Candles In The Dark

Candles In The Dark

‘Where God guides, God provides’

NOV 02

Thousands of poor people – of all creeds and castes – in three districts of Tamil Nadu, India and hundreds of men and women in U.K. and U.S. consider him a true hero, and a saint.

Brother James Kimpton was born in a presbytery! Poverty forced his parents to take shelter in the parish presbytery in Conway, in Northern Wales, England, where he was born on 23 May 1925. When their fortunes improved, the family shifted to a rented house. Then, in 1937, his father, Charles Kimpton, bought a small house for his family. James had to walk to his school four miles away.

He felt close to his mother, Doris Kimpton, and imbibed her qualities of simplicity, frugality, punctuality and a spirit of generous service. When he was fourteen, he decided to become a De La Salle Brother and made his first profession in 1945 and five years later his final profession. In 1952 he was sent to work in a college at Wattala, Sri Lanka. Apart from teaching art and coaching the students in sports, Brother Kimpton started a printing press and a school for visually challenged children.

In 1964 the Sri Lankan government ordered all foreigners to leave and that turned out to be a blessing for India, especially the southern State of Tamil Nadu. He established a 120-acre ‘Boys’ Town’ near Nagamalai, Madurai, where boys from very poor families learnt farming and other trades, like carpentry and welding. In 1966, hearing the sad news of his mother’s serious illness, he rushed to England and managed to see her in her last moments and say, “Mother, I am here!”

In 1974, he started ‘Boys’ Village’ near Batlagundu and soon started working in surrounding villages. In 1976, his parish priest, a good friend, brought him four orphaned children. But Brother Kimpton told him that, as a matter of policy, the Boys’ Village did not admit girls or boys under seven. But a persistent inner voice kept reminding him of the orphaned children. He brought the children and asked the widow who was working as a gardener to be a mother to the children. When more and more destitute children came, he came up with a unique way of caring for them. He trained ‘mothers’ to care for seven or eight children in a homely, loving atmosphere, as if they were their own children.

A registered society called ‘Reaching the Unreached (RTU)’ was started in 1978. Its office in a village called G. Kallupatti in Theni district of Tamil Nadu became his home. The services RTU offered to the poor in a number of villages were so many and so well-planned that those who came to know about them were awe-struck. Four Children’s Villages, schools, bore-wells, day-care centres for working women, drinking water projects, balwadis, hostels for girl students, nutritious food schemes, low-cost houses, clinics, home for HIV-affected children, mobile tailoring unit, mobile science labs…. His friends who admired his amazing achievements formed RTU-UK and RTU-USA to raise funds for his projects.

Kimpton woke up at 4.30 am to pray. He prayed the Rosary every evening. He deeply believed that ‘where God guides, God provides.’ When lack of rain caused problems, he filled a bottle with water and placed it before a statue of St Joseph and prayed. Soon, there was a heavy downpour! When a ten-year old girl’s condition became critical, after a sudden attack of fits, he stuck her photo on a picture of Mother Teresa and asked everyone to pray. The girl miraculously recovered! One who never believed in religious conversions, Kimpton advised all those who worked for him to remain true to their faith. He joined the festival celebrations in local temples and attended Muslims’ iftar ceremonies. Festivals of all religions were celebrated joyfully in all Children’s Villages.

Apart from his inspiring and practical love for the poor, Brother James was a gifted artist and architect. His drawings of village children are works of art. He designed and constructed hundreds of houses for the poor.

Bro James Kimpton died peacefully on October 5, 2017, at the age of 92. The Englishman who left his mother and motherland to work here continues to live in the grateful hearts of the thousands of poor Indian children and adults he reached out to.


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Fr M A Joe Antony SJ

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Candles In The Dark


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When I heard the sad news of his passing away, I recalled the happy memories of meeting him, when he came to be the Chief Guest at the New Leader National Awards function many years ago. He must have been in his 70’s then, but nobody could guess his age, as he was so active and agile. What struck me was the utter simplicity and humility of the eminent journalist, writer, editor, High Commissioner to the U.K. and a member of the Rajya Sabha.

Kuldip Nayar, 95, who died on 23 August 2018, was a stalwart of the Indian press, who stood up and spoke up for freedom and democracy, for human rights and secularism, till the end.

