Home | In His Own Words

FR. JOSE T BACATAN, SJ
January 22, 1931 – September 9, 2021

IN HIS OWN WORDS
50th Anniversary of the Ordination to the Priesthood
Sacred Heart Church, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, June 4, 2015

            Here is Fr Pepe’s curriculum vita from the records of the Society of Jesus: Jose Tizon Bacatan, born January 22, 1931 at Paranas, Samar. His elementary and high school studies were at Sacred Heart College, Catbalogan. He was twenty years old in 1951 when he entered the Society of Jesus at Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, Quezon City.

            Scholastic Pepe was a regent at Xavier University and taught Religion, Latin, English and Biology. In 1962 he went to the Bellarmine School of Theology, Illinois, USA for theological studies and was ordained a priest at San Francisco, California on June 4, 1965 at the age of 34. All of us have seen his picture as a young handsome Jesuit priest on the invitation to today’s gathering.

            His further studies through the years were in Guidance and Counseling, Audio-Visual courses and Educational Management. He first came to ADZ in 1975 and has stayed since then, except for a sabbatical year in 1988 and the 2-year stint at Korea from 1996-1998, following the missionary footsteps of Fr Juan Sanz, Fr Samuel Dizon and Scholastics Ramon Baustista, Maico Rescate and Raul Villamiel.

            Fr Pepe’s ADZ responsibilities through the years were teaching English and Speech Improvement to college students, Guidance Counselor, Librarian, Dean of College, Mass Com Chairman, part-time professor at WMSU’s doctoral program, research and eagle-eyed editorial work with the Graduate School, House Minister and Treasurer. Since 2010 he has been praying for the Church and the Society.

            Don’t judge a book by its cover, as the losers who recreate with him know. Aided and abetted by Marlon, he is quietly rolled out of the Jesuit Residence after lunch (and after a visit to the Blessed Sacrament to pray for success) to go next door for a game of you-know-what, where PONG is an important word. When asked, he does not tell us whether he won or not, knowing we expect a blowout.

            A man of few words these days, watch out for his enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. He may not join the boisterous banter of his fellow celibates at the dinner table, but he is all ears and once in a while we hear him chuckle or chortle from his corner seat. 

            One incident worth retelling. Last Christmas Fr Pepe was seated at the covered courts waiting for the program to begin. Retired PE teacher Pureza Sumayang got worried when she saw Fr Pepe surrounded by a number of security guards. When she finally approached him, she was surprised to see the whole Jesuit community in costume for our dance number later. People later said this was the best Christmas party in years. No, Fr Pepe was not in costume and with dignity did not dance the Hagibis number with us.

            Fr Pepe does not move around much these days, but we know his mind is sharp and he keeps in touch through email and the internet. We asked him to write his own homily for this occasion and here is his email:

            “Please use your own words in narrating some or all of what I have here. 2 times already I wrote something for someone to read, but the readings lacked the unction of an original speaker. Let me know if you need more info. Don’t make the homily long.       

A SHORT VOCATION STORY

            “I don’t remember, when I was growing up, of being anything else but a priest. We played saying Mass with a towel over my shoulders and distributing sliced bananas at communion. I did not know of any other kind of priest, except those graduating from the local seminary.

            “When the RVMs took charge of the parochial school, they had in the library magazines of priests called ‘missionaries’ such as Jesuits and Maryknollers. Further readings showed other priests, like the Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians. I was attracted by the life they had as ‘missionaries.’

            “The first flesh-and-blood missionary I met was the Jesuit Father de Manuel who came to our school to conduct a preached school retreat when I was in 2nd year high school. I learned later that Father de Manuel left the Jesuits. But his departure did not stop me from trying to learn more about the Jesuits.

            “The opportunity came during the summer after my 2nd year high school. I got permission to go to Manila to visit my brothers and sisters who were studying and working there, with my mother taking care of them. But my real purpose for going to Manila was to talk to some Jesuits there.

            “I finally got to Xavier House, but not familiar with buses and jeeps, I decided to walk from San Andres Bukid to Paco, following the railroad tracks, and up Herran to Sta Ana where Xavier House was. Before that summer ended, Father Socius (assistant to Fr Provincial) told me to report to San Jose Seminary for the opening of my 3rd year high school classes, but my family in Manila prevailed on me to go back to Samar, because my father who was alone there had threatened to commit suicide if I did not.

            “During my entire 3rd year high school, I kept in touch with Father Socius. I showed my father a letter instructing me to report to San Jose Seminary to finish my high school and learn some Latin. My father said “If that’s really where you want to go, go.”

            “Early in my Jesuit life, I learned that the Society of Jesus is a missionary order. But ‘missions’ should not be understood only as the foreign missions, because there are also the home missions, like the schools that are equally important areas where one can work for the kingdom of God.

            “This distinction between home and foreign missions considerably toned down my desire to follow some Filipino Jesuits in Japan, Indonesia and Korea. I had already given up on being sent to a foreign country because of my age, when in 1996, at the age of 65, my answer to a call for volunteers to teach at Sogang University in Seoul was accepted.

            “My years as a priest have been here at ADZU, 40 years in administration and classroom instruction. But I found pastoral work in Ipil and my volunteer work among OFWs in Seoul very exciting.

            “One other thing to which I attribute growth in my vocation was a practice introduced by the RVMs, the offering of spiritual bouquets. I was a daily communicant since grade school because of my desire to offer many Masses and communions. Now with my Parkinson’s, my life has become sedentary. But that is now mission.”  

These were Fr Pepe’s own words. And now, following his instruction and using the language of simplicity mentioned by Pope Francis, here is the short homily.

From the book of Ecclesiastes (3:1-15) in the Old Testament: “There is an appointed time for everything. A time to give birth, and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to be silent, and a time to speak. God has set the right time for everything…”

From the Gospel of St. Matthew (25:23). “The master said: well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Today in this special Mass of thanksgiving, we all join Fr Pepe and his family and loyal friends in gratefully thanking God for his 50 years of long and fruitful life as a priest of the Society of Jesus – Pro Deo et Patria, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.                               

Salvador Wee, SJ