By Matters India Reporter
Patna: An era in the Bihar Church history ended on February 12 with the death of its last American Jesuit missionary.
Father Jerome Durack died at 6:20 am at Xavier Bhawan, Xavier Teachers Training Institute, Digha Ghat, a western suburb of Patna, the state capital. He was 88. He was unwell for the past few days.
“Father Durack’s death is a moment of special significance to the history of the Church and of Jesuits in Bihar. He has been the last American Missionary working in Bihar. With his death a significant chapter in the history of Christian faith and Patna Jesuits come to gracing end,” says Father Anto Joseph Thundaparambil, a Patna Jesuit.
Father Durack came to Patna in 1951 and visited his home only once, in 1976, and that too under obedience to his Jesuit superior.
“Hundreds of families and thousands of Christians in Bihar would miss him, but would remember him with love and devotion in years to come,” Father Thundaparambil said his condolence message.
The young priest hailed Father Durack as “a model of missionary zeal and Jesuit charism.” His prized possession were the Bible, the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola and the Constitutions of the Society (all in Latin). “He read them again and again. They had become his life.”
Fr. Durack was born in 1929 at Chicago, Illinois, in the middle class family of Jeremiah and Lillian Durack. After high school, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1947. After arriving in India he completed his priestly studies from Pune, Shembaganur, Jaipur, and Kerseong. He was ordained a priest at St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral, Patna in 1960.
From 1962 to 1974, he was entrusted with the formation of Jesuits as a teacher in St. Joseph’s Mission Home, Palai, Kerala, southern India, and director of candidates in Xavier Hall, Patna.
He served the Christian community as a pastor in 1976 and the rest of his life. He cycled or walked into Christian families; administered the Sacraments, preached; taught catechism, laity, bishops, clergy, and religious.
He served as parish priest of Bettiah, northern Bihar twice, 1974-1976 and 1999-2007. He was parish priest of Latonah for two years from 1992 and then in Kurji, Patna for four years. He also served as secretary to the Bishop of Muzzaffurpur for ten years from 1982 and then secretary to the Bishop of Bettiah for seven years from 2007. He was the vicar general of Bettiah during 1999 –2008.
He also served as the spiritual director of Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Bettiah for two years. He guided the general chapters of the congregation as he always admired the unique contribution of the sisters in the faith formation of Catholics in Bihar.
Father Durack also contributed to the growth of Catholic literature in Hindi such as Dharma Gyan (religious wisdom) and Prem Apaar (incomparable love). He has translated many lives of saints. Recognizing his contribution to Hindi Catholic literature, he was awarded with Cherubim Barno Sahu Award by Prabhat Prakashan in 2014.
His books — English Speech Drills, Let Us Learn English Grammar, and Some Principles and Practices are still being used as source books to teach English to religious and seminarians.
Until January, he maintained house accounts of Sanjivan Jesuit community, taught catechism to those recommended by the Kurji parish priest, offered spiritual guide to religious and laity. He also visited Christian families in the evening.
“He was a truly spiritual man -very austere, a man very congruent in words and deeds and in his silence,” recalled George Kunnath, a management consultant and former Jesuit seminarian in 1970s.
“He was very systematic and methodical in helping me/us in inculcating self-discipline. The way he facilitated English grammar, spelling and writing skills I still value. Many of us found him difficult to emulate but looking back I value his contribution to my life,” Kunnath said.