I’m in Saipan for a few days, nominally to consult with the bishop here on his pastoral planning but also to break out of the confines of Guam for a change of pace. And a great change of pace it is, truth to tell! The bed in the rectory is beyond comfortable, so for the past two days I’ve been huddled in it for hours, day and night. But only until I am restored to full energy, I tell myself, as I sniffle and cough myself to sleep.
In the 1960s everything seemed possible. Want to grow a major tourist industry for a small island nation? No problem.
Continental Airlines had just entered the region, bringing jets and the promise of a strong marketing campaign. “Feel the warmth of Paradise” was the slogan on the posters that were beginning to appear in Asian and American cities. Within a few years, Continental built its own hotels in Palau, Chuuk, and Saipan.
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.