Fr. Deeney appeared in the Chaibasa scene on July 11th, headmaster of the High School and assistant parish priest, and later, for a short time, pastor. During these years he undertook extensive research into the life of the Ho people around, their culture and language – which went into publication as a seven volume Encyclopaedia, entitled “Ho Language and Customs”. He also prepared many liturgical and catechetical works for use in the villages. The whole liturgy is now conducted in the Ho language. He prepared and published the New Testament in Ho, as well as a pictorial life of Christ, wrote a Ho grammar and Vocabulary and a Ho English Dictionary.
from “Surprised by Grace” by Fr. James Keogh SJ
19 January 2010
Celebrant: Fr. George Bur, SJ
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Chapel of Saint Joseph - Michael J. Smith, SJ Memorial
Saint Joseph's University
5600 City Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19131
Mrs. Nancy T. Curtis (sister)
257 Saxer Avenue
Springfield, PA 19064-3129
Gerald P. Deeney (brother)
3 Symons Lane
Savannah, GA 31411
Ed Deeney (brother)
201 S. 18th Street # 1006
Philadelphia, PA 19103-5913
Dr. & Mrs. Edward F. Flood (cousin)
9 Forsythia Drive South
Levittown, PA 19056
Saints of God, come to his aid!
Hasten to meet him angels of the Lord!
Receive his soul and present him to God the Most High.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
It is with a heavy heart and tear in my eye that I must inform you of the passing of my friend Fr. John J. Deeney, SJ, of the Jamshedpur Jesuit Province. Fr. Deeney was hospitalized for the last month at the Mercy Hospital in Jamshedpur due to gallbladder cancer and, surrounded by his brother Jesuits and his nurse, peacefully went on to his eternal reward on Monday at 9:00 AM, Philadelphia time. He was 88 years young and Jesuit for over 70 years.
Even the most casual reader of the 44 Hawk Hill Buddy List e-mail and this blog would be familiar with this great man. I never tired of writing about him and his work ad maiorem Dei gloriam. He was a nice Catholic boy from row house Philadelphia's Germantown section who answered God's call to spread the Gospel to people 9,000 miles away.
Fr. Timothy Lannon, SJ, president of St. Joseph's University, said "I am sure that Father Deeney is enjoying his well deserved place close the Father." How true! Fr. James Moore, SJ of St. Joseph's University called him a "modern day Xavier." The Socius of Jamshedpur, Fr. Eric Cassel, SJ, reiterated the moniker “Apostle of the Hos” in the Kolhan area. From Steve Klarich, who visited Fr. Deeney in India... "he has been in my daily prayers since our visit, along with Fathers Greg D'Silva, SJ and Peter Martin, SJ. He dedicated his life to Christ and the Ho people. He was a truly remarkable man and an inspiration to all of us on the true purpose of life." Fr. Charlie Currie, SJ, whose two brothers served with Fr. Deeney in India, said "I have known him as legendary ever since I entered the Jesuits in 1950." Hawk alumni Patrick Sweeney, DDS mentioned that "we have lost an angel here on earth" and Greg McDermott opined that "I'm guessing St. Peter had the EZ Pass Lane open Monday morning." Fr. Deeney was such a humble man that he would have appreciated but shook his head and scoffed at the high praise. He was so humble, in fact, that I asked him once why he didn't capitalize the 'SJ' after his name, which as a Jesuit and a linguist he surely knew should be high case. He said he preferred using the small 'sj' because it was more humble. Ouch.
Perhaps his niece Theresa Roney hit the proverbial nail on the head when she wrote "we were, and will continue to be, blessed by his presence in our lives. He was a great brother, uncle, friend and most importantly, Jesuit priest to us all." His grand-nephew Johnny Gill added "I've met many great people. But none greater than he - none really close. I marvel at what he did with his life. I wonder where he found the strength. I can only hope and his story will continue to inspire all of us to be better each day."
I will forever be grateful to my best friend and Fr. Deeney's grand-nephew John Gill for introducing me, and to the Deeney-Curtis-Gill-Caramanico Family for sharing him with me.
