Life is Changed, Not Ended – Death and Canadian Jesuits

Campion High school, Regna, SK. Source: wikimedia

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.

Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ, is pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Winnipeg.

  • Philip Shano
    Posted at 05:05h, 14 May Reply

    Thanks for the reflections, Frank. We’ve lost so much history during this sad time.

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 06:50h, 14 May Reply

    Thanks for writing about your experience with them.

  • Sr. Karen Bennett
    Posted at 08:24h, 14 May Reply

    Thanks, Fr. Frank. Having lived and worked with these Jesuits for many years I sincerely believe
    we are blessed to have had them in our lives.

  • John Meehan SJ
    Posted at 09:19h, 14 May Reply

    Many thanks for this beautiful reflection, Frank. These Jesuits have been a great gift and blessing to so many. May they rest in God’s loving embrace.

  • Paul Robson sj
    Posted at 09:26h, 14 May Reply

    Thank you Frank!

  • Nancy
    Posted at 10:28h, 14 May Reply

    Incredible mentors and inspirational

  • Bernice Dookhan-Khan
    Posted at 11:27h, 14 May Reply

    Thanks for sharing these blessed memories Father. In gratitude to God.

  • Michelle Mahoney
    Posted at 11:59h, 14 May Reply

    Thank you so much, Fr. Frank. Beautiful memories and stories about these wonderful men

  • Lorraine Majcen
    Posted at 12:00h, 14 May Reply

    Thank you!! I appreciate you sharing your memories of these great men of God, who served humanity well. Many lives were blessed, having known them. May their souls Rest In Peace.

  • Indira Noro
    Posted at 12:47h, 14 May Reply

    My condolences to all the Jesuit brothers. I will particularly miss Father Mike Hawkins. When he came back to Canada from India he held a retreat at Manresa on the topic of forgiveness. At that weekend retreat I experienced a miraculous healing of forgiveness. God bless Father Mike Hawkins’s soul and all the brothers who have passed over during this pandemic.

  • Jenny Cafiso
    Posted at 16:07h, 14 May Reply

    beautiful reflection of lives well lived, Fr. Frank.

  • Dennis Galon
    Posted at 16:19h, 14 May Reply

    Thank you OB for this lovely “intertwingling” of memories and tributes. When my wife Dorothy drew my attention to your piece, she mentioned the nice picture of the St. Stanislaus Noviciate building at the top. I had never before noticed that Campion and the St. Stanislaus had sort of similar frontages.

    Stay healthy one and all.

  • Mike Hutton
    Posted at 16:50h, 14 May Reply

    Lovely and thoughtful Frank. And it provided more details of your life before and after we entered Novitiate in Guelph in 63. Thanks.

    Posted at 10:14h, 15 May Reply

    Thank you, Obe… Charlie also touched my life during the years we shared at LaStorta in the 1990s. He was a great strength and support, when my father died. May he rest in peace.

    Posted at 10:15h, 15 May Reply

    Charlie also touched my life during the years we shared at LaStorta in the 1990s. He was a great strength and support, when my father died. May he rest in peace. Thanks Obe.

    Posted at 10:16h, 15 May Reply

    Charlie also touched my life during the years we shared at LaStorta in the 1990s. He was a great strength and support, when my father died. May he rest in peace. Thanks.

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