Catching Up with the Veterans

Dr. Joe Flear’s visit to New York for a couple of days seemed to trigger a series of reunions. Joe (standing second from the left in the photo) worked in Yap for several years during the 1980s before he moved to Pohnpei to teach at the medical school there. Since 2000 he has been teaching and doing clinical instruction at the Fiji School of Medicine.The evening of his arrival, he joined a couple of us for dinner: Debbie Jackson (then married to Dr. Mitch Besser), who worked in Chuuk as a nurse 30 years ago; and Mark and Michelle Puryear (who also served in Chuuk years ago). How can a group of old-timers, with bottles of wine and a table full of Indian food, not swap old stories for a few hours and enjoy every minute of it?

The next day, we joined Paul Sauer, a Lutheran priest with three adopted children from the Marshalls, on a ride to the Maryknoll Sisters retirement home. (He’s standing at the left dressed in black the way I should have been). Sr. Joanne McMahon (in red at the far right of the table), who had spent decades in Yap and years in Palau before that, met us at the door. At first she thought I was John Hagileiram, coming to give her the ticket she had been promised to attend the first graduation of the new Catholic high school in Yap. Her companions from Yap were Sr. Marie May, who ran unusual projects for at-risk youth, and Sr. Rose Corde McCormick, who ran St. Mary’s School back during the 1980s. (They’re seated second and third from the left).

Then there were the sisters who had served in the Marshalls, beginning with Sr. Rose Patrick (seated second from right), who worked in the outer islands since 1950. Sr. Rose Lauren (seated at the far left) ran Assumption School for many years during the 1960s and 1970s, and then returned during the late 1990s to help out again. The other two Maryknollers, relative youngsters, are Dora Nuetzi and Carolyn White (standing). Both worked in school and in the remote atolls for a time. We all laughed about our first experiences in the Marshalls–mine was driving a beat up old truck and hauling stone for Fr. Hacker every day during the three weeks I first visited Majuro in 1965. The new Assumption School building and convent was being built at the time.

We shared food and memories for a couple of hours, and at our departure the sisters told us to be sure to come back soon. So we said our farewells to the seven Maryknoll nuns with a sense of awe. After all, they had a total of nearly 200 years of service in the islands among them.

Just before we had left Fordham for our visit, Joe and I spent a little time with Fr. Paul Horgan. He is now speechless and immobile due to a stroke three years ago. Let’s add him to the list of veterans we met during these days.

Not all the veterans are priests and sisters, though. A few days before Joe’s visit, Paul Sauer and I drove to the upper west side of Manhattan to catch up with Scott and Biram Stege, who were in town visiting their son Mark and daughter Tina. (Sorry no pictures of them.) The Marshallese kids, who don’t get much time together, were having a great time in the living room that evening, while we adults stoked up on fresh sashimi and the trimmings.

If Christmas is a time to reconnect with old friends, we did well this year.

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.

Copyright © 2015, WHERESFRAN.ORG, Francis X. Hezel, SJ.