Life is Changed, Not Ended – Death and Canadian Jesuits
It’s becoming a litany:
George O’Neil, Mike Hawkins, Peter Larisey, Norm Dodge, F.X. Johnson, Charlie Sitter.
As the list grows longer I become more aware of how these mens’ lives ‘intertwingled’ (to use a verb coined in a theology class by Attila Mikloshazy many years ago) with mine.
Mike left for India just after I pronounced first vows in Guelph in 1963. I was impressed with him and others who donned the white cassock and headed to a country my imagination could not even comprehend.
George O’Neill came with me to Mt. St Michael’s in Spokane in 1965 skipping the usual two years of Juniorate. After our two years there he and I boarded an American train heading to our Regency assignments, me to St. Paul’s, Winnipeg, he to points further east!
Wearing our regulation clerical collars, we were the target of an intoxicated young man for the entire journey, regularly spelling one another off ‘baby sitting’ him, until I caught a train north from Fargo to Winnipeg. Poor George was stuck with him for the rest of his journey!
I only knew about Peter Larisey through the remnants of the ‘great’ art exhibit at Regis College on Bayview Ave still there when I got there in 1969. Later he taught a fall semester course at Campion College when I was superior of the Jesuit community in Regina.
Three of these men touched the very beginnings of my vocation in the Society of Jesus. I attended Campion College High School in Regina for two years, grades 11 and 12. The pre- busing era in Saskatchewan meant boarding school was the only possibility to complete high school for a rural person.
During those two years, 1959 to 1961, FX, Normie, and Charlie were at Campion. Life at that time in a boarding situation was ‘intimate’ in a sense. Boys knew teachers pretty well and visa versa. And myths were extant too.
For example, I, like many other boys, steered clear of “FX” because he was ‘known’ to be a tough boxer. His rigid exterior bolstered that story.
Normie was a warm friendly man who clearly liked us. I was never in his class because he taught French. (I took Latin!) He was a kind but stern person who manned the senior dormitory well. He always teased me that I would some day rue my decision not to study French. (He was right!)
Charlie was the chaplain whose office on the third floor was a mecca for a number of us boarders. He allowed us to regularly slip in during the day for a cigarette and chat. He was the one to show me magazines about the Jesuits, pictures of Guelph, and information pertaining to religious life. I remember many evenings after study hall visiting in his office, smoking, chatting.
One particular time he asked me point blank about becoming a Jesuit. He explained the procedure and left it with me, not pushing. I remember my head being full of all that as I headed up to the dorm (late, but I suppose Normie knew where I was) and Charlie went off to the Jesuits’ quarters to have his regular glass of milk before turning in.
It was after the Easter ‘61 senior student retreat that I popped into his office and told him that he could ‘get the wheels turning’. He did. By August 13, 1961 I was in the novitiate in Guelph.
Hearing of his death this morning stirred up gratitude in my heart for all these men, but particularly for him and his role as catalyst in my life change to be a Jesuit.