A personal memory: Fr. Deeney came to my house for dinner and I cooked hot dogs and baked (Boston) beans, which he hadn't eaten in 40 years. My small house has an even smaller air conditioner and I was worried that it would not be cool enough for him. When I asked if he was comfortable he told me that he was a little cold and was used to the warmer Indian weather -- that it got to be over 100 degrees at night in India but that he had a ceiling fan over his bed and when there was electricity it cooled things off. Whenever Lisa complains about how hot it gets in Philadelphia in the summer I tell her to think of poor Fr. Deeney in India looking up at his motion-less ceiling fan. I’ve used this line so often that my hot blooded Italian wife (understandably sick of it) now throws something at me with every telling – but I’m good at ducking ;)
Fr. Deeney was always grateful for everything, and could prove it in record time ;-) In '07 I asked my friends for donations to help out his mission in Pandabir and to send them to him directly at his sister's house in Springfield where he was staying. My buddy Dave Conroy sent him a check on Monday morning... and got his 'thank you' letter from Fr. Deeney on Wednesday morning. Dave called me immediately and asked how in God's name was he able to get a seemingly miraculous two day turnaround from the US Post Office? His sister Nancy spilled the beans; Fr. Deeney would greet the mailman each day, and if there was a donation would ask him to come back in an hour so he could take the thank you letter. I don't think most mailmen would agree to that but Fr. Deeney had a way of making people say 'yes'! He had his own special way, in sales jargon, of "assuming the sale."
Case in point is this e-mail just three months before his death:
Thanks for your latest letter. I am into the Romero book. Great! I saw the film some years ago.
I have a job for you. I know that you are extremely busy, but they say that if you really want a job done, find a busy person. Greg (Greg D'Silva, SJ) has been after me to get more help to him for the Pandabir school. I cleared it with the Provincial and have prepared an appeal which I am sending here as an attachment. I am hoping that you can add a photo or two to it. A great one was the faces of all the boys looking into the camera at Pandabir. Then perhaps you (or Johnny) can add a note from yourself telling that you visited the site and saw the need. For this purpose you will probably have to put my appeal in a smaller font.
When you have the appeal set up, I would appreciate it if you would run off copies. I will give you the number within a day or so. A lady in my sister's parish, Beth McCarthy, has a girls' group who are interested in prayer and who meet once a week. I asked her and she agreed that I would send on the names and addresses to her and she would have the girls address the envelopes - hand written. People are more likely to read such letters and not throw them away as junk mail.
Presumably some/many parents would know MBS, my Uncle, etc., hence I have thrown those details into the appeal. I know that this will be not only time consuming but...
And that was that. How could I say 'no'? Assume the sale indeed Fr. Deeney ;-)When I told an acquaintance of his death yesterday he asked me his age, and then when had he retired. I just laughed -- most Jesuits I know never really retire. If physically able they work in some capacity until they have one foot in the grave. Then the rector or provincial asks them to do a little more until both feet are in. Always the Magis.
But Fr. Deeney was a fundraiser because he realized that donations were needed to continue to help souls in India. But that was just a part-time job for him. Fr. Deeney was one of a handful of Jesuits from the Maryland Province entrusted to help spread the Gospel of Christ in Jamshedpur, India. And what a fine job he did! His whole life would be dedicated to the Hos -- a proud tribe of 1 million -- whose (yet unwritten) language resembled those of Cambodia and Vietnam rather than Hindi. As a parish priest in Chaibasa, Lupungutu, Basahatu and Pandabir/Border he helped convert them to Catholicism, thus earning the above title "Apostle to the Hos in the Kolhan." Initially many of the Hos were reluctant to become Catholics as they thought this would take them away from their tribal identity. Like his spiritual ancestors, Fr. Roberto de Nobili, SJ and Fr. Matteo Ricci, SJ, Fr. Deeney helped assuage their fears and through inculturation helped them convert while saving their wonderful Ho customs. He admitted that he was not "the typical missionary of the St. Paul, St. John deBritto mold. My whole thrust was to make our Catholics strong in their faith. If they are strong, they themselves become apostles. On the other hand if our Catholics are weak in their faith and dispirited, there is no point in adding to their numbers. I knew every house, practically every person by name." And he got to those houses by riding a bicycle (until his mid-seventies) on some of the worst roads I've ever seen ;-0
Along with Fr. Carl Dincher, SJ they were able to spread the Faith far and wide, sometimes training catechists with filmstrips by using the Jeep's battery. After Vatican II it fell upon Fr. Deeney to translate the Mass into the Ho language, and that he did, and had to send the translation to the Vatican for approval. As Fr. John Guidera, SJ panned no one in the Vatican spoke or read Ho so they simply gave the imprimatur... with Guidera calling it the "High Ho Mass." Fr. Deeney wrote the first Ho-English dictionary, grammar book, Ho Prayer book, Ho Bible History, the translation of the New Testament, Ho Translation of the Psalms and Prophets of the Old Testament... and many others. He was, simply, a man for and with Ho Tribals for half a century.
"I came in contact with Fr. Deeney, who has spent all his life amoung the Hos and who has indeed become their patron. In the long discussion I had with him, he dwelt upon several aspects of the Ho Mission; the tribe as a whole, their language, their locale, their customs, the mission method that could be followed, etc. The enthusiasm he manifested and deep concern that he showed moved me very much and I on my part promised to do what I can for them."
