We were all shocked at the news that Bill Rakowicz, a long-time missionary in the islands, died on Dec 13 at the age of 73. He was working in a Jesuit retreat house in Maryland at the time.
My first encounter with Bill was in 1972, when he and Tom Marciniak began teaching at Xavier during regency. I soon found out, as I told another Jesuit (without intending the pun) that they were temperamentally “poles apart.” Tom was on the exuberant side, upbeat to the point of slapstick, while Bill came across as enthusiastically pessimistic, ever ready to explain why imminent disaster was going to strike hard. “Chief Darkcloud, the one who sees the gray cloud behind every silver lining” is how one person would describe him.
Bill was not your normal Jesuit amigo. When we met again after his return to Chuuk following ordination, he called me “Weasel” (rhymes with “Hezel”) and began mouthing a long list of good-natured insults that was punctuated every so often by his stomach-shaking laugh. I soon came to call him “Rocky”—not just as an abbreviation of his last name, but short for the iconic spoof film “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” That was to acknowledge his well-known fascination with horror movies of all sorts. He always kept videotapes of dozens of those films in his room to entertain himself.
That was the odd part of Bill’s public persona, but there was much more to him than that. Whatever insults he tossed at me in public, I never had any doubt that we were close friends. However dismal his forecast of what was to come, I came to realize that he had grand hopes for the people he served even if he hardly ever voiced them. Now and then he could be enticed into saying something affectionate about someone he knew, but for the most part he remained good old “Rocky,” the guy with the slow walk and the bowed head, the storm cloud forever gathered above him.
At his return to Micronesia after ordination, Bill became director of Xavier for a short time before he took up a series of other pastoral assignments. He spent a few years in Pohnpei before moving to Chuuk and then Palau. Somewhere along the way he received training in retreat work and obtained a licentiate in canon law. When I reconnected with him just a few years ago, he was helping those in failed marriages who were applying for annulment. In the short time I worked with him, he would compile a list of over twenty Micronesian couples on Guam helped by his efforts. Then, too, there was the retreat work and the spiritual direction he offered to many others. All these people, like myself, were able to get beneath the disguise Rocky wore to find the real Bill Rakowicz.
He died too early, by my reckoning. I had hoped for many more years of consulting with him on marriage case questions, and teasing him for his odd taste in movies and his downcast demeanor. The truth is I miss that loud laugh of his when he was recounting some calamity he had just seen in one of his films.