I was still a young priest in 1975 when a young Chuukese friend hanged himself. Then, a few weeks later, another acquaintance took his own life. Before long I found myself paying attention to the stories of others doing the same. It was the beginning of my 40 years of research on suicide–research driven not by theoretical concerns, but by a determination to find out what was responsible for the early deaths of a growing number of islanders.
The beginning of August is back-to-school time in the islands. So schools everywhere are gathering teachers and preparing for the coming school year. For me it meant directing a short retreat for the faculty and staff of Santa Barbara School here on Guam, and then making a short visit to Palau to work with staff in the two mission schools there: Mindszenty High School and Maris Stella.
Against all expectations, Ron Sams departed from us for a better life on June 27. Most of us thought of the man as timeless, one untouched by aging. I suppose in later years his hair greyed and thinned a bit, but when you looked at the man you wondered if he would ever grow old. Ron’s spirit seemed just as impervious to old age as his body. His enthusiasm even in his 80’s reminded you of the quality that endeared him to so many in his younger days. Ron Sams was a boy scout in the best sense of that term–one of three Eagle Scouts working in Micronesia in the 1980s, with Dan Mulhauser and Tom Smith being the two others.
Remember these two men shown with me in the photo? The tall one is Fr. Jim Croghan, former director of Xavier who worked in Micronesia for many years up to 2010. In that year he returned to the US to work in Jesuit education in the New York area and hasn’t shown up in the islands until just the other day. He is with us for the summer in his new role as Assistant to the Provincial for the International Apostolate (what we used to call missions).
For the past two years I’ve been serving as assistant to the pastor here at Santa Barbara, the largest parish on Guam. A week ago we have lost one of our parish assistants, leaving the pastor and myself as the only “full-time” parish priests. (I use quotations because, as those who know me might guess, I have picked up a few other things to do on the side.) Since pastors–Latin for shepherds–are supposed to feed their flocks, let me share with you a few recent experiences during this Easter season.
Happy Easter to you who may be reading this post! I’ve always thought that Easter is an under-rated feast. None of the songs that make Christmas so special, and the gift-giving is confined to Easter eggs and chocolate for the kids. Not so much of the glitz and glamour associated with Christmas. But still–for us church-goers and mass-sayers at least–Easter has more significance than Christmas. It’s a celebration of the end of the struggle, not the beginning. That alone should count for something.
That’s John Howard in the photo sitting in a conference room at Adelup. Over the past several months John has become the new face of Chuuk youth on Guam. His photo is beginning to appear in the paper almost as often as it did in the days when he was winning 100 meter sprints as a regional track star. Nowadays, though, John is known for organizing youth groups, setting up competitive sports events for Micronesians, and serving as the link for the Chuukese community with GovGuam.