I KNEW A FRENCH JESUIT, a missionary to mainland China. Fr. de Geloes was a little of a Don Quixote and quite a character! He had been a jockey in France who had lost hearing in his left ear in a fall. He regained it the next time he fell off a horse and hit the other side of his head. That second fall occurred just after he had made a promise to become a missionary in China if he were healed.
Well, he became a Jesuit, went to China, and of course with his horse sense became the expert in buying for his fellow missionaries little Mongol horses, the best means of transportation in country districts.
When I was in language school in Beijing, I was told that even though Fr. de Geloes did not master Chinese, he would attract hundreds of Christians who wanted to see him going around the stations of the cross, crying at every station. This was to help us to become holier, not proficient in Mandarin.
Fr. de Geloes was reported dead in Communist territory around 1950. A funeral service was going on in St. Peter's Church in Shanghai when Fr. de Geloes himself shows up, far from dead, and walks up to the altar rail, turns around, and thanks those who were praying for his soul.
And then there was Fr. de Geloes's nephew, Stanislaus, another Jesuit missioned to China but expelled to the Philippines. From there he moved to Taiwan and worked in the countryside for many years, founding a home for crippled and retarded children. He later agreed to go to Kinmen Island, a place no one else wanted to go because it was too far from Taiwan and too close to mainland China.
He passed away at 85. Like his uncle, he kind of galloped away and disappeared into the clouds. They both must have belonged to the Year of the Horse!
They were just two of the inspiring Jesuits I knew or heard of during my own years as a missionary in China. Very early in life I was attracted by the mystery of the Orient and had befriended many Chinese. I was meant to be a missionary. So from 1946 to 1984 I spent most of the time in China (2 years at the language school in Taiwan, 23 more in Taiwan, and then 7 in the Philippines with the Jesuit Chinese Delegation).
It took a car accident to get me back to Canada. That's where my parents and friends told me, "You've done enough for the Church; it's about time you retired!" But it wasn't. Born under the sign of the dog but active as a squirrel, I wouldn't let myself hibernate in a Nordic country.
Since my return to Canada I've observed many a Jesuit in the French Canada Province still very active in ministry work, writing, preaching, and researching at a time when all their grade school chums are enjoying quiet, peaceful retirement. Can you imagine an 87-year-old Jesuit delivering the eulogy at the burial of a fellow Jesuit two years younger? And another, an 89-year-old, who still organizes sessions of the Spiritual Exercises? Still another, a provincial secretary for 45 years who has seen nine provincials come and go, and is still at his job, using his wonderful memory to serve the current young provincial?
Following these examples, I became the province mission procurator, or buyer. It was a task that let my mind roam all over the world, stopping more often than not in the Orient.
And, suddenly, Bang! I became rector of Garnier Residence in Quebec City. Back again behind a desk and restricted to a small compound, I was still able to take weekends off to preach on and for the missions.
In 1990 the vice-postulator of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's cause, a famous historian, Fr. Henri Béchard, SJ, passed away at age 81. (I think he actually just faded away; for four years after he left this world, Kateri's devotees were still sending letters to him.) It took me an eight-day discernment under the guidance of a spiritual director to accept this new assignment, my third career since those China years.
My missionary vision has narrowed to some extent, even though Blessed Kateri is now known all over the world. I took word of her to Taiwan, the Philippines, and many cities in North America. The annual Tekakwitha conferences I attend (last year's was in Tucson) put me in contact with other Jesuits working with Native peoples and give me a real immersion in the life of so many Native people who travel from all over America to attend.
My main concern now is with the Native peoples of Canada and the United States. There is such an awakening among them to their own spiritual traditions and customs. It is as if the spirit of the great missionaries Brébeuf, Marquette, De Smet, and Kino still lingers on. They have not yet retired.
Today I am 74 and happy to be working, dreaming of my China Province, where I would gladly go back after Blessed Kateri is canonized. I am still editing the little quarterly Kateri and walking to the Kateri Center every day, where heaps of letters have to be answered, coordination with three secretaries assured, ministries in the Kateri Shrine performed_I'm too busy to even think about retiring.
Fr. Jacques Bruyère, SJ, lives in Khanawake, just south of Montreal, where he works for the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.