Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Professor Roger Downey, S.J.

There has been another death in the Jesuit family of Sophia University. This time it is Fr. Roger Downey, S.J. He has been in the hospital for the past four months, and this morning around 5:00 was placed under critical observation. Two Jesuits then rushed to be by his side, and he passed away quietly around 7:00 AM. Yesterday, Christmas Day, several of his colleagues in the Economics Department greeted him, and several Jesuits sang Christmas Carols for him in the hospital. He seems to have been conscious and grateful for the concern shown to him. Fr. Downey retired from the university last year, when his disease was diagnosed to be serious, and he was given the status of Professor Emeritus for his services to the university. He was still in his early 60's. R.I.P.

Roger was fluent in Japanese and Indonesian, besides his mother tongue, English, and was capable of communicating in Chinese. In fact, it was while he was in China, about three years ago, that he realized that his health was deteriorating and decided to return to Japan for treatment. He was the Chaplain for a large group of Indonesians around Tokyo, having inherited this apostolate from another eminent Jesuit Fr. Bob Webber. Roger was also a great PC explorer, as he set up intranet servers and computers in different places. He also developed some software plugins for Excel, facilitating various calculations required of his students. Perhaps most striking was his athletic appearance, as he exercised regularly, pumping iron and doing push-ups. Almost everyone is impressed by his courageous and non-complaining attitude during his prolonged illness. He was a model patient. Coincidentally, just this month an article he had written for the Japan Missionary Bulletin was published.

An official funeral Mass will be celebrated on January 15, 2008, at St. Ignatius Church, Tokyo. St. Ignatius Church is about a minute walk from Yotsuya Station (Marunouchi Subway, Namboku Subway, or JR), and the Mass will begin at 13:30.

If you can recall any episode or experience related to Fr. Downey, please feel free to share it by adding it as a "Comment." Just click the "Comments" button, write your comments, simply identify yourself (even if you have no account or password), and then post the message.

According to Donal Doyle, a close friend of Roger, the following picture was Roger's favorite photo of himself, taken in Colorado when he and his siblings climbed a nearby mountain on the day after their father's funeral.


陽介 said...

I am one of the Roger's colleagues in Department of Economics, Sophia University, now visiting Yale University. I got to know by email the bitter parting of Roger. On March this year, when he appeared at a party with our colleagues, he looked pitiful yet 'bright', though his voice sounded husky because of the operations. To me, that was when Roger said farewell to us, pretending to be fine but probably bearing pains. We cannot feel his patience in the pictures I took then. I cannot also forget his smiling when we said "See you" and shook hands at a taxi going to the hospital. Here I have to inform more academic suggestions he uttered at me. One day after I returned to Japan after my first-time visit to Yale, I was a kind conceited. It is my regret now, but then I professed myself "Everything including pseudo-science like some questionable religions is 'science'!" I meant by it that we could explore with a power of 'science' the mechanics of anything we would face in the daily life. Roger then gave me a lecture, not scolded me at all. He calmly suggested I should read a book "Insight: A Study of Human Understanding" by Bernard Lonergan, adding "I was once influenced by this book, too." Roger and I then promised to discuss the issue 'insight' someday, but I have never kept the promise. That remains to me what to do with him.

Donal said...

Roger Downey, R.I.P.

When I visited Roger on Christmas Day he was not looking good. He seemed to have very little energy. Since he was waiting for Fr. Bang Bang to come to say Mass at 4.00 p.m. I just gave him a brief blessing and told him I was going back to S.J. House for the Christmas Benediction. But I told him that I would come and see him today.
This morning at 5.00 a.m. Brother Cique telephoned me with the news that Juntendo Hospital had called to say that Roger was very bad. Fr. Cusumano, Brother Cique and I went over immediately. Roger was sleeping and he was breathing quietly. However, his blood pressure was dropping. He was unconscious. However, we said prayers, particularly the two prayers he loved, the Anima Christi, and the Suscipe. We also recited decades of the rosary. After about one hour he began to breathe more quietly. His face was peaceful. He slipped away just before 6.50 a.m. In the course of his illness he had suffered a lot, but in the end the Lord gave him the peaceful death he had prayed for.

