Being open to the world: A reflection by the late Fr. Bill Bourke

“That’s the one thing I hope everyone avoids – going to another country to transplant one's so-called developed culture for another supposedly undeveloped.”- Fr. William Bourke, SJ

June 15, 2020 — Many members of the Canadian Jesuit province work outside the country. Fr. Bill Bourke, SJ, the last of the Canadian Jesuits to have been sent to India, served in North Bengal, and especially in the Terai hills and regions of the Darjeeling district. He passed away in November 2019 and some time before that he had provided us with reflections on his apostolic work abroad. While Jesuits and colleagues are often called to integrate into environments different from their own, Fr Bourke's openness to other cultures can be a model to follow.

Fr. Willian Bourke, SJ

A Long Road

The presence of the first Canadian Jesuits (then the Upper Canada Province) in North Bengal goes back to 1947. The Jesuits had gotten there following the request of the Fr. General. At the beginning of the 1950s, information spread that foreign missionaries would no longer be allowed to enter India. It’s at this time that Fr. Bill Bourke landed in India with six other Jesuits.

One scene that struck me? Arriving in India in 1954 and seeing crowds of missionaries from European countries who came because of the prior news that India would close the borders to any more missionaries!

What were Fr. Bourke’s apostolates over these last 65 years?

I was twice headmaster of secondary schools for boys, one in the hills (Nepalese background) and one in the plains (Hindi origin). I was regional superior from 1974 to 1980. I also worked in Nepalese publications as director of the Bellarmine Institute of Language, which produced the first complete Nepalese version of the Bible –for which I received the highest award– and a thesaurus of the Nepalese language. Finally, I served with the Bishop of Darjeeling as Vicar General and Chancellor in Darjeeling, and as Socius to the Provincial of Darjeeling here on the plains.

Since 1947, everything has changed in response to the development of the country as a whole: spreading the gospel, education, social work, and much more. The Jesuits have seen the beginnings and growth of two dioceses, in the hills (the diocese of Darjeeling) and in the plains (diocese of Bagdogra), in addition to countless schools, institutions common to all regions in the world.

Release of Nepali pocket Bible by Fr. Willian Bourke, SJ, in collaboration with P.K. Chettri

The Advice to Others

Fr. Bourke’s advice for Jesuits sent on a mission outside the Province, or in a different setting, remains simple: integrate into your new environment, even if a complete disconnect from your culture is difficult in our modern world.

Get as far as possible from anything that reminds you of where you come from! Language, food, dress, companions. If you can survive that for one-two years, you’ve made a good start.

Preparing to serve somewhere abroad also means that you must be flexible and open-minded.

First, work on learning other languages, which is much easier to do these days than when former generations arrived in foreign lands.

Second, realize that the young can’t be stopped from what they think they need for their future - and that’s normal, I suppose. All immigrants to the Americas in the 14th century and beyond who tried to melt –into the mix of peoples, languages, dress, food, etc– reached a point where they understood there was no turning back. Their memories gradually dimmed – and the next generations were almost foreigners.

Recent News

July 27, 2020 — The Jesuit Province of Canada has recently established a new way to be of service to the province, the apostolates, and the Jesuit communities – as well as to nonprofit organizations and the private sector – by helping them to engage in the process of discernment in common.

Brother Jacques Dubé died at the infirmary at Richelieu at 2:30 p.m. on July 16, 2020, at the age of 89, after 65 years of religious life. The provincial had once said that he knew how to "bring beauty and joy" to the communities where he lived.

July 13, 2020 — How do we reach out to people in a pandemic? How do we respond to their spiritual needs and promote a contemplative life while gatherings are banned?

Father Demetrius MICHAILIDÈS died at the Richelieu infirmary on the evening of June 25. He had joined the Jesuit community at the Richelieu residence in July 2016. He taught dogmatic theology at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut, as well as in Belgium and New York.

June 26, 2020 — In Canada, COVID-19 has had an impact on all aspects of our lives since March and we have already shared the changes it has brought to our work. However, as Frantz Georges S.J. reminds us, “the spiritual experience is fundamental in the lives of all Christians.”

June 22, 2020 – The Holy Cross Church in Wiikwemkoong, Ontario, founded and still run by Jesuits, was vandalized between Saturday, June 13 and the early hours of Sunday, June 14.

June 19, 2020 — The Support Group for Rural Development (GADRU) is a nonprofit organization founded by Fr. Jean-Marie Louis, SJ, not only to oversee and promote the rights of those living in rural communities but also to participate in the construction of an inclusive, fair, and democratic society.

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