He was born in 1923 in Sialkot, Punjab, now in Pakistan. He studied English literature, journalism and law in Lahore, then a part of British India. Beginning his career as an Urdu reporter, he became the editor of the Delhi edition of The Statesman and later the head of the news agency called United News of India (UNI). Soon he became a much-admired writer, thanks to his commitment to human rights, democracy and peace. As an uncompromising, principled crusader for these values, he was widely respected and read. For a number of years his syndicated column, called Between the Lines, was published in about 80 newspapers in 14 languages.

Although the present situation in India is not very different from that period, the time of Emergency continues to be called the darkest hour for Indian journalism. Soon after Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in 1975, Kuldip Nayar was one of the few fearless journalists who reported and condemned the widespread violations of human rights and the attacks on freedom of expression. So, inevitably, he was one of the first journalists to be jailed and tortured.

The book he wrote after the Emergency was withdrawn and he was released from prison became a bestseller. It was called The Judgement. He wrote other books: Distant Neighbours: A Tale of the Subcontinent, India after Nehru, Wall at Wagah, India-Pakistan Relationship, The Martyr, etc. His autobiography, Beyond the Lines, reveals not merely his convictions and commitment, but also the vision he had for our country and South Asia. He could never digest the fact that India and Pakistan continue to see each other as enemies. He kept on urging the leaders of both countries to initiate talks to find solutions to the problems they faced. He did something symbolic to highlight this vision. From 2000, every year on 14 and 15 August, when Pakistan and India celebrate their Independence, Nayar led a group of peace activists to light candles at the India-Pakistan border at Attari-Wagah near Amritsar.

He had a friend in Pakistan who, in spite of being a politician, was a peace activist too – Jaleel Ahmed Khan. As one who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and was a witness to the mass murders caused by communal hatred, Khan understood the value of peace and joined Nayar in several peace initiatives in both countries. Recognition of his merits and values led to his being made the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in 1990, a member of India’s delegation to the United Nations in 1996 and a member of Rajya Sabha in 1997.

We observe this year the 10th anniversary of the well-planned anti-Christian Kandhamal riots that killed hundreds of poor, tribal Catholics in Kandhamal district in Orissa. Anto Akkara, the courageous Catholic journalist from Kerala, who has risked a lot to unearth and publicize the shocking truths behind those massacres, has described, in a recent article, the inspiration and support he received from Nayar. In spite of his age and illness and many commitments, Kuldip Nayar was present for the release of his book, Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?, and later wrote a foreword to its Hindi translation.

At a time when fake news and false propaganda are used to ignite hatred and win votes, Kuldip Nayar’s legacy as a journalist of integrity and a crusader of peace and harmony will always remain a benchmark for all who work in media.

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“She was Good News for the Poor”

Sep 12

The Salesian officials at their theologate at Kavarapettai near Chennai had invited me to be the Chief Guest at their Pope’s Day celebrations on 29 June this year, the feast day of Sts Peter and Paul. The main event was a seminar on the latest apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, Gaudete at Exultate (Rejoice and be glad). Apart from about 60 Salesian students of theology from three Indian States, and their professors, there were Sisters and some lay men and women.

After four of the students presented this papal document with the help of slides, I had to speak. In order to highlight a point made by Pope Francis in his exhortation, I asked them to think of someone whom they had lived or worked with, who would qualify to be called a saint – in the light of what Pope Francis says of ‘saints next door.’ Ms. Margaret Rosair, a retired English teacher who was there, came up to talk of a PBVM Sister who had died ten days earlier. She explained why she thought Sr Isabel, who loved and served the poor till the end, was a saint. I said I’d agree wholeheartedly.

Sr Isabel Dias PBVM was born at Chandor, Goa, in 1929 as the sixth child of Mr. Diogo Santano Dias and Mrs. Terezinha Gomes. After her studies, she worked as a teacher in Mumbai for two years and then joined the Presentation Sisters (PBVM) in 1953. Starting her religious formation in Church Park, Chennai, she made her first profession in 1955 and her final profession in 1960.