When we were leaving the hospital to bring Roger back to Yotsuya, his three doctors and eight nurses came down to say goodbye. Some of the nurses were in tears. They said that they had learned so much from Roger during his illness. We then said an ‘Our Father’ for Roger, and thanked the doctors and nurses for everything. I told them that each evening when we were saying the Evening Prayers in his hospital room we always included a special prayer for the nurses and doctors who were taking care of Roger.
There is no doubt that he touched the hearts of all those who took care of him and those who visited him. Kami ni Kansha.
December 26.
Donal Doyle, S.J.
Vice Superior, S.J.House

Mike Jacques said...

He set up my PC, and he was a very generous guy. May he rest in peace.
A suggestion to Mr. Yousuke. You can talk about Bernard Lonergan and his book Insight with retired professor Perez-Valera, who is in S.J.House, the same community in which Roger lived. Professor Valera was teaching at Sophia and is a well-known authority on Lonergan.

David Wessels, S.J. said...

A private funeral was held for Fr. Roger A. Downey, S.J, in Mary Chapel, at St. Ignatius Church, Tokyo, Japan, on December 28, 2007.

The Mass Readings were as follows:
First Reading: Philippians 1:12-26
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 104:30, 1b+24, 29+30, 31+34
Gospel Reading: John 20:11-18

Fr. David Wessels, S.J., preached the following homily during Mass:


“Do not hold on to me,” Jesus told her, “Because I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.” (Jn: 20:17) These words of our Lord from his encounter with Mary of Magdala at his Resurrection are appropriate as we gather to offer this funeral Mass for Fr. Downey. I am sure that he would want us to focus above all on God our Father. There will be other times to consider Fr. Downey and his various activities and accomplishments. But now we turn to God our Father, Abba, and recall that with the Risen Lord Jesus, Fr. Downey is invited to return to Abba.

After his sickness was diagnosed, Fr. Downey spent some time writing a short article, an article which recently appeared in Japan Mission Bulletin [correction: The Japan Mission Journal, winter 2007]. In the article, he quotes this passage from St. John’s Gospel which I just read. It is an article about Jesus, and also about “everyone begotten of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8). Like St. Paul, who lived in hope (Phil. 1:20) while he wrote the Letter to the Philippians from prison, Fr. Downey lived in hope while he patiently suffered from cancer over the last two years. His attitude was like that of St. Paul: “My deep desire and hope is … that with my whole being I shall bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For what is life? To me, it is Christ. Death, then, will bring more.” (Phil. 1:20-21)

Fr. Downey’s point is that the Holy Spirit which filled Jesus is also the gift that Jesus gives to those who believe in him. Our physical bodies need a breath of life. But more importantly we live by the Spirit. The origin and destination of Jesus are in God the Father, Abba. As Jesus says to Mary of Magdala, “…tell (my brothers) that I am retuning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.”(Jn. 20:17) The identity of the Christian is life in the Spirit, from beginning to end, into eternal life.

I think that Fr. Downey would actually be quite pleased if I stopped now and did not say anything in particular about him. But I hope that at least you will allow me to say another few words about him. I first met Fr. Downey on September 1, 1963, the day that I entered the Jesuit novitiate. We spent the first few days in what is called “first probation,” when the newcomers were not allowed to mix with the other novices who had already been in the novitiate for one year. Fr. Downey was one year ahead of me (and Fr. Cusumano), but we were allowed to meet him especially on that day because he was one of the four second-year novices assigned to help the first-year novices through their first week. I thought of this because our Gospel reading tells of the two angels who spoke to Mary of Magdala at the grave. The pious custom then was to call these special second-year novices, including Fr. Downey, our angels for those first days.

By God’s grace I have had many opportunities to be with him since then, as well. After the Second Vatican Council and the 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, those of us in formation were allowed to visit our families. My first visit with my family after entering the Society of Jesus was at Christmas time over forty years ago, accompanied by Fr. Downey. He (and Fr. Cusumano) went to Japan some years before me, but I eventually caught up with them and am here to speak with you today. Fr. Downey was given medical treatment last year in St. Louis, and was able to renew contact with my elder sister’s family, just as both Roger and my brother-in-law were both suffering from cancer.

