Back to the Big Apple

Father Jack Curran, SJ, Paul Horgan, SJ, and Fran Hezel, SJ, in New York, October 2013.

New York! The Big Apple! “The city that never sleeps,” as Sinatra sang. But I can?t say, along with Sinatra, that ?it?s my kind of town.? Traffic noise and horns honking in place of church bells. Not very many hellos on the street here. Where have all the palm trees gone? For that matter, what have happened to all my friends? (Relax. They?re just half a world away.)

Almost the first persons I met on my arrival in New York last Monday were Fr. Joe Cavanagh?s brother and his wife. They had come to the province infirmary to pick through what was left of the personal effects of the priest who had died a few weeks earlier. So we retold old stories about Cav and each of us shared what he had meant to us personally. I found out that the family had asked if Cav?s body could be cremated and his ashes returned to Pohnpei for burial, but the decision had already been made to bury him in New York. Too bad! Pohnpeians probably would have welcomed a final return of the priest they at first feared and then gradually began to love.

There are some old Micronesia hands who survive here in New York. There?s Fr. Pat Sullivan, the former director of our seminary on Guam, who used to send the seminarians rushing to their rooms choked with laughter at the colorful four-letter words he used in his talks to them. He also spent three years filling in as director of Xavier in the mid-1990s. Or Fr. Don Devine, who was director of Xavier 1984-1986. Or Jim Gould, long-time pastor in the Marshalls who was made Prefect Apostolic when the church in the Marshalls was split from the Diocese of the Carolines in 1995. But there are a couple of others here at the infirmary: Fr. Jack Curran, the friendly priest who would never pass up the opportunity to talk to a passerby, now confined to a wheelchair and unable to talk with anyone because of his Alzheimer?s; and Fr. Paul Horgan, pastor in Yap and teacher at PATS, who suffered a stroke and can no longer get out more than a single sentence or two in conversation.

Here at the Jesuit infirmary and retirement home men I once knew as teachers, spiritual gurus, or classmates shuffle into the dining room or are pushed in wheelchairs. As someone remarked just yesterday, the house is an unavoidable reminder of our mortality. The room I?m now living in was vacated just a couple of weeks ago when its former occupant suddenly died. Cav lived in the room just above this one?so there are spirits hovering all around this place.

In a couple of weeks, I am supposed to move to another house on the Fordham campus, this one the home of people who are still actively working on the campus. Meanwhile, there are emails from islanders living in the city or planning to visit. Two Xavier graduates, one studying here at Fordham and the other at St. Peter?s in Jersey City, got in touch to propose a get-together. They admitted that they, too, get homesick.

But I must stop here and find a sweater. It?s getting chilly in the house. Autumn is more than a nominal season here in the US, after all.

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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.