After teaching in the schools run by PBVM Sisters in Chennai, she served as an administrator in their novitiate in Bangalore and then as the community animator in Bombay from 1974 till 1982. After retiring from active teaching, she worked in Perambur, Chennai for five years and then she moved to the George Town community, where she spent a total of 35 years working with the poor.

During the 20 years when I edited the New Leader, I met her many a time. She would be the first one to welcome you and make you feel at home by taking care of you. She sat in the front row in the church, participating in the Eucharist attentively and devoutly. The hours she spent before the Blessed Sacrament gave her the energy she needed for her work with the poor. A kind, compassionate, and caring person, Sr Isabel had always a gracious smile on her face.

Sr Isabel sought to empower the poor by training them in various skills. She used her entrepreneurial skills to start a successful business venture which helped many poor women to eke out a living and support their families. Her delicious cakes, cookies and wine were in great demand during festive occasions. The decorations she came up with for weddings or feasts testified to her artistic, creative skills.

Ms Arlene Correya is an ‘associate’ of Nano Nagle, the courageous and compassionate Irish woman who founded the PBVM Sisters. She says, “I was privileged to work closely with Sr Isabel during the last ten years. She inspired us to reach out to the poor. She took us to homes for the aged and cancer hospitals and encouraged us to share our time and love with the inmates. She knocked at the doors of schools and colleges to obtain admission for the poor children. She was never ashamed to beg from the rich in order to meet the educational and medical expenses of the poor. She loved to narrate Bible stories to children and took a great interest in preparing them to receive the sacraments of Communion and Confirmation. She stressed the importance of family prayer and encouraged them to serve at the altar. Sr Isabel was the voice for the voiceless. She was the good news for the poor.”

Sr Isabel died on 20 June 2018 at the age of 89. Sr Leela Kallarackal PBVM, who knew her well, says, “Sr Isabel can be called the Nano Nagle of Chennai.” One of the things that showed this was true was the way the poor, needy women gave vent to their sorrow at her funeral at St Mary’s Co-cathedral, Chennai on 21 June. They cried, they sobbed, they wailed without any inhibition.


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Martyrs for Justice


The Vatican announced recently that Bl. Archbishop Oscar Romero will be canonized during the Synod of Bishops in October this year. Soon after he was beatified on 23 May 2015, this is what I wrote in the New Leader:

“You would have surely heard about the man– Archbishop Oscar Romero. He was born in a poor family on 15 August 1917 in a small town, about 100 miles away from San Salvador, the capital city of EI Salvador. There were no job opportunities in his town for people with academic qualifications. So he had to become a carpenter. But sensing the call to become a priest, he joined the seminary. Before his ordination, he was sent to the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome for his theology. In 1942, while still in Rome, he was ordained a priest, but none of his family could attend the ceremony.

Returning to EI Salvador soon after his ordination, he ministered in parishes for over 20 years. Since alcoholism was rampant in the area, he started an Alcoholics Anonymous group. After serving as the rector of the inter-diocesan seminary in San Salvador, he became the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Salvador in 1970. In 1974 he was appointed the Bishop of a poor, rural diocese called Santiago de Maria. In 1977 he was appointed the Archbishop of San Salvador.

In EI Salvador a handful of wealthy families owned more than 90% of the land. When the poor peasants raised their voice to obtain their rights for a decent, dignified life, their leaders were abducted, exiled or killed. In order to justify such atrocities the ruling military junta branded anyone who stood up for the poor as communists. Fr Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who worked with the poor and a close friend of Romero, was assassinated by a death squad. “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead,” Archbishop Romero later wrote, “I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’ Romero, who was more of a timid conservative, from then on, reached out to help and console the poor and their leaders who faced these terrible sufferings. He was moved by the plight of a growing number of widows, orphans and those who had to flee the country. He emerged as a champion of the poor and became the voice of the voiceless.


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Courage Born of Compassion


This Indian, who, I am sure, must be very close to God, is not a Christian. When Kailash Satyarthi was born, he was named Kailash Sharma. Sharma is a common surname among Brahmins in India and Nepal. How did Kailash Sharma become Kailash Satyarthi? ‘Satyarthi,’ by the way, means ‘seeker of truth.’

What made him change his name?

