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“That’s the one thing I hope everyone avoids – going to another country is not meant to transplant one so-called developed culture for another supposedly undeveloped.” Several members of the Jesuit Province of Canada work outside the Province. Fr. Bill Bourke, SJ, the last of the Canadian Jesuits to have been sent to India, worked in North Bengal, and especially in the Terai hills and regions of the Darjeeling District. He passed away last November and some time before that he had given us some reflections on his apostolate. 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.

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 gone there at the request of the Fr. General. At the beginning of the 1950s, news spread that foreign missionaries would no longer be allowed to enter the country. It is at this time that Fr. Bill Bourke arrived in India with six other Jesuits.

Special moments? Arriving in India in 1954 with six others with crowds of missionaries from countries of Europe who came because of the initial news that India was going to close the borders to any more missionaries!

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

I was twice headmaster of Boys High Schools, one in the hills (Nepali medium), and one in the plains (Hindi medium); Regional Superior from 1974 – 1980; in Nepali publications – including the first complete Nepali version of the Bible. …. I’ve been headmaster twice, in the hills (Nepali medium) and in the plains (Hindi medium); VG to the Darjeeling diocese; director of Bellarmine Institute of Language which produced the first Nepali translation of the bible, and received the highest literary award, the Madan Puraskar from Kathmandu for a thesaurus of the Nepali Language.

Since 1947, everything has changed based on the country’s growth as a whole: spreading of the Gospel, education, social work and many other aspects. The Jesuits witnessed the beginnings and the growth of two dioceses in the hills (the Darjeeling Diocese) and in the plains (the Bagdogra Diocese), in addition to countless schools, establishments which can be found in all dioceses around the world.

The Jesuits Throughout the World

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 own culture is difficult in the modern world.

Get as far away 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 work somewhere in the world also means that you must be flexible and open-minded.

First, work on some foreign languages – something much more easy 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 futures – and that’s normal, I suppose. All immigrants to the Americas in the 14th century and after – tried to melt into the mix of peoples, languages, dress, food – whatever – reached appoint where they realized there was no turning back. Their memories gradually dimmed – and the next generation were almost foreigners.

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