If only I could wish you a merry Christmas in person! But this letter, in which I try to capture some of what has happened over the past year, will have to do for now.
When I first arrived at Xavier in 1963 to begin teaching, basketball was all but unknown in the islands. Baseball was the sport of that era, dating back to the Japanese administration before the war. By the end of my first year, the Xavier team had uniforms and were playing the Filipino workers around the island. The next year they were playing Truk High School, which also had put together a team. Basketball in Chuuk was on its way to becoming the popular sport it is today.
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.