Barred from his own kitchen and dining room

Not merely his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi but also something that happened when he, as a young man, organized a dinner for ‘high caste’ people. He let it be known that the food that would be served would be cooked by Dalits. None of the leaders turned up. But it didn’t stop with that. They went on to threaten that he and his family would be excommunicated. If they wanted to save themselves from excommunication, he should take a holy dip in the Ganges, and organize a feast for 101 Hindu priests, wash their feet and drink that water. Kailash refused and so was barred from entering the kitchen and the dining hall in his own house and was forced to use his own utensils. Kailash Sharma chose to renounce his caste and the entire caste system and changed his name to Kailash Satyarthi…


Fr M.A. Joe Antony SJ

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A TV Celebrity, a Best-Selling Author and a Man of God


Meet a bishop whose radio broadcasts had four million listeners, who received 6000 letters a week from listeners, was watched by thirty million viewers on TV, wrote 73 books—and learnt most on his knees.

When I was in the novitiate I remember scouring the library for his books. Their appeal had to do with his vast learning, fresh insights and the way he communicated them. Therefore I wasn’t surprised when I learnt, years later, that his radio broadcasts had a weekly listening audience of four million people and received 3,000–6,000 letters from his listeners every week.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen later moved to television and, from 1951 till 1957, presented a programme called ‘Life Is Worth Living,’ which drew more than thirty million people every week!  Later he hosted ‘The Fulton Sheen Program’ for seven years from 1961. One of his best-remembered presentations was telecast in February 1953, when he forcefully denounced the repressive regime of the Communist dictator, Joseph Stalin. He concluded by saying, “Stalin must one day meet his judgment.” A few days later the Soviet dictator suffered a stroke and died within a week.

Sheen was born on May 8th, 1895, in El Paso, Illinois, U.S. Later his family moved to nearby Peoria, Illinois, where he was educated. After his school and college studies, Sheen joined the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1919. He was sent to study philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and later he earned a doctorate in philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. He went to Angelicum in Rome and earned another doctorate. This time it was in theology.

He returned to the Catholic University of America, where he taught theology and philosophy for twenty-three years and honed his skills as a scholar, educator and orator. In 1951 he was appointed the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. In 1958, he became the national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, serving for eight years. In 1966 he was made the Bishop of Rochester. He resigned after three years and was made the Archbishop of the titular see of Newport, Wales. While this ceremonial position promoted him to the rank of Archbishop, it freed him to focus on writing. Archbishop Sheen wrote seventy-three books and numerous articles and columns.

Time magazine featured him on its cover in 1946 and referred to him as “the golden-voiced Monsignor.” He won an Emmy Award twice for ‘Most Outstanding Television Personality.’ While he was at the height of his popularity he had to stop hosting his TV show, reportedly because of a Cardinal who had a grudge against Sheen and swore revenge. But Sheen never said anything in public about the Cardinal and even went on to praise him in his autobiography, Treasure in Clay. Sheen brought a number of notable figures in the U.S. to the Catholic faith, including agnostic writer Heywood Broun, politician Clare Boothe Luce, automaker Henry Ford II, the famous violinist and composer Freitz Kreisler and actress Virginia Mayo.

Beginning in 1977 Sheen had to undergo a series of surgeries that sapped his strength and made even preaching difficult. On October 2nd, 1979, about two months before Sheen’s death, Pope John Paul II visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and embraced Sheen, saying, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are a loyal son of the Church.” Soon after an open-heart surgery, Sheen died on December 9th, 1979 in his private chapel, while he was praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Every single day all through his priestly life he spent an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host,” he said.

The cause for his canonization as a saint was officially opened in 2002. In June 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared him a ‘Venerable Servant of God.’ We may not be an intellectual giant or a popular communicator as he was, but we can all pray. He said, “It is impossible to lose your footing when you are on your knees.”

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The fearless fighter who fought till the end


When she was leading the agitation, she was not aware that the police had been strictly ordered to disrobe her and have her photographed. The ruthless dictator and the extremists thought that kind of humiliation would silence her. The unscrupulous policemen standing behind her did try to tear her dress off and managed to bare her back. But her supporters fought and succeeded in protecting her from further humiliation. But the outrage and the shock did not silence her. Asma Jahangir, described as the “gutsiest woman of Pakistan,” fought courageously against dictatorship and religious extremism till the end that came on 11 February this year.

