Father Kawas François died at the Canapé-Vert Hospital in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) on the morning of October 23, 2022, following a stroke that occurred the day before, on Saturday, October 22. He was 68 years old and was beginning his 36th year of religious life.
Kawas was born on March 14, 1954, in Margot, a commune of Pilate. He was born into a family of six children, four boys and two girls, and attended primary school in Pilate itself. After completing his secondary and college studies at the Collège Notre-Dame du Cap-Haïtien, directed by the Holy Cross Fathers, from 1968 to 1975, he entered the Grand-Séminaire of Port-au-Prince with a view to becoming a priest of the diocese of Cap-Haïtien to which he belonged. It was at the Grand Séminaire that he met some Jesuits who were part of the teaching staff. He himself gave them this testimony when he entered the Society: “Their competence, their apostolic zeal and their approach to problems impressed many of us.”
After completing his studies in philosophy and theology, he was ordained a priest on August 23, 1981, by Archbishop François Gayot of Cap-Haitien, in his native village. He exercised his priestly ministry as an assistant in the cathedral of Cap-Haitien and then in Dondon, for five years, before expressing his desire to become a Jesuit. Looking back on his early years as a priest, he noted in the French Canadian Province News in January 1988: “It was in the midst of apostolic action in the grassroots church communities that I felt the need for a more total gift to the Lord in religious life.”
Kawas made his novitiate in Ciudad Guzman, Mexico, from 1987 to 1989. After taking his first vows, he began the first stage of studies in the Society in Mexico City. He obtained a Master’s degree in Sociology from the Universidad Iberoamericana in the summer of 1991. He already had the desire to apply his knowledge to the study of the history of the Church in Haiti and the social movements that have marked the evolution of Haitian society. He obtained permission from the authorities of the Province of French Canada to continue his studies in France. He lived there from 1991 to 1995. After completing a second cycle in theology at the Institut Catholique de Paris, he enrolled in the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences of the same institute for his doctoral studies. He wrote the thesis after his return to Haiti and defended it in July 1998. It was on the following subject: “The crisis of Church-State relations (1980-1986)”. He subsequently published several studies that followed on from this initial research.
Upon his return to Haiti in 1995, and until his death, Kawas François had multiple activities while being a passionate researcher and a prolific writer. He was a professor of sociology at the Faculty of Humanities of the State University of Haiti (UEH) and of the history of the Church of Haiti at the Centre inter-Institut de Formation Religieuse (CIFOR). He found time for spiritual accompaniment and to collaborate with several dioceses and religious congregations in the animation of retreats, apostolic plans, chapters, etc. He was a tireless worker who always had a program, a development project to implement. At the time of his death, he was directing the Center for Research, Reflection, Formation and Social Action (CERFAS) of which he was the founder.
Kawas was the Provincial’s delegate for apostolic works in Haiti for many years. He accompanied the establishment of Foi et Joie in Haiti as well as the consolidation of the Jesuit Migrant Service (JMS), especially at the board level. He was also a consultor for the Jesuit Territory of Haiti from 2002 until his death. He also coordinated the Jesuit project to build housing for the victims of the 2020 earthquake in southern Haiti. On the day of his stroke, he had an all-morning meeting to finalize a report on this housing project.
In his message to the confreres and the Society, Bishop Yves-Marie Péan of the Diocese of Gonaives, a childhood friend of Father Kawas, said: “Father Kawas has always been a cheerful, joyful, determined, hard-working, helpful man who loved God, the Church and the Haitian people. He greatly contributed to the advancement of many projects for the Church of Haiti and for his country. He can leave in peace. He succeeded in expending his intellectual, spiritual and physical energies in the service of the Lord and his people. We are proud of him.” He is survived by his sisters Françoise and Agathe, his brothers Vivandieu, Appolon and Kawol, and several nieces and nephews.