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Friday, January 09, 2009

Bittersweet New Year

It was a bittersweet New Year for the grade school community, as the New Year was ushered in by not just one, but two passings.

Last Monday, the grade school’s beloved former headmaster, Fr. Joey Fermin, SJ, passed away after succumbing to complications from his liver transplant. Being new to the grade school, I didn’t really get to know him all that well, but I could tell how much the community loved him.

By the time I met him, he was already gaunt from illness; I was told that he used to be rather on the stout side. Still, he was in high spirits, and he struck me as a happy person, the kind of person who’d joke a lot.

While there was hope after the success of the transplant, it was clear that the road before Fr. Joey was challenging. Over the past few months, I’d hear that he would be in and out of the hospital with some illness or the other; apparently, in order for the transplant to take, drugs which suppress the immune system are taken, which makes the patient more vulnerable to other illnesses.

The last time I saw Fr. Joey was last year, during the blessing of the new buildings and the inauguration of the grade school’s Heritage Room. He gave an inspiring talk to celebrate the occasion.

When I went to visit the high school Monday morning, I met with my exchange program counterpart, Don Selorio, who showed me a text saying that Fr. Joey had three days at most. That same night, though, I received the text from my coordinator that Fr. Joey had passed away at 8:35 in the evening. The funeral Mass and burial will be in a little while. At least, Fr. Joey is finally at peace and in the company of our Lord.

* * *

While Fr. Joey’s passing was more or less anticipated, the other death this week wasn’t. The father of two of our students in the grade school and the high school was shot and killed while on his way to bringing his sons to school. The murder occurred near their house, as the sons were able to run home and tell their mother about the tragedy.

It was clearly a hired gun who did the job; the father’s job was in trucking, and it seems that he had enemies. My prayers go to the family, and I hope that the police will be able to bring his killer to justice.

* * *

I wasn’t able to post this early enough as planned, so it’s after the burial that this is going up.

The Mass for Fr. Joey was well-attended; while I managed to get a seat, I could see that the number of Mass goers was such that there were a lot of people standing outside the Church of the Gesu.

The Mass itself was wonderfully done. The Grade School faculty choir provided the music, and I wasn't sure who gave the homily, but it was a stirring testimony to Fr. Joey, and, for me who barely knew him, I like to think that I got to know him a little better afterward. There was also a thank you speech from his sister, and a short slideshow of photos and Facebook messages set to the tune of Chris Daugherty's "Going Home".

After the Mass, we all headed to Sacred Heart Novitiate, where Fr. Joey's remains would go to its final resting place. It was nice to be able to visit the Novitiate once more, and say hi to some of my mentors in the Jesuit cemetery. I never cease to have a thrill being there; it’s a very peaceful place, and it’s nice to walk around and gaze at the Jesuits who have helped shape the Philippine Society, as well as the Ateneo: Delaney, de la Costa, Cervini, Arvisu, Cruz, Katigbak, O’Brien, Dunne, Hontiveros, and so forth. And now Fr. Joey joins them.

It was also a pleasant surprise to find that Fr. Arsenio Nunez, SJ, who used to be parent liaison at the high school, is still hale and hearty, being missioned to the Novitiate, as well as Fr. Earl Barredo, SJ, who spent time in the high school as a regent, is now in charge of the Novitiate. I managed to play a bit of catch up with both of them, even promising Fr. Nunez to visit and invite him over for lunch or dinner (I hope I can keep that promise.).

While it’s a sad day, as the grade school community loses someone very dear to it, it’s also a joyous day, as we are certain that Fr. Joey has joined his Lord.

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