Born on 27 January 1952  into an affluent family in Lahore, Pakistan, Asma Jilani Jahangir studied at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Lahore. In 1978 she received her law degree from Punjab University, Lahore. Right from her childhood Asma was exposed to activism and political struggle. Her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, though a civil servant, was a fearless activist who was frequently jailed for opposing military dictators. In fact, the first time Asma appeared in court was to plead the case of her jailed father.

In 1983, Safia Bibi, a blind 13-year-old girl, was raped by her employers, and as a result became pregnant. But what happened to her can enlighten you about what really goes on in Pakistan. Her rapists accused her of ‘fornication’ and the court fined her and sentenced her to flogging and three years of imprisonment. Asma and a group of supporters staged a protest and later she defended Safia in the court. Widespread protests and pressure finally made the appeals court overturn the infamous verdict that sought to punish the victim of the crime.

Asma advocated peace with India, and so the extremist elements often accused her of being an Indian agent or a traitor.

She worked initially at the Lahore High Court, and later at the Supreme Court. In the 1980s, when she became active in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, the regime of Zia-ul-Haq put her in jail. In 1986, she moved to Geneva, and became the vice-chair of the Defence for Children International. In 1988 she returned to Pakistan. She co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and was its Secretary General for a few years. Asma became Pakistan’s first woman to serve as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association. She served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion for six years from 2004 and on the U.N. panel for inquiry into human rights violations in Sri Lanka, Israel and Iran.

Asma spent her life defending the human and women’s rights, rights of religious minorities and children in Pakistan. She was a staunch critic of the Hudood Ordinance that decreed that victims of rape had to prove their innocence or else face punishment themselves. She also fought against efforts to bring in Proposed Law of Evidence, which reduced the value of a woman’s testimony to half of the value of a man’s testimony. In a letter to The New York Times, Asma said that “Women are arrested, raped and sexually assaulted every day in the presence of female constables, who find themselves helpless in such situations.” She had to pay dearly for criticizing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws that were used against the minorities.

She won a number of awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award and the French government’s ‘Officier de la Légion d’honneur’ award. But the international recognition of her courage and struggles did not prevent the Pakistani government and army from harassing her. If she was not jailed, she was put under house arrest. In 2012, she came to know that an assassination plot against her had been hatched at the highest level of the security establishment. But she refused to leave the country. She said, “I will not leave. My ancestors are buried here, and my life is here.”

That life ended on 11 February 2018, when she suffered a brain hemorrhage. Writing about her funeral on 13 February, Rabia Mehmood, a Pakistani woman journalist, said, “it turned into a poignant display of women’s resistance in Pakistan… Her funeral was a staggering manifestation of her legacy, a radical send-off befitting a feminist icon. It was subversive not only because thousands of men and women stood next to each other praying, but also because those men and women were Christians, Sikhs, Shia, Sunni and Ahmadi.”

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“Thou art the folly of love divine, Cross of our Saviour King!”

April 08

Do you know someone who is not carrying a cross? We all are. What makes our crosses different is their weight. But our crosses are metaphorical, referring to the sufferings we have to endure. Can you believe that there is a man who literally carries a cross—an actual cross?  He walks around, meets people, prays for them, and even travels abroad carrying a twelve-foot, wooden cross that weighs forty-one kilograms!

One night in 1982, Keith Wheeler was on a beach in Florida, watching the ocean and thinking about life. It is at that moment, he says, he understood the value of the death of Jesus on a cross. Three years later, in 1985, while he was praying at night, he felt that God spoke to him: “I want you to make a cross and begin carrying it through the streets of Tulsa on Good Friday.” He obeyed, made a cross and on Good Friday carried it along the streets of Tulsa, a town in Oklahoma, U.S.A. He believed that God wanted him to be a pilgrim of peace who carries the cross, the symbol of reconciliation, to every nation.

