OBITUARY – FR. FRANCIS DA GAMA, SJ (1934 – 2009)
I’m reproducing below Fr. Francis da Gama’s obituary written by his colleague, Fr. Fred Sopena, SJ
Francis was born in 1934 in Daman, and spent the first ten years of his life there, his initial schooling being in Portuguese. In 1945 he joined St. Stanislaus’ High School, Bandra as a boarder, and six years later was among the first batch that passed the new matriculation exam. Among his schoolmates who also joined the Society were Valentine Rodrigues, Alban D’Mello and Lawrence D’Souza; another more illustrious companion was Ivan Dias, later Archbishop of Bombay. Already at School Francis had distinguished himself by his love of writing (in the school magazine), and dramatics.
In June 1951, Francis joined the Jesuits at the Bombay novitiate, Vinayalaya. The next few years followed a predictable pattern of formation: philosophy and theology in De Nobili College, Pune, and regency in the Bombay diocesan seminary. In March 1964 he was ordained, and two years later, sent to the diocesan seminary once again as a teacher in their juniorate. The next ten years were active and productive for the young priest in charge of seminarians at their most impressionable stage. He taught them language, public speaking, dramatics, and even the rudiments of film appreciation, for which he started and registered a film society.
In 1974, Provincial Bertie Philipps requested him to take charge of the Province mission magazine, Our Vineyard, from St. Xavier’s High School. Francis edited, published, advertised and distributed the magazine to a large and loyal readership for almost ten long years. Side by side he wrote film reviews in the popular press, gave talks on radio (usually on cinema), encouraged young Jesuits to opt for the media studies (he was the first Province Coordinator of Communications), and was among the first Jesuits involved in teaching in the Xavier Institute of Communications. Together with this Francis showed a keen interest in the Sodality movement (now rechristened “Christian Life Communities” (CLC) and was the animator of a unit at Seva Niketan, and closely associated with Sidney D’Souza SJ in this work. He later went to Rome for a training Course. He edited the CLC magazine, Morning Star for five years.
What he appreciated most of all in the Society, Francis declared, is its tremendous diversity, which opens the mind and challenges the heart. Throughout his formation he rubbed shoulders with Jesuits from every land, and in his own group there were men of vastly diverse talents and temperaments. All this helped the formation of his character, and Francis was deeply grateful to God for all that the Society had done for him.
The last years of his life Francis spent at St. Xavier’s High School almost unnoticed, but not forgotten by his Jesuit brothers who took good care of him.
Francis was a man of peace. Peace seemed to be an essential part of his well-integrated nature. His spirit was in command for most of his life but gradually sickness took the upper hand. Perhaps due to the stress of work, the gentle unruffled presence of Francis broke down and gave way to bouts of depression and erratic behaviour. Francis died at 10:45 pm on April 2nd 2009 in the Jesuit Nursing Home, Vinayalaya. Almost two days later his Jesuit brothers, relatives and staff of St. Xavier’s High School accompanied him in the Eucharist and burial services at Holy Family Church, Andheri. May his soul rest in peace.
Fr. Fred Sopena, SJ
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