I’ll stop now, ending with the words of the prayer that Fr. Downey loved to repeat over the last few months. Let us pray with and for Fr. Downey the final words of the Anima Christi: “Lord…at the hour of my death call me and bid me come to thee, that with thy saints I may praise thee for ever and ever.

J.E.Perez'Valera said...

Dear Yousukue san,
I just saw Jacques/ comment. If you are interested, I will be ready to talk with you about Insight or any other matter related to Bernard Lonergan. You can reach me in S.J.House.

陽介 said...

Dear Jacques,
I just heard a Roger's voice! I appreciate your suggestion for me.

Dear Prof. Valera,
I also appreciate your generosity. It would be a fortune for me to be at Sophia near the S.J. House. I am looking forward to seeing you after coming back to Japan.

Again, thanks a lot both of you.

Yosuke Takeda
now visiting Yale Univ.

Jerry Cusumano said...

Eulogy: Roger Downey
(8 Jan 1944—26 Dec 2007)

Birth to Society

Roger Allen Downey was born the second of five children in Colorado Springs, Colorado on 8 January 1944. He lived there at the foot of the Rocky Mountains until entering the Society. It was a very healthy climate with especially good water rich in flouride. He told me once that he had never had a cavity or had to go to the dentist. In high school he was greatly influenced by a sister who helped him engage in volunteer work for the visually impaired and suggested his entering the Jesuits.

Novitiate to Final Vows

He entered the novitiate of the Missouri Province on 1 September 1962 with 30 other novices. I and Fr. Wessels entered a year after. Unknown to each other both Roger and myself applied to go to Japan while in the novitiate. After two years of novitiate and two of juniorate Roger went to Japan in 1966. In that pre-e-mail era we often corresponded by small tapes. I followed him to Japan the next year.
Roger learned Japanese extremely well, but what was more impressive to me while in the language school with him was his ability to make friends, even at that stage of limited linguistic ability, with people in the neighborhood and others he had occasion to meet. After language school he spent a half year at the dormitory of our highs school in Hiroshima and then did philosophy and theology at Sophia University. He was ordained a priest in Tokyo on 22 March 1975. After ordination he entered the Economics Department at Cornell University. He did several years of field research in Indonesia where he became fluent in the language and also developed an apostolate among Indonesians here in Japan.

Sophia Years

After completing his doctorate in 1984 he joined the Economics Department of Sophia University in 1985 and was on the staff until March of 2007. He was an excellent teacher and worked hard to make his own texts for his students to learn economics and computing. Besides his full-time teaching he found time to be Director of the Accounting Office of Sophia for several years (1990-1996) and to help with the Alumni Association (1995-2004). He also began to devote a lot of time to his Indonesian apostolate, establishing a weekly Sunday mass, several retreats during the year, and other activities for Indonesians outside of Tokyo in O-arai Ibaragi-Ken, a trip which took him 4 hours one way. He even took on the work of Province Treasurer for a few years, one year of which was during his sabbatical.

Last Two Years

In the spring of 2005 Roger went to Beijing to engage in research and intensive language study. He had already been studying Chinese before going (one could often see him walking on campus with an earphone in his ear listening to Chinese) and with his typical intensity had made great progress. In the fall of 2005 he developed a lump in his neck and began to have trouble swallowing. He wanted to stay for treatment in China but we called him back on 13 December. At this point he was no longer able to eat solid foods. In January of 2006 he began at Juntendo Hospital 7 weeks of chemotherapy combined with radiation to remove what had been diagnosed as pharanx cancer. Unfortunately, the treatment was not successful so he went to St. Louis in June for further treatment. On 13 June he underwent surgery which entailed removal of his tongue and then rehabilitation for talking with an artificial flap. At this point all nourishment was taken in liquid form directly into the stomach since he could no longer swallow, even water.
While still in St. Louis he was interviewed by a local T.V. station. During the interview he said that he deliberately had chosen the word, Abba, father in Aramaic, as the first word he said after the operation which reconstructed a tongue for him. He continued in the interview to explain that he always considered that he was at the service of the Almighty, and if the Lord chose to use him without his being able to speak that was OK, too. He said that from his ordeal he had learned that you must do what you can with what you can use, rather than just moping around lamenting what you cannot do. He returned to SJ House on 20 November 2006 and was able to speak with some difficulty. But by May of 2007 he was no longer able to talk. There followed several periods of hospitalization after that.