Now Keith Wheeler has walked with that 12-foot, wooden cross over 24,000 miles, through more than 175 countries on all seven continents! Keith has carried the cross through places such as Tibet, Iran, Iraq, China and even, Antarctica. He has carried the cross through many nations at war such as Libya, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Chechen region and Palestine. And yes, he has come to India, carrying his cross. This is what he has to say about his visit to our country: “We began carrying the cross in Kanyakumari (formerly known as Cape Comorin). It is the southernmost tip of India where the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea come together. From there, we walked north up into the state of Kerala. So many people wanted prayer … people would just stand there staring at the cross and then burst into tears, as we would share with them about God’s love and how He wants to forgive us and have a relationship with us and give us eternal life. It was awesome! People were constantly offering me food and drink. They kept hanging garlands of cloth and of flowers around my neck. Oh, the love of the precious Indian people! These weren’t just Christians, there were also Hindus and Muslims!”

Well, can you travel to 176 countries carrying a 12-foot wooden cross without facing any problems? Keith has been arrested about forty times. Once he says he was beaten and left for dead. People who did not like what he was doing have tried to run him over. One of his legs has been broken in twenty-one places! The weight of the cross has caused welts to develop on his collar bone.

Keith Wheeler, 57, an American and ecumenical Christian, is happily married. Nicole, his wife, often accompanies him on his cross-carrying trips. They have five children. You may wonder if he has other ‘crosses’—apart from the wooden cross he carries around. His twenty-four-year old daughter, Hannah, is on dialysis, and she “has to stick a needle in her body twice a day, five days a week,” he says. His son is autistic. “I believe that God’s heart breaks for the lost and hurting of this world. I know that one day He’ll wipe away every tear from our eyes.”

Keith says, “I’m not an evangelist or missionary; I’m simply a pilgrim. I am a pilgrim follower of Jesus. I go with Jesus, the cross, and the simple message of God’s love for all people…”

Let Keith Wheeler keep reminding us of the Love that died on the cross for our sake and on the third day rose victoriously to be with us till the end of time.

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“I was sick, and you…”

March 08

Here is a sweet irony for you to savour. Someone who was a Protestant for almost half his life has been beatified by the Catholic Church.

I like Blessed John Sullivan for several reasons. First of all, he is a Jesuit. Secondly, he is a warm-hearted Irishman. Thirdly, in spite of all his gifts and achievements, he was rather quiet and a little shy. More importantly, his life was marked by a deep, loving concern for the sick.

John Sullivan was born in Dublin, Ireland, on May 08, 1861 as the last of five children to Sir Edward Sullivan, a Protestant, and Elizabeth Josephine Bailey, a Catholic from a prominent, land-owning family. In such mixed marriages those days girls were raised in the faith of their mother and boys in that of their father. So, John and his three brothers were brought up as Protestants, while Annie, the eldest and only daughter, was reared as a Catholic. Sir Edward, his father, a successful barrister, later became Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

With such a privileged background, John, after his schooling, went to Trinity College, Dublin, to study Classics. When he completed his studies in 1885, he was awarded the Gold Medal. He went to London to study for the English Bar at Lincoln’s Inn and travelled a great deal, opting for walking tours of Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. He spent many months in an Orthodox monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, called ‘Holy Mountain,’ where he contemplated becoming a monk. But he returned to Dublin and lived the life of a rich, highly educated young man in such a way that people called him ‘the best dressed man in Dublin.’ But they did not know he helped a lot of people anonymously and visited the sick and dying, taking with him apples, oranges, tea, sugar and clothes.

When he was 35 years old, he shocked his family and friends by announcing he wanted to become a Catholic. Four years later, wanting to be a Jesuit, he joined the Jesuit novitiate. When he completed his Jesuit formation, he was ordained a priest on 28 July 1907. He was sent to teach at Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit-run all-male boarding school. He spent his life here, except for five years when he was the rector of the Juniorate and Retreat House at Rathfarnham Castle, near Dublin. While his learning and amiable nature drew everyone he came into contact with, he travelled miles, mostly on foot or on an old, battered bicycle, to visit the sick. For this reason some called him the ‘bicycle priest.’ Those who wondered when exactly he prayed were surprised to learn from a worker that he saw Fr Sullivan around 2.00 am on his knees, praying in the school chapel. On Holy Thursday every year, he spent five or six hours kneeling in prayer before the altar.

