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Faith & Values

July was a long month. Events caught up with me. I finished my term as rector (religious superior) of the Seattle University Jesuit Community; tended to the health of our oldest Jesuit who broke his shoulder and fractured his pelvis; and then presided at the funeral of another Jesuit who died unexpectedly. All this and more.

Now that things have calmed down, I recall these emotions and encounters as a tremendously graced time, a series of treasured, sacred moments. Our Christian and Hebrew Scriptures recall these quotidian revelations, but by the time they’re written and recorded, they are contained and clear. One thinks of Moses and the burning bush. God mandates that Moses approach by taking off his shoes, and then gives him an overwhelming mission to confront the pharaoh to “set my people free.”

But was it all that clear in the beginning? Or was it that decades later, the sacred writer recorded and shaped these saving events so that they could be remembered, recited and celebrated in liturgical pageantry?

At the beginning of July, I was coasting along toward the finish. The new rector had been appointed, and I was scheduled to leave office on July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius, the traditional day for changes in Jesuit leadership. Of course, the refrigerator in the dining room was on the blink again, and the replacement part was coming by mule train from Bangladesh (none of these parts is ever in Seattle). Otherwise, everything was wrapping up rather smoothly.

Then I got the call that Father Jim Reichmann, S.J., 90, had fallen down backward on the steps of a bank. He was rushed to a nearby hospital with a broken shoulder and fractured pelvis. After the surgery, he was suffering delirium. The nurse told me all the symptoms and even the dire possibility that he might not come out of it. Of course, a day after they took him off oxycodone, a powerful narcotic, he was lucid and as witty and charming as ever. He grew stronger quickly — largely because he had religiously walked 1 ½ miles every day for the past 25 years.

The same week, Father Emmett Carroll, 82, the pastor of St. Cecilia’s parish in Bainbridge, had minor surgery on his toe. After a few days, he was released to an assisted-care place. I left for my annual vacation to Hayden Lake, Idaho.

Two days later, I received the stunning news that Emmett had died in his sleep. A real shocker. I returned to Seattle to conclude funeral preparations in collaboration with family, other Jesuits, and St. Cecilia’s parish. Retired archbishop Alex Brunett presided, and I preached the homily. The church, which normally held 500, swelled to 850 congregants. The choir was magnificent.

I said, “Father Carroll was a man of prayer and a man of action. He filled the Jesuit ideal as a contemplative also in action, that love can be expressed more in deeds than in words.

“Emmett, of course, didn’t lack for words — he was witty and humorous. With a doctorate in English, he was a master of the right expression. But most of all, he was a man of action. ‘Let’s get it done!’ ”

Amazingly, at age 74 after almost 45 years of teaching, Emmett had begun a whole new ministry as a parish priest. The affection of parishioners, young and old, for this beloved man renewed in me the sacred calling of priesthood.

Days later I had a chance to reflect on these events. The words of T.S. Eliot from the “Journey of the Magi” came to me. The Magi traveled in harsh wintry conditions to witness the birth of Jesus. On the return, they came to a fresh awareness. They were no longer at ease “with an alien people clutching their gods.” Something in them had died, and the poem concludes, “I should be glad of another death.”

Fr. Patrick Howell SJ is the former rector (religious superior) of the Jesuit Community at Seattle University and professor of pastoral theology. Readers may send feedback to