Fr. Shilanand Kamath, SVD
And so a great man, a great Jesuit, was laid to rest today. This from the Socius of the Jamshedpur Province, was forwarded to me by Fr. S Tony Raj, SJ:
The Provincial and Curia wish to thank all who sent in messages of sympathy.
This is also to inform you that the funeral of Fr. John Deeney will be held on Friday, 22,
January 2010 in St. Xavier’s Church premises, Chaibasa. The time of the funeral will be announced later once we have lined up arrangements. It does appear that it will be in the second half – around 2 p.m. or so.
The place has been changed from Mango to Chaibasa: this is to accede to John Deeney’s own request of being laid to rest in Chaibasa and keeping in mind that Fr. John Deeney has been looked upon as the “ Apostle of the Hos” in the Kolhan area.
This morning at 9 the newly acquired forty-seater bus from XITE left the Provincial’s Curia with the contingent of novices, Jesuit priests and scholastics, and sisters from different congregations. There were several four wheelers in the convoy : One from Bishop’s House with the Vicar General, one from the Curia driven by the Provincial with Frs. George Deeney, John Guidera, Br. Pascal Kerketta, another one from Loyola with Br. Maxi at the wheel and still another from XLRI with Frs. Sirinus and Co.
It was heart- warming to see the Ambulance that carried the mortal remains of Fr. John Deeney to Chaibasa. It was attractively decorated. There was a bust size colored photo of Fr. John Deeney mounted just above the wind shield of the ambulance.
There was a forty five minute delay in the departure time. One could not have asked for a lovely, cool day - bright and sunny - carrying with it the pleasant feelings that come from a drop of the mercury during the night – 7 degrees Celsius.
The funeral cortege will be met at high noon at the top of the road leading to St. Xavier’s Church by the faithful who will escort it to the parish. There in the presence of the Provincial the body of Fr. Deeney will be anointed and dressed in the tradition of the Ho culture – a ritual that could take 20 minutes, before it will be taken for viewing. The Solemn Eucharist is scheduled to start at 2:30.
At this point one could only admire and applaud the whole hearted co-operation and collaboration of the Diocese and the Jesuits - as though Fr. John Deeney “belonged” to all!
We hope to give the entire coverage by night fall or by dawn tomorrow
With kind regards,
The following is an excerpt from my last letter to Fr. Deeney, which unfortunately did not arrive in time for him to read:
I have travelled as much as the next guy, and it seems that many of the trips and the memories blur into one another. All except India. Those memories of spending time in Lupungutu with you and our Jesuit friends will be ingrained upon me forever. As you know from Johnny breaking down after Mass words cannot adequately describe what it was like to attend Mass at St. Paul Miki in Border; the individual greetings from each and every Ho parishioner, the beautiful Mass concelebrated by you, Greg, Martin, Hilarius and Romo. Br. Bene singing the Animi Christi in Ho, the wreaths, the dancing, the love – almost like it was yesterday. Our daily Masses with you in that small chapel (we dubbed it Our Lady of the Astroturf – after the floor). Helping you vest before Mass. Being exposed to a different style of Catholicism – every bit as Catholic, just not as Romanesque as we were used to. Our trip to Queen of Peace in Basahatu, where we saw the blueprint for what St. Paul Miki could become. Being welcomed into the LPG Jesuit community… talking, joking, praying, eating together; your birthday Mass – seeing how happy you were to be the main celebrant with 26 of your Jesuit brothers and the six of us; the talking birthday card! The basketball game at St. Xavier’s, Americans versus the Indian Jesuits, with the kids rooting against us and, how shall we say, not exactly keeping the right score!!! Sitting at the kitchen table, you me and Johnny, just talking; kneeling for your final blessing at Loyola High School before we left for Kolkata. Please know that your death will not diminish my love for the Jam Jesuits and the Hos, and I shall do my best to ‘set the world on fire’ with their story, culminating in the building of the new St. Paul Miki School and Church.
It saddens me to know that we shan’t see each other again, at least in this lifetime, as your condition worsens. I shall miss you but I know exactly where you are going. I shall miss our conversations, our e-mails, the assurance that you, your friendship and your spiritual wisdom were but a mouse click away. Yet my sadness is tempered as we both believe in the Christ that suffered and died on the Cross for our sins. That He rose from the dead so that we could have a chance at everlasting life. That He will remember you as His loyal servant. I remember the story you shared with me about reading a book in the living room as your mother prepared dinner. That although she couldn’t see you from the kitchen – she was buoyed by the fact that she knew you were close-by. Please continue to pray for me, for us, always Fr. Deeney. Perhaps someday I’ll be sitting outside the Church of the Gesu, waiting to pick up Teron at The Prep, and the Route 15 Trolley will go down Girard Avenue. I’ll hear the bells and know that you are seated at the right hand of God… still watching over me, over us – but still close-by.