There were many who claimed he had the gift of healing. One of the most talked about incidents had to do with a nephew of the famed Irish patriot, Michael Collins. One night in October 1928 the child woke up in extreme pain and the doctor, who was summoned, diagnosed the problem as infantile paralysis. The child’s mother drove to the school to ask for Fr Sullivan’s prayers. He rode his bike to their home and prayed for two hours, with his hands on the child’s leg. The child was cured.

On 17 February 1933, he was admitted in a nursing home, as he had severe abdominal pain. Fr John Sullivan died at 11.00 pm on 19 February 1933 with his brother Sir William Sullivan at his side. He was buried in the Jesuit cemetery in Clongowes Wood College where he served for so many years. In 1960 his remains were exhumed and transferred to St Francis Xavier Church, Dublin, where he was beatified on 13 May 2017. He was the first to be beatified in Ireland.

We, religious, should remember what he said about religious houses: Religious houses where charity had grown cold were hell upon earth.

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“Give and it shall be…”


This ‘Candles’ column is about people who are shining examples for us, isn’t it? Some may, therefore, be surprised at the person I have chosen this time. Raising their eyebrows, they might ask, ‘Oh, this woman? Isn’t she the wife of the richest person in the world?’ Melinda Gates is, yes, the wife of the man who was till recently the richest man in the world–Bill Gates. Friends who know the couple well say she is indeed his better half.

But, if you are surprised, it means you don’t know her enough.

Born on August 15, 1964 in a Catholic family in Dallas, Texas, U.S., she was christened Melinda Ann French. At St. Monica Catholic School she was the top student in her class. After earning degrees in computer science and economics and an MBA, Melinda joined Microsoft and played a key role in developing many of Microsoft’s multimedia products.

A few months after she joined Microsoft, Bill asked her out for a date. Melinda herself has revealed what exactly happened. “Bill said, ‘You know, I was thinking maybe we could go out—if  you give me your phone number—may be two weeks from tonight.’ And I said to him, ‘Two weeks from tonight? I have no idea what I’ll be doing two weeks from tonight. You’re not spontaneous enough for me.’ But Bill wasn’t ready to give up. He called an hour later and said, ‘Is this spontaneous enough for you?’”  She agreed to the date. After dating for six years they got engaged in 1993 and decided to celebrate their engagement with a safari in Africa.

“What was most memorable about that trip wasn’t the savanna. It was the people we met. Our time in East Africa was my first real encounter with extreme poverty. It was both eye-opening and heartbreaking. I have vivid memories of watching women walking down the street, babies on their backs, and wondering what their lives were like. What did they hope for and worry about? What were the barriers keeping them trapped in poverty? Before we left, Bill and I took a walk on a beach in Zanzibar and had the conversation that would end up changing our lives. We’d already decided to give away most of the resources from Microsoft, but weren’t sure how. Now we had a sense of purpose—and urgency.

“When we got home to Seattle, we began learning all we could about what we’d seen. We dug into the data on poverty, disease and inequality, and consulted experts who’d been working on these issues long before we got started. In 2000, we opened the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on solving the challenges facing the world’s poorest people. We wanted to help find solutions.”

Through this Foundation Melinda Gates has become the first woman in the world to have given away more than $ 40 billion for humanitarian work all over the world. Along with her husband, she has become part of a movement that has supported well-researched initiatives in more than a hundred countries that face acute challenges in education, poverty, hunger and health. Asked what she felt most proud about—among a legion of worthwhile contributions across the world—Melinda said it was making life-saving vaccines available to hundreds of millions of children. “There are three million children alive today because of those vaccines.” By the year 2020, her Foundation would have prevented more than eleven million deaths, 264 million illnesses and 3.9 million disabilities by providing sustainable vaccine coverage and support. Other initiatives have focussed on fighting poverty, diseases, illiteracy and bias against women.

Melinda and Bill Gates have received numerous awards and honours for their philanthropic work all over the world, including our own ‘Padma Bhushan’ and France’s ‘Legion of Honour.’ But what do you think their greatest reward will be? The satisfaction of fulfilling a command—and a promise—by Jesus: “Give and it shall be given to you.”

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