The Mischievous Kid from Eauripik

Fr. John Hagileiram sitting at the table. John passed away in Manila yesterday.

Attending Xavier High School in the early 1970s was John Hagileiram’s introduction to the wider world. For those of us who got to know this friendly young man with the mischievous twinkle in his eye, it was our only introduction to Eauripik–a tiny islet with a population of barely a hundred that made that rest of the Outer Islands of Yap look like downtown.

When John graduated from Xavier in 1973, he went to the Philippines where he entered the Jesuit novitiate the following year. When we caught up with one another in Manila a year later (I was just starting my tertianship), he seemed to have gained an easy confidence in himself. But why shouldn’t he? He had made good friends there and had picked up quite a bit of Tagalog along the way. He may have grown up on an island not much bigger than a backyard, but John had learned to adapt easily to his surroundings.

John and I were together again in 1979 when he was assigned to teach at Xavier, his alma mater. He clearly had lost nothing of his easy charm. Within weeks he seemed to be able to make friends with everybody: students, fellow teachers, the local cooks and the maintenance workers. He also retained that familiar twinkle in his eye, I noticed. A few years earlier, I had found him in the novitiate wine cellar with a couple of his Visayan friends sampling the product. At Xavier it was looting the storeroom for food that he and his fellow regents could cook up for a midnight snack.

John’s ordination on Eauripik in 1985 was probably one of the biggest events to have happened there. The island population must have tripled that weekend. His people were delighted as John took on this church ministry, but they surely knew that they would probably see as little of him in the future as they had since he had left home fifteen years earlier.

John’s future assignments brought him home every now and then. He spent much of his time on a ship visiting the other islands beyond Yap. They brought him in closer contact with Nick Rahoy, another local priest working in these islands. When John was working out of Yap, he would renew his tight friendship with Apollo Thal, an old tennis buddy of his who served as a mentor.

Micronesian priests were no longer the rarity that they had once been. Several young islanders had been ordained during those years. Soon John was off to Guam to serve as director of the pre-seminary, where more young men were beginning their training for the priesthood.

The last two decades of John’s life were a mix of the pastoral (back to the Yap Outer Islands), of governance (five years as superior of the mission), and of medical (care for his worsening muscular dystrophy).

In the end, John died, just as he lived most of his life, far from home. During his life he had picked up many friends along the way, blessed the lives of countless people, and held any number of different positions. But I’ll always remember him as the kid from the far-off island with the mischievous twinkle in his eye.

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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.