Last Four Months

His final hospitalization began on 20 August when it became clear that we could no longer care for him, especially in emergencies, at either SJ House nor at the infirmary of Loyola House. Many of us went quite often to visit him in Juntendo Hospital since the hospital is nearby SJ House. My experience was probably like that of most other visitors. We came away having received much more than we thought we had gone to give. His resilience and equanimity in the face of a slow, at times humiliating, death was magnificent. He was greatly supported by several visits from his brothers and sisters during this time. He especially loved having two prayers recited slowly and meditatively at his bedside: the Anima Christi and the Suscipe.
I found it difficult to imagine what it might be like to be in his situation: not to have the pleasure of eating, not to be able to have the pleasure of conversation, knowing every day that you are getting weaker and weaker and closer to death, and always being in fear of greater pain or a sudden hemorrhage. However, seeing his resilience I imagined that he must be in some wonderful spiritual state that helped him through this time. So, naïve as I was, I asked one day: how do things look from your perspective now? I expected, or perhaps was hoping, he might say: now I know what is really important, now I see the purpose of my life and my suffering. However, his response was: I am getting more and more confused. When I heard his response I reflected that even the Lord he had served so faithfully for so many years had also suffered in this way.

Last Day

We received a call at 5 a.m. on the morning of 26 December telling us that Roger’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. Fr. Doyle, Bro Cique, and myself immediately went to the hospital and were with him for his last few hours, but he had already lost consciousness. He died peacefully and without a struggle. Or it would be better to say he died peacefully after a two-year struggle.
After the body had been cleaned and was ready to leave the hospital three doctors and eight nurses came down to the entrance to say good-bye. Several were in tears, saying that they had learned much from Roger during his illness. Perhaps that is the best way to end this eulogy. Anyone who came into contact with Roger learned a lot from him. May he rest in peace.

Homily at the Funeral Mass (15 Jan 2008)

Jerry Cusumano, s.j.

lorriefitz said...

Fr. Downey was an "assisting priest" at a parish in Dryden, NY when my 7 year old brother died in 1977. I was 16 at the time. Two priests said to me in the hours after my brothers' death "You have to be strong for your parents". I wanted to scream "Who's going to be strong for me?" but I didn't. when Fr. Downey came to our house, I wondered if he was going to make the same comment but he said nothing----he just wept with us. That meant so much to me. He showed us he loved Joe and was saddened by his death. To all those reading this, please don't tell siblings at the death of another sibling it's their job to be strong--just show your sorrow and love. Lorrie, Freeville, NY

Anonymous said...

Dear Sophian,

Would it be possible to get permission to use the photos of Fr. Downey from the Sophian for a memorial we are publishing in the Southeast Asia Program Bulletin at Cornell? The memorial is written by Erik Thorbecke who was Fr. Downey's thesis advisor while he was at Cornell.

Thank you, Thamora Fishel
SEAP Outreach Coordinator

Okano said...

I graduated from Sophia university in 1990. Professor Downey was my class mentor.
I am working in San Jose, CA now and I was serching local San Jose Sophian's club today. I happened to find this page and I am very shocked to know that Professor Downey has passed away last year.
I used to belong to Sophia Catholic Student Association and Downey-shinpusama did a lot for us/me. He was always smiling and always made us feel happy. We respected him and loved him very much.
I still clearly remeber the mass at Hatano campus during the freshman orientation camp. I could clearly see the Mt Fuji through the window. It was so beautiful. I can not forget about that day.
Since I graduated from Sophia, I actually have not kept in touch with Downey sinpusama. I, now, regret about this very much.
I am really sad to know about his departure today. But, at the same time, my wife (Sophian) and I am going to pray for Downey-shinpusama today.