Saturday, October 4, 2008

Professor Emeritus Felix Lobo Passes Away

Lobo Reading, Britto 2004
Felix Lobo Reading [Photo: Francis Britto, 2004]

This morning, on the great feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, it was reported that Professor Emeritus Felix Lobo passed away. He was admitted to Seibo Hospital, Tokyo, about a month ago--when he celebrated his 82nd birthday--for some minor ailment, and some who saw him two days ago reported that he was his usual self, cheerful and upbeat. He seems to have passed away very quietly in the early morning hours today.

The photo above does not do justice to the 'happy-wolf' nature of Felix Lobo, who was always bublicious and vivacious. He was unceasingly energetic despite his body size, groomed to compete with that of St. Thomas Aquinas. Everyone I spoke with during the past thirty minutes (following the announcement of his death) immediately recalled at least one joke said by Felix. He enjoyed telling jokes and making people laugh. He was really 'felix' by nature and felt ever grateful to God, his friends, colleagues, students, and assistants for making him so happy.

A Dominican, a Franciscan, and a Jesuit die. When the Dominican enters heaven, there is no excitement or reception. Nobody even bothers to look at him. The Franciscan hopes for a better recognition, and he steps in oozing out confidence. But no luck! The poor Franciscan doesn't get any reception or notice either. Finally it's the turn of the Jesuit, who enters carefree like most Jesuits. As soon as he puts his foot into the heavenly territory, however, there is a loud applause and fireworks, and everyone comes around to congratulate him. The Franciscan and the Dominican are upset, and complain to St. Peter. And Peter says casually, "Oh, don't worry about it. Almost every Franciscan and every Dominican makes it to heaven as a matter of course, and we have lots and lots of them here. But as for Jesuits! Do you know that he is the first Jesuit after... oh, only God knows how many years! [A story the Jesuit Felix loved to tell.]

Felix was born in Segovia, Spain, on 4 September 1926. He was very proud of his ancient city, which has such landmarks as the Roman Aqueduct, Alcazar Castle [which, Felix pointed out, inspired Walt Disney], and a magnificent cathedral. When I visited him there in 1990, he took me around to all these sights and treated me to Cordero asado estilo Segovia and finally took me to a real village bodega to taste the local wine. He joined the Jesuits on 31 August 1943 and came to Japan in 1952 as a Jesuit missionary. Ordained a priest in 1959, he spent most of his life at Sophia University as a professor in the Spanish Language Department. After retirement, he kept himself busy writing language-learning materials and assisting in the Jesuit Parish of St. Ignatius. Although he was still active and healthy-looking, he moved of his own accord to the Loyola Retirement House in a suburb of Tokyo, about three years ago. It was perhaps a proper decision, for though he did appear healthy, he was becoming more and more forgetful and unable to keep track of appointments and names of persons. He was perhaps the only resident at Loyola House to appear always wearing a necktie and a jacket, looking more like a doctor than like a cared-for old man. Even when I visited him in September 2008, he was properly dressed in a three-piece suit and able to carry on a conversation--though he couldn't remember details about names or events. He was not totally incoherent either, for he was able to recall certain names or events or associate some names with one or two events.

Segovia Aqueduct [Wikipedia]

Besides being a priest, Felix was professionally a linguist, a psycholinguist. He did his doctoral studies at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., and became a devoted student, friend, and admirer of Dr. Robert Lado. When he returned to Japan, he took an active part in boosting linguistic studies at Sophia University. In cooperation with several Japanese colleagues, such as the well-known scholars Akira Ota and Haruhiko Kindaichi, he re-organized the linguistics curriculum and established the graduate school of linguistics. In the 1970s, he was also well-known as a Spanish teacher on Japanese Educational TV channel. He served for many years, sometimes even simultaneously, as the Head of the Spanish Language Department, Head of the Graduate School of Linguistics, Head of SOLIFIC [SOphia Linguistic Institute For International Communication], and Head of the undergraduate section of Linguistics. He was also for many years one of the chief editors of Sophia Linguistica and several other linguistics-related and Spanish-related publications from Sophia.

Although Felix himself wrote few well-known treatises on linguistics, he was an able organizer, coordinator, stimulator and mentor. He was instrumental in bringing some of the most well-known linguists, such as Noam Chomsky, M. A. K. Halliday, Robert Lado, John Lyons, Ray Jackendoff, and David Crystal, to Sophia and several of his students are professors of linguistics in Japan. He also encouraged many Japanese colleagues and students to study overseas, and there are several Georgetown graduates in Japan, thanks to his PR for his alma mater. Many linguistic publications from Sophia University, especially prior to 1990 are likely to bear his name as one of the editors or authors. Some of the volumes he edited for learning English and for learning Spanish have been best-sellers and money-makers within Japan.

Segovia Alcazar

Felix was a cordial, warm, and affectionate person who elicited affection and love from the people he moved with. He was also very faithful to his friends and to those who did him favors, treating them to lavish luncheons and parties. He rarely forgot any good deed done to him, and he loved to praise every woman he met as 'the most beautiful and charming' and every man he met as 'the most talented in the world.' Perhaps the secret of his infectios felicity was his ability to feel thankful all the time, taking every good thing that happened to him as the result of God's and people's love for him.

Funeral Arrangements

Vigil Service: October 7 (Tue), 2008, 19:00 at St. Ignatius Church
Funeral Mass : October 8 (Wed), 2008, 13:30 at St. Ignatius Church
St. Ignatius Church is close to Sophia University, just one minute walking distance from Yotsuya Station, on JR Chuo Line, Subway Marunouchi line, and Subway Namboku line. Here's the access map.

10/10 Post Funeral

The Vigil service, lasting nearly 90 minutes, was officiated by Fr. Manuel Silgo, SJ, and the homily was preached by Fr. Thomas Eceizabarrena, SJ. St. Ignatius Church was nearly full. A large number of professors, alumni, Felix's students and friends were present. Although normally the corpse is placed in the church during vigil, in Felix's case, the corpse had been cremated earlier and only the ashes were kept. A large photo of a smiling Felix stood in front of the altar. The service ended with each one going to the front of the altar, bowing reverently, and then placing a few grains of incense at a small incense burner--a symbolic offering, replacing flower-offering.

The Funeral homily, the next day, was preached by Fr. Anselmo Mataix, SJ.
Some former students of Felix Lobo have decided to produce a book narrating how Professor Lobo influenced them.