AMDG / Jisu Marang ka / Christ's Peace!
Tom Brz (Fr. Deeney's abbreviation for my way too long Polish name ;-)
Fr. Deeney knew he had a vocation but was unsure whether to join the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where his uncle, Monsignor John Daly was a priest at Most Blessed Sacrament, to become a Vincetian priest -- the order who ran Immaculate Conception Parish in Germantown, or to become a Jesuit like the priests that operated his high school St. Joseph's Prep. In his autubiography he stated that he received a clear message from the Holy Spirit that he should become a Jesuit. "I had no vision, heard no voice, but there was a sudden deep conviction about which I could have no doubt that I should be a Jesuit. I remember the exact place I was standing when that happened..."
In one of our numerous e-mails I asked him if he could fill in the blanks for me.
I'll close with the words of condolence from the Deeney Family, written by Johnny Gill, and read today at Mass by Fr. Jerry Cutinha, SJ, concelebrated by over 100 priests with over 2,000 mourners:
About my vocation. While I was alone, quieting waiting for a trolley I suddenly had this firm conviction, almost like a message, that God wanted me to become a Jesuit. It was a very strong thing, which left no question of doubting it. After that I just knew that I was to become a Jesuit. I considered that very sacred and never spoke about it until recent years. When I was asked to write something about my vocation I wrote that with hesitation, and asked the Socius to the Provincial whether I should include that. He advised me to include it. In recent years I have come to think of it as a kind of intellectual vision (i.e. no sight nor sound). In the Spiritual Exercises #330 Ignatius writes about consolation without previous cause. This was something like that. It came to me suddenly out of the blue.
Again, again and again thanks, Tom, for all that you are doing to help our work in Jamshedpur, and for all that you do for God's glory.
Greetings to the parishioners of St. Xavier’s, friends of Fr. Deeney, and his Jesuit brothers present here today. We, Fr. Deeney’s family, wish to express our deep appreciation for all the love that you have shown to our dear Uncle John throughout his many years in India, especially during his difficult final month.
The distance between Philadelphia and Jamshedpur is approximately 13,000 km. But due to the diligent email correspondence of many, especially Fr. Eric Cassel, S.J. and Fr. Jerry Cutinha, S.J., we were made to feel close to the situation and were constantly informed of his ever-changing health status. More importantly, we were comforted that his Jesuit brothers were caring for him and doing all that they could to ease his pain. We wish that we could be there with you today to mourn and to commend his soul the Lord. But given the great distance, we will mourn here and celebrate his life in our own way with a Memorial Mass in his honor.
Many years ago, Uncle John made it clear that it was his desire to spend the rest of his days in India and to eventually die there. He was happy to come back to America to visit us every few years. But he was always eager to get back to his work, his people, his community, in India. In 1991, he denounced his American citizenship and was granted Indian citizenship. We imagine this to have been a joyous day for him. Surely he fancied himself an Indian long before then, but on that day he had the paperwork to prove it. Fr. Greg D’Silva, S.J., told Uncle John’s grand-nephew Johnny Gill during his 2008 visit to India that “In many ways, Fr. Deeney is more Indian than we.” Uncle John’s desire to spend his life working with and for the Ho people, lends credence to Fr. Greg’s words that day. We truly treasured his home visits to Philadelphia. But we know that his real home was here in Chaibasa, where he will be laid to rest here today.
As we reflect on Uncle John’s life, we see clearly that we, and you, were blessed to have been in the presence of a true saint. He sought no glory, notoriety or praise. Everything he did was “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” – For the Greater Glory of God. We will hold up his life’s work as a beacon that we can look to when we are feeling weak, encumbered, or put-upon, and use it as motivation to improve ourselves and our relationship with God each day. We hope that you too can take Uncle John’s life into your hearts and go forth filled with the Spirit!
So again, thank you to all present today. In some way, each of you helped to make our Uncle John’s life here in India happy, and profoundly meaningful. May God bless each of you. And as Uncle John assumes his rightful place in Heaven, no doubt receiving a congratulatory hug from St. Ignatius himself on a job well done, may he continue to affect each of you through his prayerful intercession.
Jisu marang ka!
Fr. Deeney’s family
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All are most welcome to attend the Memorial Mass for Fr. Deeney at Saint Joseph's University next Saturday, January 30th, at 11:00 AM.