brien also developed a catechism for mentally challenged children and prepared them for their first Communion. Seeing the priest’s compassion for marginalized children was instant inspiration for Jean and he began offering his moral and then financial support. Father Denis’ project grew into a multi-faceted program known as Pastoral del Amor (Mission of Love), which includes education and medical care for mentally challenged children and is now run by a Portuguese congregation of sisters.
Jean has retired from the FBI, but his zeal for his Christian mission has deepened. He continues to support the work of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, wherever there is greatest need.
He is also devoted to another worldwide mission helping orphans, NPH (Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, which means Our Little Brothers and Sisters). Founded by a U.S. priest, Father William Wasson, in 1954 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, NPH currently provides homes, meals, education and love for 3,400 impoverished boys and girls in Mexico as well as Bolivia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru. As president of NPH International USA, a non-profit corporation that distributes funds for NPH, Jean works tirelessly to ensure the welfare of the children the organization serves.
He was the recipient of the 2016 Rose Schaffhausen Friends of the Orphans Award given by NPH to a person who has embraced the organization’s mission, furthered its cause and continues to cherish its children. (Rose Schaffhausen was the founder of Minnesota Friends of the Orphans, now NPH – Upper Midwest Region).
Jean says his work and extensive travels dissuaded him from marrying and having his own family. But, he says, “I have all the children in the world needing our help.” We at Maryknoll thank him for keeping God’s children safe and loved.
Featured Image” Jean Gray is flanked by Maryknoll Father Peter Le Jacq and Weingarten.(J. Weingarten/U.S.)